Vicki Ittel, PhD, MBA, sits down with Leigh to explore how healthcare leaders can better attract, engage, and retain Gen Z employees. Vicki also shares five “non-negotiables” that Gen Z employees look for in an organization and proven best practices that supervisors can enact now to support this group.
About Vicki Ittel
Vicki Ittel, PhD, MBA is the Director of Behavioral Health Solutions for Relias. She works with payers, providers, professional trade organizations, and government entities to design and apply digital analytical solutions that improve patient outcomes and create systemic change. Prior to joining Relias, Ittel held C-level positions at several national healthplans and formed several companies providing Medication Assisted Treatment to individuals with opioid use disorder. Ittel is passionate and committed to using innovative technological applications in healthcare transformation.
- [1:50] Vicki explains who Gen Z actually is and the particular circumstances that shape their experience in the workplace – and their everyday lives.
- [4:30] Vicki reveals the five non-negotiables that Gen Z employees look for in an employer.
- [9:28] Leigh and Vicki discuss explains what leaders and supervisors need to do to effectively lead this group.
- [16:32] Vicki lays out best practices and exactly what organizations can do to enact meaningful change to best support Gen Z employees.
Welcome to the Vitals and Vision podcast. I’m your host, Leigh Steiner, a partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Relias.
Today’s episode will focus on how organizations can improve retention rates among Gen Z employees by considering their unique objectives and expectations for the work experience. Recent research has shown that such efforts can really have a positive effect on retention.
And to help us explore this topic, we’ve invited Dr. Vicki Ittel, the Director of Behavioral Health Solutions for Relias in that role. She works with payers and providers and professional trade organization and government entities to design and apply digital analytics solutions that help improve patient outcomes and create systemic change.
Prior to joining Reliance, she held numerous C-level positions on several national health plans, and she’s formed several companies providing medication assisted treatment to individuals with opioid use disorder.
So let’s jump in. I think a good place to start is by discussing who Gen Z is and why this is such an important topic.
Sure, that sounds like a great place to start. So Gen Z-ers are born between 1997 and 2012. This particular segment of our population has entered the working world under circumstances that are totally different than any of us have ever previously experienced, any other generation. And specifically, let’s start with some of the demographics in that they’re the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history.
They are coming into the working world with a set of circumstances where 55% of them report being diagnosed with or receiving treatment for mental health or substance use disorders. More than 25% of them report that mental health issues interfere with their work performance. They report high levels of doubt about eventually being able to do the things that all of us aspire to in terms of, you know, retiring someday or buying a home or being financially secure.
They feel like the world is in a place where that… those things may not be available to them. They report fears of things like loss of privacy, cyber warfare, climate change, global economic instability, and global safety. So, it seems as though there’s this cloud of apprehension, doubt, fear that they bring to the workplace that I don’t think we can ignore. And I would actually suggest to employers that they don’t ignore that at all because it is obviously impacting the issue of retention, as well as just impacting overall work-life balance and work performance.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, so, keep going down that road, if you would, Vicki, in the sense of what else are the unique qualities of the Gen Z employees and what should employers be preparing for, looking for, and making sure is available in the workplace in order to attract and retain Gen Z employees.
You know, overall, there seem to be, based on the research that I’ve looked at, there seem to be five non-negotiables when it comes to Gen Z-ers in the workplace. Number one is that they see learning as their key to advancement. So when they’re coming in to your organization and they’re onboarding, they… really want to see a defined learning and development program and what will be available to them. They understand that learning is the key to their career success. And they just see that as a non-negotiable. As I already mentioned, the second thing that is a non-negotiable is the ability mental health and mental wellbeing benefits.
That’s the most important piece of the benefit plan. It used to be that health insurance coverage was the most important piece. That is not the case anymore, at least for Gen Z-ers. Thirdly, they want to have a genuine connection in the workplace. They want to feel like they’re seen in the workplace. and heard, do they matter in the workplace? They really want to feel like they’re making a contribution, as well as that the organization is making a contribution. One of the things that I recommend to employers is, most of our health and human service organizations already have a really well-defined mission and vision.
But that mission and vision frequently is, only applicable to the organization. And I suggest to organizations that they expand that and really have something in their mission statement about how they contribute to the world, how they contribute to the overall society in terms of not just their local area and not just their local purview or their local services, but how do they fit in and how do they… How do they help to improve society as a whole? That’s going to be something that Gen Z-ers will resonate to and they will find that attractive when they’re joining an organization.
So that genuine human connection and mission and values and vision is another set of non-negotiables. And kind of fitting in with that whole topic and that whole set of non-negotiables is the issue of the why of the work. They need to feel very clear about what is the purpose of what I’m doing. What is the purpose of my work? What is the purpose of the organization? So that’s an area of non-negotiable. Then the fifth one and the last one that I’ll mention is, again, I think unique and something that I would suggest to employers that they factor in.
