How to Recognize and Reward A Multi-Generational Workforce

Updated on August 28, 2023

Melissa Minkow copyBy Melissa Minkow

Generational differences are often viewed as issues and difficult challenges. It is important, however, to note that these same differences can often be used to assess strengths and abilities of employees. Understanding the new healthcare workforce, which is now made up of diverse generations, can actually be an advantage to managers, leadership and the team in general.

Generation gaps in healthcare have become a growing challenge as the young workforce is working along side our more experienced personnel.  As the healthcare industry itself transforms, changes and adapts, so too have we seen a change in the workforce.  Now more than ever, there is a growing generational diversity caused by postponed retirements and a boom in employment opportunities in healthcare.  Because the healthcare industry encompasses more than just the hospital setting – we have a growing group of entry-level to experienced senior staff working together in physician offices, ambulatory care centers, rehab and extended care facilities, and specialty centers for practices such as oncology and orthopedics.

Consider that Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000 – the first generation to have been raised with the Internet and, and this generation is now almost as large as the Baby Boomer generation. The first generation to have been raised with the Internet in existence since their birth – they developed Web social networking skills at the same time they learned to read, write, and answer the phone.  The Internet has given this generation speed, access, and immediacy – all which has led to a young workforce of high achievers eager and ready to take on leadership roles.   Next up, are the Gen X’ers who lean toward technology but also embrace the non-Web world.  Then we have the Traditionalists – the older part of our workforce – the ones who were once nearing retirement with many working past it and remaining on the job beyond what was once expected.  Each of these groups different values, work ethics, expectations, and most importantly each are motivated by different factors. Putting it all together can be a recipe for success or disaster depending on the effort of leadership to consider this diversity.

How can the difference for the established workers who believe seniority and career growth should be based on years of service and a long line accomplishments that have been earned through experience be normalized alongside the instant gratification of younger entrants into the work force?

Here are a few ways to demonstrate recognition and rewards to optimize and strengthen your workforce:

1.       Dealing with the technology challenge:  Millennials (throughout the 20s decade) are more dependent on technology for communication and less on interpersonal skills. Having technology-free days has helped to increase interpersonal interactions with staff and make the generations more comfortable interacting with one another. On the flip side, providing extra training on technology devices for the Baby boomer and older generations helps to close the gap and has the ability to enhance respect or one another.  Try monthly lunch and learn lessons to give the younger employees a chance to share in a positive setting.

2.       Peer to peer recognition: Encouraging peers in the workplace to recognize each other for a job well done regardless of department, service line, or age can help to improve relations over all.   Create a program (weekly, monthly, quarterly) that allows staff/employees/nurses to say thanks to one another in person, in real time and nominate them for various reward programs that may be in place. The peer-to-peer is a great way to open up relationships and break down barriers between generations.

3.       Draw from experience: Often the older generations in healthcare have worked for an institution for many years.  While the “back when I was your age” theme may bore younger workers – having senior staff recall an important piece of work history that has the potential to both thrill and educate.  Invite your senior staff to share some of their company and industry memories in a newsletter or during department gatherings.  This is another way to open doors of communication and take away the barriers that decades in years often create.

4.       Make rewards & recognition easy and comfortable for all. If your company is based in an area with a wide variety of restaurants, shops, theaters – then a gift card to one of them for any of your employees would be an appropriate reward.  But a gift card that requires a long drive or has a very limited time to redeem – then you are burdening your staffer rather than rewarding them.  Points programs applied to merchandise selections are also fun for employees but if they require computer navigation to redeem – that could get complicated for workers who don’t have much computer experience.  Make sure every offering is easy, comfortable and meaningful for everyone. Most importantly, make sure your supervisors are trained in communicating employee “thanks” for a job well done because that is universal across all generations.

5.       Don’t forget the volunteers! Most hospitals and healthcare systems rely heavily on a large population of volunteers and auxillary groups. It is often within these groups that the greatest generational differences occur.  From the young age of 15 to 95 – volunteers work side by side within healthcare and recognizing them is critical to maintain their participation.  It is important to honor and respect the many different ages represented and when recognizing length-of-service – it is a wonderful way to “show” younger workers how appreciated this type of commitment and dedication can be.

Recognizing these generational differences will require patience, fully committed leadership and resources.  But the reward is there — those that embrace the diversity of their workforce will see the impact it has on the patient experience, outcomes and continuum of care.  Most importantly, never underestimate the power of the two words that will be clear to everyone on your workforce regardless  of where they fall in the generational mix:  Thank You.

Melissa Minkow, CRP is the Executive Vice President of Recognition Professionals International the only industry association dedicated to educating, improving and advancing employee recognition & rewards in the workplace.  Please send your comments to [email protected] or @RPITweets.

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