Use Millennials Strengths to Improve Your Organization

Millennials can contribute much to your successful navigation of the changing health care field

While it may be tempting for more experienced executives to make assumptions and discount the “coddled” generation of millennials now filling many jobs in health care organizations, they do so at their peril, argue two Jefferson Health System managers who extoll the virtues of the generation that will soon take over the workplace.

Rather than holding onto negative misconceptions about millennials, health care organizations need to be embracing their positive qualities to be the place where they would want to work and seek their medical care, argues Joseph Anton, MSN, RN, vice president for clinical and support services for Jefferson Health, based in Philadelphia. “There’s enormous value in investing in this young group,” he said. “Hospitals and health networks that do not adapt may fall behind.”

Joseph Anton
VP Clinical and Support
Jefferson Health

Anton and colleague Kristi Caldararo, MHA, associate administrator, clinical services for Jefferson Health, presented their experiences with developing the next generation of health care workers and leaders during an AHA Health Forum webinar in March.

As the baby-boom generation retires, “decades of experience goes with them unless the company has plans in place for their experience and expertise to be passed along to Generation X and millennial employees,” Anton said. Thomas Jefferson University hospital is using a variety of strategies to build multi-generational teams that can learn from one another.

Generational diversity is relevant to recruitment, retention and team collaboration, but a small portion of employers are focused on the issue, Anton and Caldararo said. The key to achieving generational diversity is managing millennials (currently aged between about 20 and 38), who currently make up half the workforce, projected to increase to about 75 percent by 2030.

Kristi Caldararo
Associate Administrator,
Clinical Services
Jefferson Health

While members of this younger generation may see things differently, they are also a resource that can help health care organizations tackle many of the challenges they are facing including the transition from volume to value, increased consumerism and disruptive innovation, Anton said.

Millennials’ perspectives on consumerism can help health systems understand their customers, Caldararo said. They don’t tend to schedule preventive care visits (despite the fact that even young adults may face significant health risks, as research by Interactive Health indicates). They are put off by antiquated phone systems and appointments that require taking time off work. Millennials are the ones using virtual visits, retail clinics and urgent care centers.

“If you think about the challenges and the need for innovation in health care, they’re a pretty good fit with millennials’ strengths,” Anton said. “You have to allow the millennials the opportunity to take the lead and be open to their new ideas.”

Recruiting millennials

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital maintains a fellowship program for early careerists that has served as an important pipeline of leaders; 44 people have been through the program and 12 are still with the organization, including Caldararo. “This pool of post-fellows is where we look first to fill management positions,” Anton said. He noted that many of the top-performing health systems in the country have administrative fellowship programs to recruit young talent.

Jefferson also maintains a future health professionals program for minority high school students, and a similar program for pre-med college and graduate students underrepresented in medicine.

A temporary jobs program offers people a foot in the door of the large health system; “they often exceed our expectations and move on to things that are long term,” Anton said.

Retaining millennials

Once millennials are on board, it’s important to make an effort to hold onto them, particularly given their tendency to leave a job that isn’t fulfilling. “Make sure you are providing opportunities so they feel they are part of a bigger mission,” Caldararo said. Millennials are particularly interested in making a positive impact in their work, and they value having a manager who is approachable.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital uses a LEAD program (Leadership Education and Discussion) to engage young employees in conversations about work, learning important skills such as public speaking and overcoming challenges. The group invites more senior leaders to attend and offer candid advice on advancing careers.

The Jefferson Leadership Academy is another opportunity for early careerists where there is a combination of classroom education, executive coaching and project work.

Case study: pope’s 2015 visit to Philadelphia

When the pope visited Philadelphia in 2015, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital was within the security perimeter and had to plan for 2,500 faculty and staff staying on campus for three days. Caldararo, just a year out of college, enthusiastically took on the task of coordinating departmental staffing plans, sleeping accommodations and entertainment for those staff members staying on campus over the weekend.

Anton acknowledged that, like many millennials, Caldararo “had a lot of questions.” He saw that inquisitiveness as an advantage and was open to her ideas for doing things in a new way that might be more efficient. In collaboration with Jefferson’s information systems and technology team, Caldararo developed an online reservation application to replace the clipboard-and-spreadsheet method that was part of the system’s emergency planning for such a scenario. The system worked so well it was adopted with modifications for any future disaster or weather event. “Millennials are the best to leverage technology because they grew up with it,” Anton said.

The pope’s visit was an opportunity to hand a high-risk, high-pressure project to a millennial, and was successful in using her unique skills as well as providing her with an opportunity to grow as a leader.

