Challenges (and opportunities) offered up by a new generation of health care providers

My work is focused on learning and applying knowledge about the differences in the characteristics and values of generations of workers and learners. Although I find people of all characteristics and values in all generations, there are patterns and generalizations that are useful to organizations. A good example may be the Echo Generation (or Generation Y, or the Net Generation, or sometimes the Millennials), that has quite confounded many employers, allegedly because of their sense of “entitlement”.

For common ground, let’s establish this group as born roughly between 1980 and 1995[1], making them between the ages of 15 and 30. These are the children of Baby Boomers, have had fewer siblings than previous generations and tended to experience two-income households (in addition to a whole host of non-traditional configurations such as single-parent, blended families, etc.). They may have been somewhat held from harm by their well-intentioned parents and been individualized and celebrated as a matter of policy, rather than performance. They are relatively well travelled and can access a dizzying spectrum of information through the Internet. Their labour market has featured global scope, a chronic labour shortage, and the toppling of iconic firms (think GM, Martha Stewart, and the American financial industry).

It isn’t surprising that this group of young workers has high expectations for their own quality of life, expects to have an individualized relationship with their immediate supervisor and certainly with their employer in general, and knows how their employer performs relative to others. They have a labour shortage working in their favour (particularly in health care), they know and exercise their rights, and they don’t believe that any organizations are failsafe. They expect their wellness to be critical to employers.

The really interesting question is, WHY DOES THIS CONFOUND US?

This generation typically negotiates for self-care (albeit not always gracefully, however we must remember that they are relatively inexperienced) and values self over employer, individual over collective, family / leisure over wealth, and immediate over delayed gratification. It is easy to imagine how these workers challenge the culture of the health care sector.

As organizational leaders, it is critical to guard against accommodating one worker or group of workers at the expense of another. However appealing in the short term, it leaves organizations vulnerable to lobbying, infighting, bullying, turnover, and disengagement. None of these are helpful to productivity and the delivery of high quality health care.

In order to protect engagement, productivity and ultimately the delivery of high quality health care, organizations are being called upon to make proactive and bold choices to engage and retain ALL WORKERS by making their wellness an organizational priority. This does not mean abandoning all existing expectations and performance demands; rather it means really taking a hard look at our organizational values about employee wellness and asking ourselves if these values are manifest in our everyday work, unapologetically.



[1] David Foot, BOOM BUST AND ECHO