Tips for Retaining Millennial Staff in Your Practice

January 11, 2016

Millennials are taking the workforce by storm, but how can practices ensure they retain these talented, younger staff members?

They're entrepreneurial, innovative, and eager to lead. Indeed, millennials bring a lot to the table, but they also mystify their employers, including medical practice managers, who often struggle to retain them. To motivate their youngest talent and minimize costly turnover, administrators must provide opportunities to develop their skill set and foster a creative work environment, says Elizabeth Woodcock, an Atlanta-based practice management consultant. "Millennials are not going to be surgery schedulers for 35 years," she says. "That's just not happening. In order to retain them, you have to keep them engaged."

Millennials, born from the early 1980s to early 2000s, will make up roughly 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, according to research from Deloitte. And according to Kurt Mosley, senior vice president of physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, they are preprogrammed for success in the healthcare field. While older generation providers were often Type A personalities, characterized by ambition and high energy, millennials are largely Type E - empathetic. "E-types are perfect for medicine because they spend more time with patients," says Mosley. "Guess what we're starting to pay on? Patient satisfaction."

Mosley says the easiest way to appeal to Gen Y workers is to offer flexible hours. Having seen their parents and grandparents log 60-hour work weeks, 20- and 30-somethings crave a better work-life balance. A 2015 survey of millennials by RecruitiFi, a crowdsourced online recruiting platform, found more than one-third (39 percent) would consider moving out of a white-collar industry and into blue-collar industries to gain more flexibility. And while 83 percent are aware that job hopping on their resume has the potential to be negatively perceived by prospective employers, 86 percent say it would not prevent them from pursing their professional or personal passions.

Medical practice managers can use this to their advantage. By allowing their employees to clock in early or start their work day an hour later, they not only grant their youngest team members more free time for recreation, but are also able to offer extended access to care, increasingly coveted by patients. "Flexible scheduling is a very easy thing to accommodate," says Mosley, noting one practice he worked with couldn't keep anesthesiologists on their payroll, until exit surveys revealed why. "It turned out they all wanted to cover 10 a.m. to 6 p.m." Beyond that, managers might also reward their best and brightest with paid time off, including Friday half-days in the summer, or more vacation, rather than pay raises alone - though compensation must still be competitive

CHALLENGE THEM

While the benefits of cross-training have long been clear to administrators, the practice of teaching staff members to perform multiple jobs pays even greater dividends where millennials are concerned. It keeps them interested, pacifies their desire to learn, and fosters a deeper respect among coworkers. Another perk? When employees are trained to wear multiple hats, your office is less likely to come unglued when a team member unexpectedly calls in sick. "Instead of everyone working in silos, figure out how to diversify your job functions," says Woodcock. Why not institute a rotation with your medical assistants and train them to do clinical rooming as well as scheduling, she asks. "That blows some people's minds, but scheduling is already part of the curriculum for most medical assistant programs," says Woodcock. "That's the kind of engagement that millennials need."

DEVELOP THEM

Remember, too, that most millennials are still exploring their career options. Thus, the smart manager allows time off for conferences, training, and continuing medical education, says Mosley. "Many millennials are getting their MBA in correlation with their medical degrees," he says. "A lot are saying that after 10 to 15 years in medicine, they'd like to become a CEO or medical director, so they want to learn the business side of medicine." Internally, practices must also create opportunities for millennials on both the clinical and clerical side to lead. Ask your best performers to spearhead IT projects, solve work flow problems, or attend training seminars and report back to the team.  "A lot of the groups I'm working with have their millennials training older doctors on ICD-10 because they're better at it," says Mosley. "It makes them feel valued. How many times do you get to say, 'Hey, I know you're brand new, but we need your help with this?'"

Indeed, the generation raised on smartphones, laptops, and social media is uniquely qualified to help patients and providers adapt to EHRs and patient portals. They speak the language of their peers and can serve as a valuable resource when it comes to promoting new access channels, enhancing your practice's online presence, and helping patients navigate your website. Let them do it, says Kyle Matthews, chief executive officer of CardioVascular Associates of Mesa, a seven-provider specialty practice in Mesa, Ariz. "This is a very efficient generation," he says. "Millennials are very good at finding shortcuts and solutions to do their job better. They can help you."

DO GOOD TOGETHER

According to the Deloitte survey, nearly 75 percent of younger workers say businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society. Some 63 percent of young workers give to charities, while 43 percent actively volunteered or were members of a community organization, and 52 percent signed petitions. "Millennials hate corporate greed," says Matthews, himself a millennial. "They want to know why we can't do things for the greater good of everyone." Managers can inspire their civic mindedness millennials, and do right by their communities, by encouraging staff to support a local charity, says Woodcock. That might include a coat drive for the homeless or a 5K run for the animal shelter across town - definitely not the school cookie-dough fundraiser for the office manager's daughter. "Doing charity events together is absolutely awesome," says Woodcock. "I've seen practices go to superstores and put meals together." To show support, your practice might consider matching donations, but human resources experts say staff should never feel pressure to donate. It should always remain voluntary.

Millennials are a misunderstood group, but they need not be a flight risk. Practices that solicit their input, develop their skills, and meet their need for work-life balance will be far better positioned to boost retention rates.  "When you tap into what they bring to the table it can really help your organization be much less cutthroat, less greedy, and more socially aware," says Matthews. "That way we all succeed together."

WHO ARE MILLENNIALS?

To understand their work ethic and worldview, it's important to come to terms with who are tomorrow's leaders. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, millennials, the cohort of Americans born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, are the largest, most diverse, and most educated generation in the U.S. population. Their perspective, both personal and professional, has been shaped by technology, and they value community, family, and quality of life. They came of age during one of the worst economic downturns in our nation's history, the Great Recession, which contributes to their mistrust of politicians, government, and business leaders. As such, they are far more likely to work for themselves than prior generations. "They don't trust leadership," says Kyle Matthews, chief executive officer of CardioVascular Associates of Mesa, a seven-provider specialty practice in Mesa, Ariz., himself a millennial. "Seeing their parents laid off just so their companies could save a few bucks, while those same companies continued to turn mega profits made a big impression on them." By and large, he adds, they are also more willing to challenge authority and, relative to older generations, their attention span is short. "They value social interaction so if you stick them in a corner at a desk, they're going to get distracted," says Matthews. That said, millennial workers are also fiercely loyal to employers who earn their respect. "It's important to know the difference between earning and demanding," says Matthews. "Just because you have a fancy title does not mean they will respect you. But if you implement a new policy, explain why it makes sense, and get their buy-in, they will follow that policy and encourage others to do so as well."

Shelly K. Schwartz,a freelance writer in Maplewood, N.J., has covered personal finance, technology, and healthcare for more than 17 years. Her work has appeared on CNBC.com, CNNMoney.com, and Bankrate.com. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of Physicians Practice.