Case study: leadership rounding

Caldararo also took on a project to improve employee engagement through leadership rounding, a concept that had been tried a few years before but failed because of a lack of program structure. The new program, called At Your Service (AYS), assigns 125 leaders and managers to spend two hours each Thursday morning on inpatient units and practices across three campuses. The teams are equipped with with iPads that allow them to access the AYS application so that they can document their feedback from employees and patients and note any concerns. The app automatically routes the concern to the appropriate department and gives it a deadline to fix it.

The program has resulted both in specific process improvements and in getting senior leaders invested in action plans. “When we have leaders on the unit, it gets them re-engaged in the process,” Caldararo said. “It’s a catalyst for change and holds people accountable for action.” The project also benefited Caldararo by enabling her to obtain project management and public speaking experience early in her career.

Tips for working with millennials

  • Offer flexibility. Work-life balance is very important to this group, but they are also willing to work hard. Allow flexibility but be clear about expectations, results and timelines. Granting flexibility is easier once trust is developed. It is also important that multigenerational teams socialize in an effort to get to know one another and what matters to them. “You have to balance structure and autonomy,” Anton said.
  • Provide mentoring and feedback. Create a safe environment for them to ask questions and be open to their queries. Millennials want face-to-face feedback, not by email. “They really want to know they are doing a good job, and course correct if necessary,” Anton said. He has also benefited from “reverse mentoring,” when he asks younger colleagues what he can do differently, to demonstrate his interest in their viewpoints and to get a glimpse of what the workforce would think of his ideas.
  • Create a professional development plan for each individual. Create a brief, one-page set of bulleted lists addressing short-term goals, long-term goals, personal goals and competencies.
  • Take them seriously. There’s a misconception that millennials don’t want to pay their dues and are entitled. But Anton sees the trait more as an expectation of fairness. He’d rather view their ambition as an asset and bring them onto teams and give them responsibility. Anton thinks it is important to treat younger colleagues as key parts of the team, giving them the opportunity to lead with the necessary support. “Millennials need our support to be successful, and our organization needs them to be successful,” he says.

Gain more insights about millennials in the health care workforce through the following resources:

Preventive Health Programs Benefit Young Adult Workers, Not Just Older Employees

This brief from Interactive Health addresses the common misperception that companies that employ a large proportion of young adults don’t need comprehensive preventive health programs. In reality, young adults face significant health risks, including behavioral health problems and chronic illness. Assessing and addressing mental health needs is central to an effective worksite wellness program because mental health issues impact physical health, work productivity and overall well-being.

Young adults face a significantly higher risk of emotional health issues than their older counterparts. For that reason, comprehensive preventive health programs that address both physical and emotional health risks are essential. Interactive Health’s Workplace Wellness Solutions have earned the exclusive endorsement of the American Hospital Association.

Engaging Millennials in Governance

Millennials are making their way into board rooms, and health care organizations need to accommodate the way they like to communicate and interact. This resource offers insights and suggestions, including specific ideas on how to organize board meetings and presentations.

2017 Healthcare Job Search Insights Report

This report developed by is based on a survey of clinical and non-clinical health care professionals to gain insight into the job search process. It includes many observations about how millennials differ from other generations, such as applying for a larger number of jobs at one time and having a stronger interest in flexible hours.

View more insights from the field.

The Generations

    Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964
  • Idealize the American dream
  • Value consumer goods
  • Confident in economic prosperity
    Generation X: born 1965-1980
  • Latch-key kids
  • Independent, resourceful, self sufficient
  • Pessimistic about retirement
    Millennials: born 1980-2000
  • Most racially diverse generation
  • Socially accepting
  • Digital natives
  • Value meaning over income
    Generation Z: born after 2000
  • Motivated by security
  • Independent
  • Ability to multitask
  • Entrepreneurial

Sources: AHA Workforce Center presentation, March 21, 2018; Deep Patel, 8 Ways Generation Z Will Differ from Millennials in the Workplace, Forbes, Sept. 21, 2017

Organizational assessment questions

Look at these questions with your leaders to get a sense of where your organization is on generational diversity:

  • Do we have a plan to recruit and retain millennial talent?
  • Are our leaders educated on the facts governing a multigenerational workforce?
  • Do we as an organization value the work of a millennial?
  • Do we provide mentorship and professional development to younger generations?
  • Do our leaders understand generational diversity?
  • Do we have a structured approach to succession planning for key leadership positions?