Don't fear the millennials

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

When you're a young person who began mulling career choices in the midst of the Great Recession, and then went on to pick a profession lovingly referred to as “dying,” odds are you'll go to great lengths to ensure that you have a stable job upon college graduation.

And, if you're as anxious as I was about the job hunt, you'll wear a suit and heels to a Skype interview.

I admit now that this may have been overkill, but it helped put me in a professional mindset. I was able to feel like I was going on a job interview, instead of sitting at my kitchen table and praying that one of my roommates didn't start loudly start singing in the shower. And it worked, obviously, because I'm working at that job today.

While the Skype suit has become a running joke here in the office (you're welcome, Elizabeth), I can't help but feel like it's rooted in some damaging misconceptions about my generation. There's certainly no shortage of articles and think pieces bashing millennials as being lazy, self-centered and taking an overly casual approach to their careers (bonus points if that article shoehorns in a hashtag to show how we're addicted to technology).

But millennials are an ever-growing and critical section of the workforce, and a growing concern for long-term care providers as seen in last week's McKnight's-OnShift webinar.

What resonated with me the most during the webinar weren't the tips on how to attract and retain millennial employees (even though the word “attract” gave me a good laugh, like people in my age cohort are some sort of exotic butterfly). No, what struck me the most was a question submitted by a fellow millennial regarding getting hired at a time when so many seemingly “entry level” positions are looking for three to five years' of experience.

I will admit, my anxiety about graduating without securing a job first helped a lot when it came time to start sending out resumes. I applied to just about every relevant internship, work study job and student publication I could find while in school and, after you add it all up, I graduated with roughly three and a half years of work experience relevant to my field.

But others in my graduating class weren't so lucky. Many had to sacrifice doing unpaid internships for endless hours at less relevant jobs in order to pay tuition and their bills, but still showed incredible promise in their classwork. I echo the sentiments of webinar presenter Irene Fleshner, RN, MHE, FACHE, when I say an organization that places too heavy an emphasis on an applicant's previous experience may be missing out on some seriously talented and dedicated people.

Providers are, understandably, hesitant to put time and resources into training less experienced young employees who may jump ship after a few years. (The idea that millennials will leave a job once it stops being useful to them is totally a myth, by the way.)

So we may not all stay with a company to “earn the gold watch,” as Fleshner said. But can you blame us? Many of us have just finished four years of hopping from part-time jobs and internships, and juggling classes with extracurriculars. Forgive us if 40 or 50 years in the same office seems a little daunting.

As for the pervasive belief that we're all addicted to our cell phones, I'll admit, we may use them a lot. I use my phone to check email, do my banking and keep in touch with family members who live in other states. There are some who abuse mobile technology, to be sure. But for every bozo posting inappropriate photos to social media, there's another whose cell phone prowess will make learning the technology used in your facility that much easier.

Thankfully, the economy has grown stronger, which may soothe the anxieties and rigorous job searches of some in my age group. In a time when millennials have more options for employment, providers will have to put more effort into luring them away from other industries.

Show them what an impact a job in long-term care can have on their career, as well as the lives of those they'll care for. A position with flexibility and room to grow, but also a chance to make a difference, is something a lot of people my age are craving these days. The frequent job hopping may be a side-effect of that; it's hard to commit decades of our future to a place where we feel we're just going through the motions without really doing anything.

So take heart, providers, because the wave of millennial workers isn't as daunting as it sounds. You may have to tweak your hiring approach, but the payoff will come in the form of employees raring to work and have a positive impact on your organization.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight's and does her generation proud in the workplace. Follow her @emmongan.


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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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