Recruiting in healthcare stands upended today, as the healthcare industry faces a slew of workforce challenges. With baby boomer and traditionalist professionals retiring, vacancies for Gen Z are growing by leaps and bounds.
According to an article in Becker’s Hospital Review, a top publication for hospital and healthcare business news and analysis that has compiled data from various prestigious sources, Gen Z is estimated to constitute 30% of the workforce by 2030, with their after-tax income expected to reach $2 trillion over the same time period.
If it was just filling up for the shortage of skilled professionals, that would have been one thing. But there is a twist to it.
It is not just the constitution of the healthcare professional workforce that is in focus here. What’s interesting—and challenging—is that this new crop comes with a distinct set of identity, perception and aspirations. This significantly alters the recruitment dynamics.
A little ado with the “why” of it.
Gen Z is noticeably different from the previous generations in various aspects. Their formative years have been marked by the deep integration of technology into their daily life. The biggest upending factor has been the pandemic that further immersed them in online communication. The health crisis led many to reassess their educational paths and question the conventional work practices.
Many saw their parents lose jobs, lose residences and grandparents return to the workforce to take care of finances. They have grown up amid economic and social upheavals. This is perhaps the most diverse generation in terms of race and ethnicity. It has witnessed major economic and social upheavals in real time through the internet, which has had a resounding impact on its thinking, including goals and expectations.
They may be born in a highly competitive environment, but they see their approach as more egalitarian. They believe they are more open-minded, accepting and active participants in social movements such as those pivoting on cultural diversity, inclusion, rights of minorities, and climate change.
Given their social disposition and distinct traits, they are more often attracted to the healthcare sector. Over 35% plan to pursue a career in healthcare, as per a survey by the University of Maryland-Baltimore. Many are rather considering the field early, such as college-bound high school sophomores, juniors and senior students. A large section views career in healthcare as an effective way to bring about a meaningful change in the world vis-à-vis making a lot of money, according to a survey by Wunderson Thompson.
But the reality is different.
Talent shortage is a key challenge for recruiters in the healthcare industry. Whether it is for administration, housekeeping or for nurse-related work, recruitment professionals are increasingly finding it challenging to source Gen Z professionals.
As per an article by NBC News (dated May 9, 2023), nurses in healthcare are increasingly complaining of discontent and well-being-related struggles. It says job satisfaction has declined after being over 80% for over a decade—only 71% of respondents expressed contentment with the nursing profession in 2023.
The article also reveals that younger nurses were less happy with their jobs and careers than their older counterparts; therefore, they are unlikely to recommend nursing as a profession to others. Just about 42% of Gen Z and 43% of millennials would encourage their peers to pursue nursing, in contrast to 62% of baby boomers.
There is a developing conflict between aspirations and reality, which is characterized by burnout, stress, and anxiety. This is making healthcare professionals rethink their career choice, resulting in shortage of professionals.
What are the challenges in recruiting Gen Z?
Handling Gen Z, perhaps the most influential among socio-economic groups, requires an incisive understanding of their thinking and behavior.
This is a digitally native generation. They have grown up on technology and are highly tech-savvy. Hence, to reach out to them, the methodology needs to be different, not the conventional approach. To understand their thinking pattern, you need to scout social media platforms as frequently as they do. Only then can you know what’s trending, their concerns and issues.
How to reach them? To relate to these young adults, you need to tailor your products or services according to their needs. So, for instance, if you want to recruit them, either directly or through a recruiter, you will have to package your services. Since many of them may be on student loans, you could give some kind of debt relief.
They are hooked on to their devices – mobile phones. Therefore, time or location is not a constraint. They are intolerant of lengthy, verbose content for advertisements. They want content that is snackable – relevant and concise. They depend majorly on online reviews – peer group opinion matters more than ever. So, the greater your online presence as a brand, the greater the chances of striking the right chord with them.
They value authenticity and punish false information by shunning the brand. You cannot fool them. They perceive access to information and transparency as empowering. Give them a wealth of relevant information and they will trust you. Their consumption pattern is characteristically different from that of the others.
It must be understood at the outset that Gen Z has a unique approach towards work and life that applies across industries. Naturally, the steps to address their requirements will overlap for various sectors. However, in healthcare, given the dynamics of the industry and the nature of work involved, we need to adopt a more incisive and clear approach.
What can you do as a leader to make sure your organization and offerings resonate with the Gen Z healthcare workers of today?
