The Fickle Millennial: Meet the new work force at your agency door

fickleadjective – changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties, interests, or affection.

HHS Director of Sales and Marketing

There’s a new worker on your home health agency doorstep, one of a rising labor force segment known as Millennials, with a great outlook, an impeccable resume, and a sincere desire to make a positive difference in the world.

As an employer in the home health industry, you know the risks that come with every hire. Training is time-consuming but necessary, and carries a substantial price tag. It also places an additional burden on an agency staff already stretched thin by patient needs and compliance burdens.

There’s no guarantee that your agency’s investment in any new hire will pay off; in fact, odds are that this worker will not remain at your agency for a full year before moving on. Some home health experts estimate that up to one third of all newly-hired clinicians leave their new positions within the first six months.

Certainly it’s fair to wonder how the advent of the Millennial worker will affect those odds. This is a matter of growing concern among home health agencies and other employers nationwide, as young adults whose coming-of-age near the turn of the 21st century bring fresh attitudes and new demands to the workplace. Fair or not, Millennials are developing a reputation for much less employer loyalty and far greater expectations of job fulfillment than previous generations. They are more likely to feel discontent and switch jobs at a much higher rate than any previous workforce.Changes in our workforce initiated by a Millennial mindset are expected to accelerate as more enter the labor force and transition into management positions. In the next 8 years, U.S. Chamber Foundation estimates that 3 out of 4 workers will be Millennials.

What does this mean for home health?

Employee retention is a particular concern for home health agencies, who have learned from disappointing and frustrating experience that many of the clinicians they hire will not make it past the first quarter of employment. One in three of every new hires leaves an agency before the first six months are up, according to Heather Calhoun, Director of Appeals and Special Projects Coordinator for Home Health Solutions LLC.

“It takes about six months before a new home health or hospice clinician really begins to know what they are doing in this field,” Heather says. She works with agencies of all sizes to conduct a series of new-hire orientation and training programs for HHS, and finds the turnover rate is the same regardless of an agency’s size, ownership or geographical location.

Heather believes this is because the work often turns out to be more challenging than expected. Many nurses come to the home health field from a hospital background, where they are accustomed to less autonomy and more structure – and, often, more sharply defined duties with advance scheduling. They are surprised by increased scrutiny on their documentation, frustrated by constant schedule changes and can quickly feel burdened by a fluid scope of duties.

“Some of them also find that they just don’t like going into nasty houses, but that’s just part of what we do in this field,” Heather says. “This is a different type of job, and some people just can’t handle the hassle.”
With staff turnover and retention already major concerns for the home health field, how will agencies adapt to an emerging, and perhaps more fickle, workforce?

The solution begins with gaining a better understanding of the Millennial mindset.

Who are they?

In 2016, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. For reporting purposes, the Census Bureau defines this population segment as the more than 75 million people who were born within the past 36 years.

They are tech-savvy and well steeped in social media connectivity, and nearly one quarter of them are likely to sport tattoos or body piercings, according to U.S. Chamber Foundation statistics. Almost 70 percent of them have never been married, and they seem in no rush to follow the historical trappings of growing up.  In general, Millennials tend to take years longer than Baby Boomers to reach traditional milestones such as home ownership or parenthood.

Some experts claim Millennials are the hardest working, most motivated and socially conscious generation of workers we have ever seen. Others experts claim that they are lazy, uncommitted and have a deep-seeded belief that they are entitled to privileges and provisions that generations before them had to work to obtain.

Regardless of which view you take regarding Millennials, it is becoming clear that it will require a different approach from employers to successfully engage and retain them, but we are just beginning as a society to pay more attention to the how and why of it.

Thought leader Simon Sinek recently made waves across social media with his release of a video discussing Millennials in the work place. (Click here to watch the video) In the video, Sinek takes issue with the parenting skills that he believes made Millennials what they are today. Evaluating an entire generation that seems to be set up for emotional failure makes the future look glib and hopeless. Sinek charges in the video that the responsibility for engaging Millennials belongs to employers who hire them. I disagree with several of the points that Simon makes (like marginalizing an entire generation), but overall I agree with his overview of the many challenges Millennials are facing and their outlook.

The good news is that Millennials aren’t without work ethic or potential. They want to love their jobs. On survey after survey, Millennials score as much more interested in the kind of work they do, job flexibility and balancing work-life demands than in salary levels or promotions.

More of them finish college (63%, according to the U.S. Chamber Foundation) than previous generations and feel a vested responsibility to a higher cause such as helping others, the environment, or simply “doing the right thing.”

Those characteristics perfectly position this generation to find purpose and fulfillment in our industry. So how do we as employers align our message with their need for a job with meaning?

Point out the obvious

Home health and hospice providers are already providing a service that fits well into the scope of work Millennials find appealing. We are providing services in most cases to the most fragile and dependent section of our populace, and our work can absolutely be considered “doing the right thing.”

