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What you need to know to recruit and retain Generations X and Y
by Elaine Zablocki, Patient Care Staffing Report

Why are these utopian changes coming down the track? Because Generation X and Y, the newest members of the workforce, won't work any other way. "They demand it," says Joanne G. Sujansky, Ph.D., CEO of Pittsburgh-based KEYGroup®, and the co-author of the book, The Keys to Conquering Change: 100 Tales of Success. "How come? Because that's how we raised them."

A recently-released report from the American Hospital Association's Commission on Workforce for Hospitals and Health Systems points in the same direction.

"Healthcare organization must recognize and communicate the differences between generations of workers so that work teams understand and respect their differing perspectives," the report says. "Generations differ in the way they see the world. Implement and reward collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches," it urges, and "build new work models based on workers' competencies, education, and experience."

Generation X: Independence, flexibility
Talking about a generation is a shorthand means of describing the way shared experiences shape people's attitudes and values. Generation X - GenX - born between 1960 and 1980, is a relatively small cohort. These are the latchkey kids who learned from an early age how to deal with problems. "They are more independent," says Jo Manion, MA, CNAA, FAAN, president of Manion & Associates in Oviedo, FL. "They deal with change remarkably well, and they are very creative."

Manion is the author of the book, From Management to Leadership: Interpersonal Skills for Success in Health Care.

GenXers watched parents stay with an organization for 30 years and then get laid off. That means they don't expect to stay with any organization forever, so one of their top goals is to build a portfolio of marketable skills. "They want to be constantly learning and growing. If they can't have that, they are out of here," says Sharen Jordan-Evans, president of the Jordan Evans Group, Cambria, CA, and co-author of the book, Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay.

Even though GenXers expect to have many different jobs in a lifetime, that doesn't mean they won't be loyal. "They can be seriously loyal to projects, to teams, to bosses, and even to an organization," says Jordan-Evans. But it isn't the blind loyalty we used to see. There is more sense of mutuality, of quid pro quo. If GenXers don't get what they need, they are much readier to move on."

She adds, "Don't try to micromanage GenXers. They expect freedom combined with frequent, honest feedback. Their supervisors need a high degree of flexibility so they can develop customized responses to individual employee needs.

GenX expects to have fun at work. They are ready to stay up all night to finish a special project, and they can be very dedicated and hard working. At the same time, over the long term they won't sacrifice family and friends for the sake of their jobs. "The smartest organizations aren't monitoring them to find out how long their breaks take," says Jordon-Evans. "They are letting them off the leash."

GenX grew up in a world of many choices, and they expect that at work, too. "They don't want just a career ladder with logical steps. They prefer a lattice with many options," says Jordan-Evans "The smart thing for any healthcare organization is to develop a broad range of possible career moves, including lateral shifts into another department or part-time work sharing. You need a flexible range of potential moves that help your talented GenX employees increase their portfolio of skills."

Generation Xers entered the workforce at a difficult time, and many saw parents struggle after losing their jobs. Consequently, some observers suggest that they tend to be whiners, and that they don't want to work hard. To deal with this possibility, "Be very careful with employment interviews," says Sujansky.

"Remember, there is much variation in any group, so don't hire what you don't want."

GenX does value a stable, structured workplace. "However," says Jordan-Evans, "they care much less about security than about having exciting, challenging work, developing new skills, and having a great boss."

Generation Y: Independence, flexibility
Generation Y is a much larger group than Generation X. These are the baby boomers' children, born between 1980 and 2000, and just beginning to enter the workforce. Like GenX, they often grew up in two-earner families, but they got more after-school programs, enriched education, and sophisticated summer camps. This generation grew up with computers.

All of this means GenY enters the work force brimming with self-confidence and a sense of entitlement. In fact, they may have unrealistic expectations about how much responsibilities they can take on. "They share GenX's interest in building a portfolio of skills, and have even more interest in being part of a team," says Sujansky. "At the same time, they are easily bored with mundane tasks and they prefer to change activities often. The Y's have perfected multitasking."

Given these traits, GenY needs a management style that builds on their enthusiasm and energy. Give them responsibility in graded chunks, with lots of feedback. Build on their teamwork orientation by stressing the opportunity to work with top-notch people.

GenY is developing a reputation for idealism and social consciousness, and this may have attracted them to healthcare. Build on that idealism by stressing the opportunity, in healthcare, to really make a difference. And even though they're the youngest members of the team, always treat them as responsible professionals, not "kids."

The hook
To recruit both GenX and GenY, appeal to their desire to learn. Highlight paid training, skill development, career growth, and mentoring opportunities. At the same time, be accurate about potentially difficult situations.

"In fact," says Manion, "managers can develop a knack for positioning challenging situations as skill-building opportunities. If there is conflict within the organization, present it as a chance to learn how to deal with uncertainty - 'Develop this skill and you can go anywhere!'"

And keep in mind that GenX and GenY are proficient computer users. Consequently, your organization's web site is a particularly important recruitment tool for younger workers. Make sure the employment characteristics that matter most to them - such as mentoring and skill-building opportunities - are featured prominently.

The glue
As Generations X and Y move into the workforce, they'll pose real challenges for healthcare managers. Some of the current patterns will have to change. Scheduling, for example. "Cutting-edge healthcare organizations build flexibility into schedules in incredibly creative ways," says Jordan-Evans. "It's hard work but this is the only way you'll hang onto GenXers and manage them effectively."

In the past, the healthcare system has run on the backs of dedicated people willing to work extra hours, and put patients' needs above their own. "We don't really know what level of resources it takes to run this system," Manion says. "In the past, nurses worked extra hours and managers worked 70-hour weeks. They enabled a dysfunctional system to limp along. We cannot expect this to continue."

She adds, "The key to managing GenX and GenY is to ask them what matters to them, and really listen to their responses. Even more, it's time to engage them in helping to figure out solutions. Before long, it is going to be their healthcare system."

Reproduced from the May 2002 issue of Patient Care Staffing Report with permission from COR Health LLC, 805-564-2177.