Steps to attract and retain Gen Z healthcare professionals
1. There are no substitutes to right diagnosis.
To win over Gen Z, it is important to understand their mindset. If you are looking to attract them, find out what will fly by them. Gen Z is typically attracted to jobs with:
- A well-defined social commitment or purpose. Given their bent towards bringing about a change at the societal level, it is important to be clear about how the job will add value. They will gravitate towards employers that prioritize social commitments.
- Scope for intra-operational movement. A certain level of hierarchy within an organization may be acceptable and necessary, too. But it should not impinge on growth. A career with prospects for both lateral or vertical movement attracts them. Suppose, within elder care, a Gen Z nurse may later on aspire to move from home care to institutional care, or day care. Will that kind of flexibility be available to them?
What about other options, such as remote working, or on-demand staffing, or same-day par for those on hourly wages? As they say, flexibility helps preserve sanity. It avoids burnout.
- Benefits that are stated in marble. These could include support in loan payment, such as student loans, child reimbursement, health insurance, flexible hours for work-life balance, mental wellbeing, a good bonus or newly designed and customized compensation plans in line with their role.
- Challenges to keep them motivated. Does the job offer them the scope to learn and grow? How can they scale up their skills? What guidance/mentorship will be provided via training or learning & development to equip them to take on new roles? Are there leadership programs, structured coaching modules, or lessons in team-building for overall growth?
2. Time to respond intelligently – what’s the course of treatment?
Once you’ve figured what matters to Gen Z, it’s time to implement the learning.
As a leader, you will need to have the right HR machinery in place. This means collaborating with your HR leadership to ensure that recruitment is well-planned with the right tools. These include:
- Transparency, the most potent tool of persuasion. For Gen Z, transparency as a key workplace cultural trait is extremely important. So, whether it is about their salary or job profile or reporting structure or growth, they value clarity.
Ensure your organization is transparent right from day one. This will set expectations right and help you buy their trust. This is not a generation you can fool by mere lip service.
Say you are deciding the salary level. Be honest and go with the industry standards. The salary does not have to necessarily be very high, but fair in terms of value contribution. The Gen Z is aware of the industry standards. Also, they are open to sharing information among their peers to prevent any discrimination. They are aware of what’s trending.
Likewise, ensure promptness across the hiring process, from short listing to interview to onboarding. The HR machinery should not be lax. Candidates should be called back and updated about the status of their application; likewise, onboarding should be seamless and efficient. Simple steps such as these convey that the organization takes its prospective candidates seriously.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities, perks, benefits, career growth opportunities, training, etc.
When dealing with Gen Z, it is important to remember at all times that this generation believes in being abreast of the latest developments. So, while they may have opted for healthcare as a career driven by social commitments, there is no way that they can be misled.
They know well that the sector is under-staffed and under-resourced. But this does not mean they will opt for any role without clearly understanding what they are applying for.
Potential candidates will want an accurate representation of the role and its day-to-day activities. They want to know what to expect.
3. Sustainable treatment – Are the silent ambassadors of your brand in place?
- Fishes are different, but they swim together. Diversity and inclusion are specifically important in healthcare. It can significantly enhance experience for both patients and caregivers. For a patient from a minority background, it helps in increasing their comfort during their stay at the hospital. For healthcare professionals, a DEI environment translates to greater opportunities. It helps in effectively strategizing recruitment and hiring.
As a leader, you need to build a diverse and inclusive organization to attract and retain Gen Z. How do you do that?
Define what diversity & inclusion means for your organization. Set specific goals and metrics to measure progress towards those goals.
You could have a dedicated team for diversity and inclusion practices. They will work to spread cultural awareness, which will benefit both Gen Z professionals and patients. Also, they would come up with suggestions on new ways of providing services that would make patients more comfortable.
Build a diverse workforce/candidate pool. Ensure hiring is inclusive. Using diverse recruitment channels helps in removing any potential bias from the hiring process.
Adopting DEI practices enables you to build a supportive organization, which enhances job satisfaction and mental well-being. It can also help in reducing health disparities and boosting patient outcomes. This would motivate Gen Z professionals who value meaningful work. DEI can provide opportunities for professional development and leadership as well, especially for individuals from underrepresented groups, thereby contributing to their career growth in healthcare.
Develop and implement an inclusive L&D/training program: Provide training to all healthcare employees. This will contribute to promoting awareness about different cultures. Also, you can address and recognize unconscious biases that may be affecting patient care.
Review policies and practices regularly: Review/revision is essential to keep policies relevant and effective. For example, revisiting and updating policies on time is one way to create more opportunities for women or minority groups. You can ensure that they receive enough assignments which would boost their careers.