So why would a Millennial leave a company providing such worthwhile service?

The answer is simple. They don’t understand the value they provide and the impact they are making.
Taking the time to acknowledge employees and the good work they are providing is key. The positive work is already there, but making sure that you acknowledge their impact will motivate employees to do more. This tends to push back insecurity and, as they see you as an authority figure, will give them the assurance that they are achieving something of value.“

Our goal is not just to hire, maintain and motivate our staff, but also to learn the tools to show them they are appreciated and recognized on a regular basis,” Home Health Solutions Onboarding Specialist and Operations Coordinator Christina Nuqui told a group of home health care professionals at the Home Care Association of Florida’s Winter Warm-up Conference earlier this year.

Among Christina’s suggestions:

  1. Create a formal Employee Recognition and Appreciation Program. Establish, at a minimum, an “Employee of the Year” system to recognize workers. To the extent possible, build on the annual recognition with many more opportunities. Add an “Employee of the Month” or “Star of the Week” program. The reward can be a small gesture, perhaps a $10 card to buy coffee, or add the employee’s name to a jar for an end-of-the-year drawing to win a larger prize. Remember that Millennials particularly value time off work, so consider offering a day off as a reward.
  1. Create an informal culture of appreciation. Being ignored is anathema to the spirit of productivity. On the other hand, simple words of appreciation and encouragement can reap an orchard of benefits. Make it a point to praise your employees in front of co-workers, and highlight achievements on office bulletin boards or in agency newsletters. Millennials may especially appreciate being recognized on the agency’s Facebook page as having made worthwhile contributions. Yes, it takes extra time to do these things, but the payoff is invaluable.

Provide a voice

We’ve all seen and heard of Silicon Valley software companies that provide full service restaurants, sleeping rooms, and even video arcades to entice potential employees. While that can draw talent, that is rarely what ensures loyalty to an employer.
Loyalty is built on an emotional level rather than with financial reward or access to enticing perks. Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement, defines employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has toward the organization and its goals.”

Getting employees – especially Millennials — to buy into your agency’s goals means making sure they feel that their input is welcomed and valued, that their suggestions are opinions are listened to, and that feel they have a valid stake in the ultimate success.

It may be as simple as putting up a whiteboard in the agency office with a big, “What do YOU think?” written across the top. Invite employees to answer questions such as, “What did we do well this week?” and “What do we need to do better?” Be sure to acknowledge what employees write there.

Give them a career path

Ambition runs stronger in this generation than many that have come before it. According to Britt Hysen, the editor-in-chief of MiLLENNiAL magazine, “60 percent of Millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs, and 90 percent recognize entrepreneurship as a mentality.”

Historically, career advancement was necessarily guaranteed, but college graduates today are looking to build a career that is rewarding and full of growth opportunities.

The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 discovered that 63% of Millennials say that their leadership abilities are not being developed.

How are you developing your Millennial talent? Do you provide opportunities to develop new skills or give them opportunities to prove themselves?

Invest in their tech aptitude 

Each time an agency brings in new technology or invests in a new electronic medical records software, challenges abound. In general, Millennials possess a near sixth sense for technology.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of exceptions, but you will rarely have to show a member of this generation how to send or upload a photo and how to operate new equipment. They have been taught or have simply learned how to type, interact with computers, and generally how to find information that they may not have quick access to. This combined with an aversion to “doing things the way they have always been done” makes them an asset worth developing.

 Loosen the reigns 

Of all the changes home health and hospice agencies must make to better engage and retain Millennials, this may be one of the hardest and most important. Work flexibility has moved from a “nice perk” to an absolute requirement for much of this generation. They have seen the ill effects of distant parents and consider it vital to maintain good work/life balance.

As an employer, try to cut them loose when they request it. Studies have concluded that Millennials not only respond well to that flexibility,  but tend to work harder and stay longer when necessary.

In Conclusion

The home health field is growing more challenging and complex each year, with increasing regulatory demands and growing pressure to adapt quickly and thoroughly to constant change. There has never been a stronger need for smart, self-motivated employees with a passion for helping others and an innate appreciation for flexibility on the job.

Millennials bring that skill set to the home health marketplace.

Employers who take the time to understand this generation’s need to be valued and to feel they are providing value will be able to successfully tap into this burgeoning segment of the labor force, creating the professional environment necessary to turn  fickle  Millennials into long-term, committed employees.

About the author:
Jason Lewallen has helped hundreds of agencies grow and rise to their potential. He is an industry author, a technology evangelist, a seasoned speaker, and a trusted voice. His passion comes in the form of assisting agencies to have the resources and finances they need to fulfill the mission that each agency set out to do.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in The Absolute Agency,  the e-newsletter Jason prepares each month for Home Health Solutions as a free best practices resource for administrators, executives and leaders in home health and hospice.
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