Taking the pulse of the three generations of today's health care workforce

A generational perspective on what the health care workforce wants, in light of the recent Allina nurses' strike

By Brian Martucci
Monday, September 19, 2016

Everyone has an opinion about the Allina nurses’ strike. For now, the focus is on bringing the situation to an amicable resolution. But the underlying conditions that brought the simmering disagreement to a boil won’t go away — and, in the coming years, they’re actually likely to worsen. Some perspective is in order. According to BridgeWorks, a Wayzata-based consultancy that helps clients tackle thorny generational issues and harmonize age-diverse workforces, each generation of nurses has its own aspirations, preferences, and concerns vis-à-vis employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. Those feelings touch other aspects of their professional lives too: work-life balance, professional development, opportunity for advancement, retirement planning.

Let’s take the pulse of the three generations that supply the overwhelming majority of today’s healthcare workers.


According to Hannah Ubl, BridgeWorks’s generational expert and head of research, millennials crave “work-life balance, career pathways and competitive incentives.” Since they tend to be less loyal to organizations and will soon comprise the majority of the healthcare workforce, “meeting these needs will be more important than ever” for healthcare employers.

A looming health worker shortage won’t help: By 2025, the projected shortfall of some 260,000 nurses will dramatically increase competition for nurses and other medical professionals, and further boost millennials’ negotiating power.

Employers also need to make clear that they value millennials’ input and opinions. “Millennials, who have been sharing their voices from a young age with their parents, as well as on social media, will bristle, buckle, and grow frustrated when put into a position where it seems their voices aren’t heard,” says Ubl.

Generation X

Gen X is smaller than the millennial cohort, but it’s no less vital to the future of the healthcare industry. As Boomers retire, Gen X’ers are stepping into senior leadership roles. Employers seeking fresh executive talent need to provide pathways for Gen X’ers to break through the so-called “gray ceiling” standing between them and the C-suite.

And, like millennials, Gen X’ers value employers that acknowledge their humanity and autonomy. “In all industries structured in a hierarchical fashion where big decisions are made behind closed doors, both Gen X’ers and millennials will question the motives of leaders,” says Ubl. “Gen X’ers value, above all else, transparency in a work environment and millennials value, above all else, authenticity.”

Baby Boomers

The nursing workforce still skews older: some 55% of nurses are over age 50, according to BridgeWorks. Many are focused on retirement, with roughly 1 million nurses projected to exit the national labor force

within the next 15 years. Traditional employee benefits are particularly important to this generation, as providing for comfortable and fulfilling retirements increasingly dominate their thinking.

Now, the real question: what’s your organization doing to keep each generation happy, healthy and engaged?