And that is the whole area of financial wellness. I was actually just reading a little blurb from McKinsey this morning about this topic of financial wellness and financial wellbeing for Gen Z-ers. And when I talked about some of the fears that they have and really feeling apprehensive about their future, issue of financial wellness and also financial wellness training is very important.
And I would suggest to employers that they think about bringing in, you know, to maybe to their all hands staff meetings or, you know, having a separate kind of a benefit where the employees can access some sort of a financial. training, financial wellness, what is financial wellness, how do they improve their financial wellness, what do they need to do in terms of budgeting, some of the real basics that these Gen Z folks feel like they’re missing and they really want to understand it, they think it’s important. So when it comes to retention, that would be again, something that would be very attractive and very helpful to employers.
So if I was a supervisor and I’m a millennial, or let’s say even I’m a Gen Xer, all right, What does that mean to me? How do I need to attend to the uniquenesses of this Gen Z population, who I may be their supervisor?
Mm-hmm. You know, we probably have heard, all heard that old saying of, you don’t quit a job, you quit a boss. And that certainly applies here with the Gen Z folks. They need to feel a connection with their boss, you know, perhaps even more so than just the standard, you know, supervisory one-on-one type sessions. that many of us have experienced over our careers.
So I think it’s very important to assess and train your leadership and your supervisors, as well as if I am the supervisor, as you asked in your question, it’s important to get feedback from the Gen Z-er so that as you’re sitting down and you’re talking to them about their position how they can make an impact. It’s very important to get their feedback and talk about and ask them questions about, how do they see that they could perhaps influence the organization? How would they perhaps do some process improvements? This is part of creating that connection as well as creating sense of their contributions and getting and valuing their input.
So I think that it’s really got to be, if I’m a supervisor, it’s got to be a two-way dialogue with the Gen Z-ers. That’s just critical to them. And then the other thing that I would suggest as a supervisor is, you know, over communicate the why. Over communicate, you know, the culture of talking about your organization’s goals, objectives, where the employee may fit into those goals and objectives, and how that relates back, as we were talking about, to that overall sense of mission and values and vision. So I think those key factors as a supervisor will enable you to help, you know, really help the employee, the Gen Z employee feel a sense of belonging and thus creating longer retention with the organization.
Vicki, when you talk about that, I’m thinking, you know, I was raised in a generation where I accepted that this paperwork had to be done, this form had to be completed, this had to be done in that way. And even though sometimes I would say to myself, well, that’s ridiculous. Of course, it doesn’t, you know, it sounds like this group that we’re talking about here would have less tolerance than I would about some of the bureaucratic activities that have to be completed in an organization.
Well, absolutely. I think you’re right on, Leigh. And that they may have less tolerance in terms of just accepting it and not questioning it. They certainly will question it and even offer some suggestions for improvement.
I don’t think they have the expectation that everything will necessarily change 100%. But certainly, they will expect to be part of process improvement and offering solutions, which is wonderful.
Yeah. So do you have some examples? Obviously, as you lovely in your description here laid this out, every different group sort of comes with a different set of skills. You know, my millennial background, I may be… I may be tolerant, that may be a set of skills that I have developed because of the age in which I came into the workforce and worked. How is the opportunity to have an exchange between Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, so that Gen Z also benefits from some of the learnings of Gen X and Millennial supervisors or managers?
Yeah, great question. And I’ve seen a little bit of research when it comes to addressing this particular topic about how do you capitalize on having a multi-generational workforce?
And what the few studies that I’ve seen are showing is that having some sort of a mentorship program within your organization could be one way to accomplish those goals, Lee. And Gen Z-ers seem to really enjoy that and like that. So even though they may be coming into your organization in one role, they really would enjoy getting to know how the rest of the organization functions and works. And by having that increased exposure, then they can develop those relationships with you know, other generations in the organization.
And, you know, perhaps even setting up a kind of formal mentorship program can be helpful as well. But it doesn’t have to be a formal one. It can be more informal, particularly if you have a smaller organization, you know, just having that sort of a rotation, if you will, for the Gen Z employee throughout the organization. Getting that exposure to functionally the other parts of the organization, but also getting exposure to the other people within the organization and developing…
And I mean, and Vicki, that sounds like it’s healthy for the whole organization. Actually, what I hear you talking about, the kind of respect that is provided in order to attract and retain the Gen Z population is beneficial to everyone in the organization. It’s like cultural sensitivity.
Yeah, okay. So if I’m a listener and I have been compelled by what you have said about the Gen Z population, and I’m going to go back to my organization and try to do something different, what do I do? What’s the first step I take? Maybe I understand change management but is there something… beyond that or ancillary to it that are good steps for me to take to make an organization that can really attract and retain the Gen Z employee.
Well, we do have evidence of some best practices. So in terms of sharing those best practices, if I’m a listener, I might want to take these best practices back to the organization. And it would be things like talking to your HR department and or senior leadership about your benefit structure. And do you have… flexible lifestyle benefits. Do you have things like floating holidays? Do you have some floating in-service days where perhaps employees can take a day or two a year and go explore something else that they’re interested in?
