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Recognize Generational Differences to Strengthen Retention Efforts

By Lena J. Weiner  
   May 16, 2016

Different generations of workers have different needs. Let's stop trying to pretend otherwise.

College towns are transient places, and Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia Health System, is no different.

Every year, "we have a large contingent of students and residents who decide they've done their time here," says Mark Dunn, a talent strategy officer at the health system. "Then, it's time to go."

Replacing healthcare professionals can cost more than 20% of that worker's annual salary, a number that doesn't include the inevitable slow down before the professional leaves, revenue decline during vacancy, or money lost as the new hire ramps up.

No age group is immune to wanderlust, but Dunn and his team have witnessed more young workers coming and going than any other group. Tired of his retention efforts getting trampled, Dunn decided that something had to be done.

One Strategy Does Not Fit All

Traditionally, recruitment, retention, and engagement have been one-size-fits-all.

It's been assumed that if something appeals to a middle-aged worker, it will delight a recent graduate equally. That strategy may have worked in the past, but differences among age groups must be taken into consideration says St. Louis-based healthcare recruitment consultant Kathy Jordan.

"For the first time in human history, we have four—soon to be five—generations working side-by-side," she says. Each generation was shaped by different forces and events, and is in different places in their careers.

"Millennials are social," says Dunn, referring to the demographic born between 1977 and 1996 and the one with the greatest turnover at UVHS.

Traditionalists (born 1925 – 1945), are very comfortable with formal work environments, value their privacy (don't expect them to add coworkers on Facebook—if they even have an account), and tend to trust and value experience.

In terms of career goals, many traditionalists crave the opportunity to end their careers on a high note, but might need a reduced schedule to manage it.

Contrast Traditionalists with Millennial workers, who are attracted to organizations where they feel they will be respected as a contributing team member from day one.

A member of Generation X (born 1965 to 1976), Dunn wondered whether providing a stronger social fabric for younger workers [Millennials] would help them stay put.

Most of this generation's cohorts are looking for jobs that will allow them to gain experience while paying the bills—but they don't want to "sell out" or sacrifice too much time with people or activities that matter to them to do it.

Both of these groups have something to offer an organization; each requires different engagement and retention strategies.

Different Demographics, Different Values

Almost half (48%) of healthcare workers belong to the Baby Boom demographic (born 1946 to 1964).

Regina Levison, vice president of client development at Jordan Search Consultants says "These are children of parents who respected authority. They took direction [from managers], and they stayed in companies long-term."

"Working in healthcare offers stability," she says, "but also fulfills the need [of Boomers] to give back and work in a profession that allows [them] to make the world a better place."


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Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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