Recently, Michael Coyle, CEO of Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital, a Critical Access Hospital in Ely, Minnesota and I co-presented at the National Rural Health Association on the topic of Intergenerational Communication. This presentation and topic have generated significant discussion nationally, with requests to present the findings to numerous state organizations Due to the significant interest and in case you missed the presentation, I thought I’d take the time to address the topic in our latest edition of the LegatoBlog.
For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workforce (with a fifth generation well on its way). Each generation has different priorities, attitudes, and communications styles, which can positively—or negatively—influence your rural health organization’s culture and the quality of care it provides.
The American Hospital Association sums it up this way: “Health systems that create productive multigenerational teams will be well-positioned to handle the evolving challenges of the health care industry. These organizations will thrive with a willing and able labor force that can achieve optimal clinical outcomes and patient experience.
“In contrast, organizations that fail to effectively manage an intergenerational workforce will experience high employee turnover; pay higher costs for recruitment, training and retention; and have lower patient satisfaction scores and worse clinical outcomes.”
There’s no denying it. Generational diversity is rapidly changing workforce dynamics, especially in the people-centric field of healthcare. To improve performance, productivity and quality, rural health organizations need to transform the way they manage and engage a diverse workforce. That transformation begins by recognizing generational differences like these:
- Traditionalist (Born 1928-1945)
- Key life events: Great Depression, World War I and II, Television
- Characteristics: The most loyal generation. Dedication, sacrifice, honor, loyalty, team, rules, stability. Follows physician direction explicitly.
- Baby Boomer (Born 1946-1964)
- Key life events: Civil rights movement, Vietnam war, moon landing, free love
- Characteristics: Thriving and active, but not aging. Team, health and wellness, competitive, hardworking, self-absorbed, optimistic. Everyday boomers are retiring from the workforce. Takes physician advice, but researches their options.
- Generation X (Born 1965-1980)
- Key life events: HIV/AIDS, computers, video games, downsizing, Berlin Wall, YouTube.
- Characteristics: They seek knowledge and skills. Diversity, balanced, fun, self-reliant, global thinking. Actively seeks health information and shops for care. Responsible for health decisions that impact both their parents and their children.
- Millennials (Born 1981-1997)
- Key life events: Facebook, cell phones, mobile apps, terrorism, identity theft, obesity, natural disasters.
- Characteristics: The nation’s largest generation. Civic duty, sociable, moral, autonomous, everybody gets a medal, achievement, the “instant generation.” Shops for healthcare; likely to switch.
While it’s important to be aware of generational differences, I’d like to interject a word of caution here. It’s easy to identify a person with a specific age bracket and then assume you know everything about motivating that individual (or group of employees). But it’s critical to look beyond stereotypical characteristics and ask yourself, “How does this person fall within a specific generation?”
In other words, how is each employee “wired?”
This means applying data-driven approaches to improve your understanding of your workforce so you can better manage and engage employees, and ultimately improve engagement, quality, and revenue.
I’ve highlighted some potential tools with insights I’ve gained through friend and client Michael Coyle, CEO of Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital in Ely, Minnesota.
One tool that costs nothing to use but provides valuable employee insights is the “Getting To Know You” tool. It includes questions that help staff learn about their coworkers’ preferences in a fun way.
Questions like, “What is your favorite food?” are specifically asked not only to get to know someone’s personality, but to also understand how the employee likes to be recognized.
Another tool I recommend is the Predictive Index (PI), which is based on more than sixty years of behavioral science study. It can help your rural health organization understand how your employees think by providing a profile of each person.
More specifically, PI is designed to measure four motivating needs, or drives, that have the biggest effect on workplace behaviors.
Once you know where a person falls on a spectrum of these four factors, you possess a great deal of knowledge about what it’s like to work with them and how to effectively engage that person. One of the features I like most about this tool is the section on how to break down barriers and start communicating with peers.
This is exactly what it sounds like. In today’s multigenerational workforce, older employees are being paired with younger employees on topics such as:
- Social media
- Best practices
- Current trends
Reverse mentoring presents a unique opportunity for both sides to learn from each other. It can help foster better communication and collaboration with everyday interactions, and build trust and transparency.
These are just a few tools to use with rural health organizations to help them develop an internal marketing strategy and effectively engage their staff. Engagement begins not only by understanding who your employees are as a “generational group,” but more importantly as individuals.
Rural health organizations are under enormous pressure to stay competitive due to shrinking volumes, lower reimbursements and rising costs. I can tell you from personal experience—and from documented research—that one of the clearest paths to improved performance is workforce engagement.
Press Ganey found that health organizations with a highly engaged workforce perform better on safety, quality, and patient experience measures than those with low engagement. High performance in all of these areas influences financial outcomes.
Another study by the Advisory Board indicates that for every percentage point increase of employee engagement, HCAHPS ratings increase by 0.33 percent and patients’ willingness to recommend increases by 0.25 percent.
Research also shows that workforce engagement is largely determined by workplace relationships. Employees who feel understood, supported, and appreciated by their managers and colleagues tend to be more engaged than those who lack those attachments. These employees feel like they’re part of a cohesive, aligned team, which tends to lead to better care, and ultimately, improved financial performance.
Long story short, it literally “pays” to get to know—and engage—your multigenerational workforce.
In a later blog, we’ll address the next stage of capitalizing on this engaged workforce to build market share and community engagement.
Have a comment or idea for a future blog? We’d love to hear from you!
Would you like to have this information presented at your next association meeting or rural health organization? Email or call me directly to schedule!