Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Over the past several months I’ve offered some thoughts on creating a culture of engagement in which employees feel connected to your facility/community and are motivated to contribute their best. With the Government Accountability Office recently releasing their report, “Lessons Learned for Engaging Millennials and Other Age Groups,” I took the opportunity to dig a little deeper on this topic by discussing it with three millennials who work in the senior care industry. In my conversations, I asked them about their motivators and de-motivators in the workplace.

Perhaps what motivates them does not differ greatly from other generations, but as providers, we know that the millennial generation currently makes up the majority of our workforce and those numbers will continue to grow. Although there are varying perspectives on the delineation of millennial birth years, they generally span between 1981 and 1998. Millennials have now overtaken the baby boomers as America’s largest generation, and by 2020 they will make up 40% of the total working population.

So it pays to stay attentive to what matters to millennials!

My interviewees were very generous in providing some rich insights… probably enough to write a book! But I’ll try to condense what I learned into a few golden nuggets.

Meaning matters

Clearly, millennials are not looking to “fill a slot” on a schedule or be a nameless, faceless resource performing a list of tasks. The consensus of all my interviewees is “I want to know that what I do makes a difference.” One person shared, “When I was hired, my supervisor reviewed the mission of our organization with me and made it very clear how the work I would be doing connects to the mission.” To this millennial, it was made clear that even at an entry level, she could have a significant impact on making a difference in the lives of very vulnerable people. And that felt very compelling to her.

An employee engagement study conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council found that new hires will try much harder when they understand and believe in their jobs’ importance to the organization. When their jobs were connected to organizational purpose and communicated to new employees during the onboarding process, discretionary effort increased by 23.4%. Informing new employees of your organization’s mission or purpose, and then helping them see how their job contributes to achieving that purpose, is a significant motivator.  

Management style matters

We know that an employee’s direct supervisor has a significant impact on employee engagement. Supervisors who create a positive relationship with their employees, coach and develop them, and encourage an active voice among their team members retain talent. One interviewee contrasted the experience she had in two different senior care settings and attributed the differences to the distinct management styles of the executive directors.

“The first executive director I worked for had a very directive style. She operated the assisted living community more as a business, by the books and by the numbers, versus placing her focus on creating a caring community for residents and employees. The second person I worked with demonstrated genuine care and concern for residents and employees. She embodied and role modeled the mission that she shared with me when I started my job.”

The pressure is always on to ensure the financial viability of your organization. Sometimes that motivation comes at the expense of paying attention to the people side of the business. True leaders create value by touching the organization through personal presence and relationships. It’s the traits of empathy, approachability and humility that make employees say, “My supervisor cares about me.”

Let’s look at another management style contrast related to employees having an active voice. One manager who “seemed to have tunnel vision” provided no opportunity for discussion about important decisions or openness to new ideas. “Things were always done her way. I tried to make suggestions about how we could do some things more efficiently but she didn’t take time to listen. That’s different from my current supervisor who asks for our input and is open to suggestions. On a recent project, she actually asked for my opinion and took my advice! My opinion mattered. When she did that, I felt part of a team that was doing important work.”

This means two things: We need to have well-defined and consistent methods for employees to provide their input, offer opinions and share feedback and we must have supervisors who are open to, and skilled at, active listening.

And one more thing…First impressions count!

All of my interviewees commented on their experience starting a new job and the need to feel connected and valued from day one. “It helped to have a specific person who I could routinely check-in with and ask questions. Those first weeks are scary and you need someone who makes you feel welcome, shows you the ropes and lets you know that you made the right decision to join the organization.”

The remarks from these three young women reflect much of the research that has been done on the millennial generation. Again, these motivators are not so different from the motivators of other generations. The real question is, how do we build a workplace community that truly inspires and engages a multi-generational workforce? Based on input from what is becoming our largest generation in our workforce, I want to reinforce the five cultural attributes of an engaged senior care workplace:

  • Clear Sense of Purpose

  • People-focused Managers

  • Active Voice

  • Meaningful Connectedness

  • Visible Integrity

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.