Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Leading past the younger generation's bad rap

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

It wasn't that long ago I was the young one. Now I find myself more often referencing things in the past by the year it happened.

This shocks me because I remember thinking, how can these people say, “Remember in ‘87 when OBRA passed?” “Remember what life was like in our world when we actually used physical restraints?” Or, “Remember when one nurse took care of 200-plus residents?”

These things all actually happened and people lived through it. I didn't. I was more worried about my rolled up jeans and my salt-n-peppa hairstyle.

Generational changes in our field, not unlike other fields, impact us in dramatic ways. It seems that now more than any other time I can remember, those younger than I am are getting a bad rap.

Call them whatever you would like: Gen Y, Gen Z, Millennials or the new Silent Generation. Maybe we are getting older and can't figure out this group, but just last week I heard more negative than positive comments about this age group (20-somethings) than I care to admit.

Comments like, “They just come to work for a paycheck,” or even worse, “They want all the benefits without doing the work.” If you are a millennial reading this and you aren't ticked off yet, you should be!

Here's my disclaimer: I know plenty of you born between 1975 and 1995 who are hard-working, creative people. The challenge is blazing the course. These same people who made negative comments about you explained in great detail to me how they are having a hard time finding young people who want to make a career in our field.

“They are just here to pass the time until another opportunity comes along,” they tell me. This downright frustrated me. Listen up, all of you 20 somethings. There is no better field than serving the greatest generation around! Where else can you share your life's dreams with those you serve? Where else can you come to work every day and know at the end of the day you have made a positive impact on many lives? What other field will you get the privilege of sharing the most intimate of life's moments with others?

I've heard all the arguments: We don't pay enough to keep good people, people don't want to work these shifts, and my personal favorite … the acute care world is more exciting.

I would challenge each of those assumptions. The work we do isn't about the paycheck; the work we do has rewards far beyond what money can offer. I once heard a friend say working in our field should be the cool profession. We should have people lined up waiting to work in our communities.

The harsh reality is they aren't. We have job openings all the time.  Maybe we need to find a way to lead through that.

We've tried many different things such as speed interviewing (yup, just like speed dating) and a cocktails and conversation happy hour. Both were somewhat successful. We are trying. We don't have time to sit around and say, “Poor me, we can't attract new employees.”

It's also interesting to point out these techniques for finding new employees came directly from a millennial on our leadership team. She ran with the idea, which is one way I'm convinced we need to keep the great ones we have. Give them the ability to shine and let them run with ideas.

That's the thing with leadership and attracting the 20-somethings. We are learning to give you the tools you need and get out of the way. There aren't many professions out there where you can help create your reality. The field of aging services is one that's hot; it's on the cutting edge and we need the younger generations to get involved and make a difference.

You can do that in this field. This profession is one where you can make your professional mark. Not only can you make your mark in the field, but I guarantee you will have personal satisfaction well beyond what you may find in other fields. You will meet people who will touch your lives in a way you never knew imaginable.

You may even spend the final moments of someone's life sitting by her bedside and seeing how beautiful living a full life can be. Other fields will never offer you that blessed opportunity. You have to be brave, you have to be courageous and you have to open your world to possibilities you may never have considered before.

Aging services is the new frontier. Old is the new Cool. I'm looking for young professionals willing to take this journey of learning our work from the inside out. Spending the time as a caregiver to appreciate the work and then taking the steps of embracing leadership in a way that can change the field.

I remember thinking a few years back, “When I'm 40, people will start to take me seriously.” Funny thing, along the way I forgot about the age thing and started to take myself seriously.

There is no magic age for being heard or being taken seriously. How old is old enough?

So millennials, if you are looking for a profession where you will be taken seriously, treated with respect and encouraged to dream bigger than you ever thought possible, this world of serving seniors may just be the answer you are after.

Julie Thorson is the president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality in 2014. A coach's daughter at heart, she is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. A licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and was recently named LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 

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