The future of healthcare is in the hands of Millennials and Gen Z.
In 2020, the median age of Registered Nurses was 52 years, according to the American Nurses Association. At that time, more than 1/5 of nurses said they planned to retire within the next five years. Many have already left nursing, driven by burnout and labor shortages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Healthcare organizations that fail to recognize or accommodate the needs and expectations of the next generation of nurses will struggle to fill nurse vacancies and adequately meet patient needs. On the other hand, hospitals that welcome and nurture young healthcare workers will be positioned to transform healthcare.
Here is what Gen Z and Millennial nurses need:
Gen Z workers are currently 25 years old or younger; Millennial nurses are 26 to 41 years old. Their lives have been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and sharp increases in the cost of living. They’ve seen entire communities turn out to support nurses and healthcare workers by banging pots and pans, but also know that healthcare professionals are often understaffed, under-resourced, and overworked. Many have seen the impact of burnout in the lives of friends and loved ones and do not want to work in unhealthy work environments.
Gen Z and Millennial nurses care deeply about their patients, but they’re not willing to continually risk their own physical or mental health. And because they’ve come of age at a time when jobs are plentiful, few will continue working for employers who don’t seem to care about their well-being. They will instead seek employment elsewhere. According to LinkedIn, Gen Z workers are switching jobs at a rate 134% higher than in 2019.
Young healthcare workers are demanding (and deserve) adequate staffing support and resources; flexibility and some control over their work schedules; and respectful co-workers and management. They will not tolerate abuse in the workspace.
Wages have generally gone up in recent years, but some hospitals laid off or furloughed nurses during mandatory shutdowns and cancellations of elective procedures. Others cut hourly pay or shift differentials in an effort to balance lost income and increased expenses.
Many young nurses have significant student loan debt and high housing costs. If they can’t meet their financial obligations joining a staff, many will turn to more-lucrative contract work.
Money matters, but Gen Z & Millennials value work-life balance before almost all else. They are not willing to sacrifice their family life, personal interests, or community or spiritual obligations for a job. These young workers – who have seen the explosion of remote work and education in recent years – also know that “the way we’ve always done things” isn’t the only way. They want flexibility and embrace technological innovations that allow them to do good work in a timely manner.
Giving nurses the opportunity to construct (or contribute) to their work schedules allows them to make space for other things that matter to them.
Mentoring & career growth
Remember: COVID-19 interrupted the education of the most recent crop of nurses. These nurses may not have gotten as much clinical experience as previous generations – and they may not have received much mentorship during clinicals because staff were likely harried and overworked. Set them up for success with nurse residency programs, career mentoring, well-defined clinical ladders, and opportunities to further their education and develop their skills. Strive to make education available and accessible during work hours.
Gen Z grew up with smartphones and the internet. They routinely use technology to simplify and streamline their lives and expect the same at work. They know that technology, well-deployed, can increase efficiency and improve care, so they aren’t very tolerant of outdated and inefficient technology or workflows.
Nurse recruiters have noticed that younger nurses are drawn to units that integrate technology into care, including hybrid operating rooms, interventional radiology, and units with smart rooms. They also want technology that supports clinical workflow and top-of-license practice.
Hospitals can’t afford to ignore the preferences of the next generation. To move healthcare forward, we must evolve and adapt. Meeting the needs of Gen Z and Millennial nurses will help healthcare organizations meet the needs of their patients as well.