Maybe they go take a photography workshop or something like that, just a day or two a year. that they can explore that kind of flexibility in service and learn another skill. And things like contracting with lifestyle coaches, that would be another suggestion that you might take back to your organization is that they contract with a lifestyle coach to come in for onsite employee meetings and talk about the things that we talked about with the financial aspect for Gen Z-ers. financial wellness, financial training.
The other thing that is a best practice is creating employee action committees within your organization. So you might want to take that back and if you don’t have employee action committees already formed in your organization, you know, perhaps start thinking about that and organizing a couple of those. because those can be a great engagement tool and consequently a great retention tool.
And then the last best practice that we’re starting to see in the industry is increasing benefits with increasing tenure. So what I mean by that is that you create kind of an individualized benefit package instead of kind of one size fits all. that as an employee becomes more tenured with your organization, you talk to them about what is important to them in terms of continued development and training, and you build that into their benefit package.
So an example again would be sending them to some sort of a financial training workshop external to the organization. sending them to mindfulness conference, you know, all things like that, which you could use as a piece of their benefit package instead of, you know, for example, instead of just, you know, carte blanche increasing PTO time. So that kind of creative and individualized approach is a best practice.
Yeah. So your five non-negotiables that they see learning as a key to advancement, that mental health and mental health well-being benefits are in their health plan, that they have a genuine connection in the workplace, the why of work, and this whole area of financial wellness, those are powerful things to consider and think about.
Vicki, as we sort of begin to close this out, are there anything else about those five non-negotiables that we should understand or actions we could take to really make sure that’s part of the fabric of the culture of our organizations?
You know, there is one thing we didn’t touch on that I would say is important as a consideration within those five non-negotiables. You know, we do have data on how often Gen Z-ers switch jobs. And specifically, this generation is likely to change jobs up to 10 times… 10 times between the ages of 18 and 34. So that has a profound impact on an organization’s retention and recruitment, honestly. So, you know, that I think it’s important to factor that in and know that that’s what the data is showing.
So that if you are not taking into consideration those five non-negotiables, you can expect that Gen Z-ers don’t tend to stick around very long. If they really feel like, you know, one of these areas is being ignored or just not, they don’t see evidence of it in the organization, they will not hesitate to leave the organization. So I just wanted to point that out as a as kind of a key data point.
Yeah, and I think that is a significant difference between that group and, Vicki, you’re in my millennial group where we tend to be very, I’m going to say loyal, but sometimes loyal to a fault in the sense of sticking with an organization regardless of if it’s meeting our needs or not.
Yea… that… this has really been fascinating. And as we as we close this out, tell me what attracted you to doing… diving in and doing this work. Because this is a, you know, it’s a life work really trying to understand the dynamics of what are going on, understanding how organizations can shape themselves to be sensitive to and meet the needs of this population. So what attracted you to this?
Well, I began to really dive into the whole workforce shortage, particularly within our field of health and human services. And the more that I looked at that area and the data of just how the tremendous disconnect between supply and demand for mental health and substance use disorder services is out there. I mean, we have so many areas of the country where there is just a, there’s just no services that are available.
And it’s because that there’s a workforce shortage, as we all know. So the more that I looked into that, the more I began to get the sense that in order to improve the situation, we needed to be able to attract new work, a new workforce. And we know that about 36% of Gen Z-ers report that they do want to pursue a career in healthcare. So if we want to make sure that we improve on that statistic and actually entice more Gen Z-ers to pursue a career in healthcare, we need to retain them as well.
And so that’s really where I started to dive in is, you know, this serious, serious issue that we have in terms of supply and demand of people needing services, but services not being available because of a workforce shortage. How do we improve that? And, you know, what do we need to do? So that, you know, in a roundabout way is what attracted me to dive into specifically Gen Z-ers.
Yeah, thank you. Vicki, you are such a easy person to talk to. You are so thoughtful and well-researched. I’ve certainly enjoyed the conversation, and I’m sure that all of our listeners have too. So thank you for being with us and thank you for as we look at this landscape of retention in health care, talking about this most important aspect. Thank you.
Well, thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed the conversation as well. It’s my pleasure.
Thank you for tuning in to this episode of Vitals and Vision. We sincerely hope that our discussion on retaining Gen Z employees has offered you some actionable strategies that your health care organizations can implement to better impact retention rates and create a more fulfilling work experience for this generation. Remember that success starts with a clear vision and vital strategies.
Join us next time as we continue to bring you engaging conversations and thought-provoking insights in our future podcast episodes.
Meet your host
Leigh Steiner, PhD, is a Partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Relias. Leigh has extensive national, state, and community experience in organizational development, executive development, coaching, and consulting. She served as the commissioner for mental health for the state of Illinois from 1989 to 2002. Leigh has also served as an adjunct lecturer at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and as a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Springfield.