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What is Important to a Millennial Nurse?

As much as it pains me to say, I am a millennial.

I’d like to think of myself as more of an in-betweener, not quite millennial, not quite Gen X, mainly due to the, often unfair, stigma attached to the millennial generation; we’re the “me” generation, entitled, and want a trophy for just showing up to work.

However, throughout my career as a product manager in the healthcare space, I’ve spent countless hours talking with, shadowing, and learning from millennial nurses and I’m here to tell you, they’re not any of those negative things. In fact, once you learn what’s important to them and their mindset on the job, I argue, it’s easier than you think to keep a millennial nurse happy.

What Makes Millennials Unique?

Per a Gallup article, millennials are:

  • More willing to switch jobs than non-millennials
  • The least engaged generation in the workplace
  • Costing $30.5 billion in turnover costs in the U.S.

Knowing that by 2030, millennials will account for 75 percent of the workforce, healthcare organizations have good reason to understand what is important to millennials and implement strategies to retain them.

who are millennials graphic
image credit to Kate Lau on Medium.com

3 Key Factors That Are Important to Millennial Nurses

I spent some time reviewing my notes and conversations with nurses throughout the last few years and here are the three most common things millennial nurses said are important to them on the job:

1) They want, expect, and value professional growth opportunities from their employers

It was eye opening how important this is to millennial nurses I spent time with. What I found most interesting about this, was the nurses didn’t expect their hospital to send them to conferences or give them professional development stipends.

Instead, they simply want their employer to give them the resources they need to enhance their nursing knowledge or explore other areas of interest within the field. In fact, the freedom and flexibility for them to access these resources was just as important as the resources themselves, due to the fact millennial nurses are often still trying to figure out what area of practice appeals to them the most. They see the world of nursing as ripe with opportunity to expand their horizons. Just because they are an entry level RN at a pediatric hospital doesn’t mean they couldn’t work towards getting their RCN-NIC and moving into the NICU.

A hospital should use this trait as leverage and do everything they can to provide them with the training, education, and resources they need to fulfill their professional growth aspirations. Given that millennial nurses are more likely to leave if they’re unsatisfied on the job, and RN turnover costs are estimated to be as high as $90,000 by some experts, investing in providing access to ongoing professional development is a no-brainer. The nurses I spoke with also spoke very positively when their employers promoted lateral mobility options, as well as career-pathing.

2) They don’t want to focus on their weaknesses, but rather enhance their strengths

This concept is not new, many studies have been done related to this phenomenon, but that doesn’t dampen just how important it is. To some, it may even seem counter-intuitive; if a young millennial nurse is struggling with certain aspects of their job, shouldn’t an organization prioritize their attention at improving this weakness? Well, I’m here to tell you, if you focus on doing that, you’re going to frustrate and lose the interest of that nurse. This isn’t to say you should neglect that weakness, but instead of trying to make that weakness into a strength, get that deficiency to an acceptable level of competency, then spend your time building upon the strengths of that nurse.

It’s been repeatedly proven that it’s easier for an adult to learn and develop skills that come naturally to them. And since no two people are alike, and each nurse has different inherent strengths, hospitals should make sure they are providing a broad repertoire of resources they can use to enhance those strengths. Getting nurses to practice at their highest level of competency is a goal of almost every organization I’ve ever spoken with, and focusing on and promoting their strengths is a fantastic way to work towards that goal.

3) They expect their manager to be actively involved in supporting and promoting their development

Anyone who knows anything about millennials knows just how “connected” they are through social media and technology. They are used to, and often need, constant and instant communication throughout the day. This translates into their work life as well. They expect their managers to be available and responsive whenever they need advice, and they expect their managers to actively seeking out participating in open dialogue with them around their professional development.

I’ve spent a lot of time with nurse managers, and many of them tend to struggle with this; inter-generational differences can be hard to overcome. The managers who have adapted the best to changes their management style to support millennial nurses needs have a common trait – their organizations have invested in helping them understand the need for the change through targeted training and development programs.

Even more important, these managers collectively indicated once they provided the level of support and focus their millennial nurses need, the nurses were happier, more engaged, and performed at a higher level.

Practical Ways to Improve Millennial Engagement

Here are some practical ways to get your organization started on improving millennial engagement.

  • Promote “physical” employee engagement among nurse managers, including coaching and mentoring
  • Offer more collaborative opportunities, like effective preceptor pairing and developing nursing education
  • Provide clear directions and various pathways for involvement
  • Explore their skill set and interests outside of nursing, including community involvement, to find common ground and connection

Final Thoughts

Currently and even more so in the coming years, hospitals are experiencing a multi-generational workforce made up of Boomers, Gen Xs, Millennials, and Gen Zs. With millennials soon making up the majority of the workforce, organizations need to be proactively trying understand what is important to millennials, in order to better engage and retain them. Organizations who are not engaging millennial workers are missing out on the passion and energy that they could be bringing to the table.

At the end of the day, millennials are looking for jobs that feel meaningful and will keep searching until they find it, which may mean leaving their current employers. How will your organization meet your existing and future millennial candidates’ pursuit?


Nurse Turnover: Do Generational Differences Impact Turnover?

Relias set out to understand what drivers cause a nurse to leave. Do the reported generational differences among nurses, particularly millennial nurses create different resignation risk drivers than the rest of the nursing workforce?

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