Improve Healthcare Staff Retention by Responding to Generational Differences

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

An enormous problem for healthcare organizations across the care continuum is retention. There’s reason to believe that care providers have been approaching it the wrong way.  It used to be a given that everyone followed “the golden rule” when it came to handling employees—" Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This approach assumes similarities among everyone in the workplace. We are more aware than ever how that really is not the case. A recommendation is to supersede that guidance with what can be called the titanium rule—"Do unto others, keeping their preferences in mind.” Specifically, this is a statement that accepts diversity. Another way to think about it is if you like to be treated a certain way, that doesn't necessarily mean that everybody does, too. To treat everyone the same, especially when it comes to improving retention, may really be a mistake. Learn to adapt to their preferences instead of trying to change them.

Tips for Having an Impact on Retention

Now let's look at ways to affect retention of staff from different generations. This post will briefly address baby boomers and Gen Xers, though the most important focus is going to be on millennials. Millennials are the largest generational group in the workforce, and they'll soon be the majority of all employees, with more than 50% next year. That percentage is just going to keep getting higher. Generation Next is just joining the workforce, and we are still learning what is unique about them.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers need to know they’re appreciated and that we understand how often they go the extra mile. Many of them are getting to the point in their career, though, where they really need more flexibility. They also need to be reminded it's okay for them to say no sometimes.

Generation X

It's really important to accommodate this generation’s need for work-life balance. They value professional mobility and the ability to transfer to other positions. Other work options that appeal to them are job sharing and self-scheduling. But flexibility is the key word. When you're talking about Gen X retention, here are some eye-opening statistics: 60% of them are open to a new job opportunity right now, over half would take a pay cut for work that really aligned with their values, and 45% would quit because of substandard technology. If an organization is archaic in terms of technology that's really going to be a downside. 84% of this group identified work life balance as their number one job consideration, and 88% would rather work in a collaborative culture. While this generation doesn’t need to get their way all the time, they still want to have a voice and be heard.


For millennials to be retained, they want to know they're working with other bright, creative people. This is a very creative generation, in their use of technology, as well as other areas. They want to know they make a difference and are attentive to the civic angle of working for an organization. An important component of this orientation is the outsized appeal of working for a socially conscious organization. Healthcare is an industry where we make a difference in people's lives every day, and it helps to remind millennials about the impact they have. Not only should work be interactive, but managers should show appreciation whenever possible and frequently reward the team. Sometimes the end result may not matter more than for a team to have successfully worked together. Showing appreciation is a key retention strategy for this generation. This generation is also interested in having a voice and being heard.

This blog post is the third in a series based on the HealthStream webinar, Navigating a Multigenerational Healthcare Workforce, led by Leana D. McGuire, Director of Learning & Development at United Surgical Partners. She has been an RN for over 25 years, graduating with her nursing degree in Canada. Leana spent most of her nursing career working in the CCU and as a heart transplant coordinator, but after obtaining a degree in organizational development, she transitioned from the bedside to focus on her passion for leadership and staff development.

Access the full webinar here.