Above all, you lead by example. When you actively work to implement inclusiveness, it motivates your employees to take the policies seriously.
Communicate frequently: Talk to as many employees as you can. Listen to their concerns, or complaints, or feedback. Redress without delay. Taking prompt action on suggestions for improvement creates a culture where people feel heard and valued.
Promote accountability: Hold the healthcare leadership, including mid- to senior level, accountable for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. Ensure that even the senior most healthcare professionals are trained on diversity and inclusion.
- Is it curing or killing – Are you creating the right impression and experience?
With Gen Z, technology is a huge differentiator. They have grown up with technology. Being digitally savvy is their second nature. They value and appreciate organizations that embrace technological advancements.
Tech-friendly healthcare recruitment scores big with Gen Z. Simple things, such as ease of navigation, simplified process of applying, online or remote interviews, mobile-friendly interfaces, etc., significantly impact their preferences and perception.
They want technologies that are innovative and efficient and integrated in the work environment. Some examples are electronic health records, telemedicine, wearable devices, and other health monitoring tools. These help in providing more efficient and personalized care. By embracing and leveraging technology in healthcare, you can attract and retain top Gen Z talent/professionals and meet their expectations.
- The medicine of their mind. Social media.
You cannot reach out to Gen Z without a strong and cohesive presence on social media. As a leader, looking to attract and retain Gen Z talent, you need to build a strong social media handle. They forage on these platforms for content. Gen Z are researchers. They will do their due diligence before applying, drawing inferences from what their peers have to say about an organization, irrespective of the industry.
Employ professionals or social media experts to build your presence on social media platforms. Leverage their expertise to understand trends and gain insights into what the Gen Z is talking about.
You can showcase the testimonials from your ex-Gen Z healthcare nurses, or recognize the achievements/contribution of your current nurses on social media. Both serve as pull factors for potential candidates, giving them an idea about what working at your organization may be like.
- Do they see a groundwork for good health and growth? In other words, opportunities to grow.
How can this happen? Through effective learning & development, mentoring and coaching programs. These are highly relevant in healthcare. Here, learning is majorly driven by interactions with senior and well-trained nurses or healthcare professionals. However, the shortage of experienced nurses – as the baby boomer population retires – has posed a challenge.
One solution to address the lack of access to experienced nurses as mentors for Gen Z nurses is to implement formal mentorship programs. You can pair younger, less experienced nurses with seasoned nurses under these programs. The latter can offer guidance and insights into how to deal with complex patient care situations.
A structured healthcare mentorship program is a highly effective tool. It helps new nurses to develop their nursing judgment and provide high-quality care.
Mentorship programs can enhance retention rates by creating a sense of community and team-building.
- Am I not entitled to mental wellbeing? What would be your answer if your Gen Z nurse asked you this question?
Mental health support is a key determinant in attracting and retaining Gen Z nurses. This is because these young professionals have to work in a high-stress environment. There are many reasons for this: shortage of nurses with the older experienced nurses retiring; the nature of caregiving in the healthcare industry; continued strain from the pandemic days, although a little less now compared to earlier; and increasing use of online training as hospitals jostle to bridge the gap between the supply and demand of nurses. Training has rather been incomplete, or highly rushed in the bid to prepare the nurses for rendering service.
Therefore, as a leader, you need to provide apt mental health support and build a culture around it. This includes ensuring that training is relevant, structured, spread out into digestible modules; building a speak-up culture where they can freely express their views; giving them options like flexible hours, break times, as far as possible; allowing for regular check-ins with managers or mentors; providing access to mental health resources; promoting self-care practices, etc.
The basics of recruiting, understanding and retaining Gen Z talent are more or less the same in any industry. This is mainly due to the unique attributes of this section of the population. With the right mix of work-life balance, meaningful offers, modern technology, impactful training/learning & development, flexibility, it is not difficult to nurture the work environment where this group will thrive.
For the healthcare industry, however, the irony is that the very value proposition it offers also poses a challenge. Saving and improving lives is much in line with the Gen Z’s take on work and life. But there is a flip side to it – stress, burnout, anxiety.
This has made attracting and retaining them a challenge. What is required of leaders, therefore, is a shift in their approach to recruitment and retention. Offering benefits, embracing technology, providing mentorship and mental health support, or meeting their other expectations are obvious strategies. But at the core lies the need to understand the mindset of this generation. Only knowing how they think can you offer them the support they need to not just attract but retain them.
If you are facing a challenge in hiring and retaining Gen Z healthcare professionals, connect with us at the earliest. We specialize in healthcare recruitment and talent retention. We are VBeyond.