New to Nursing: Attracting Millennials to the Nursing Unit

Multi-generational teams enhance the profession

Within a very few short years, millennials will make up a majority of the workforce, and their percentage will continue to grow for at least another decade as the generation fully comes into its own. Already, millennials have eclipsed Baby Boomers in numbers, according to the Pew Research Center, though many have not yet entered the workforce. As of 2015, there were 75.4 million millennials, compared to 74.9 million Baby Boomers.1

The generational impact may be particularly acute in healthcare, since surveys have shown that millennials have a very strong interest in working in this field. Millennials like to “make a difference” in the work that they do, and what better place to do that than in the healthcare industry?

Since nurses are the backbone of the industry, and have direct influence on patient well-being through bedside care, it stands to reason that nursing could be very attractive to millennials. After all, if you want to make a difference and to help people, nursing could be the best occupation you can find.

Workplace Concerns

Millennials in healthcare will ask for a few things from their employers. And, since this generation is smaller in size than Baby Boomers – and therefore fewer in numbers to fill the growing demand for services – it might behoove employers to consider what Millennial nurses may want.

A 2016 Deloitte millennial survey found that millennials’ top workplace issues include:

  • Putting employees first (though in healthcare, that would necessarily come after the patients)
  • A solid foundation of trust and integrity
  • Excellence in customer care
  • High-quality, reliable services
  • Social responsibility 2

A millennial survey by the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation found workplace preferences such as:

  • A multicultural environment
  • Utilization of cutting-edge technology
  • Making a difference in the world and in the community3

Qualities of Strong Workplace

An article in Healthcare Financial Management Association, or HFMA, entitled “Leadership Strategies: Harness Strength of Multigenerational Workforce to Improve Healthcare,” urged managing to the styles of each generation, rather than relying on a set of skills developed for a homogenous cohort. Suggested strategies included:

Be open-minded. Expect different styles of dress, communication, and many other personal aspects both among millennials themselves and between different generations. Don’t allow differences to obscure a clinical manager’s view of a team member. Managers need to check their biases at the door.

Seek input. Top-down management may not work with millennials. Uniform and rigid policies and procedures could harm team engagement. Management needs to ask nurses what they think – and shouldn’t be afraid of flexibility and choice.

Provide coaching. Constructive management should be employed instead of punitive or even performance-mandated supervision. Millennial nurses might be much more sensitive to perceived criticism or negative feedback. Coaching and coachable conversations may be a much more successful tactic.

Reverse the mentoring. Managers can learn from multigenerational team members about their strengths, which can then be nourished for the benefit of the team. As an example, the technology-related skills of millennial nurses can be of tremendous benefit to the care environment. Older generation team members can learn a lot from younger generation nurses.

Be flexible. It’s often said that flexibility is a must in managing millennials – in any industry. But it’s actually a benefit in managing anybody. Work-life balance would be appreciated by nurses of any age. The preferences of each generation and each individual in the workplace should be recognized. All people like it when their personal lifestyle needs are respected.4

Retaining Balance

Other studies of millennial preferences in the workplace focused on more nuts-and-bolts job issues that could be very important to healthcare providers trying to hire and retain nurses. For example, flexibility in work hours is very important, perhaps even more than salary and benefits to many millennials. Healthy work-life balance is much more valued to millennials than to past generations,5 which underlies the emphasis on flexibility in work schedules.

Another vital aspect is a good workplace environment, one that is friendly and collegial. A cooperative spirit is much more valued than a competitive one, which could be a very positive trend in healthcare considering the shift to value-based health services with their emphasis on team-based care. Millennials also expect to develop their skills in the workplace in order to advance their careers, so training and mentoring opportunities may be very important. That’s another plus for healthcare, considering the mandate for continuing education.

Attracting the Right Candidates

However, nursing leaders are rightly warned against putting too much stock in descriptions of millennials’ likes and dislikes, according to an article in MEDSURG Nursing. Clinical managers “…should not stereotype individuals and should realize each person has his or her personality. Individual life experiences and characteristics also combine to create a unique being.”6Respect, communication and cultivating the strengths of each individual may be the best strategy for bolstering the productivity and effectiveness of a multigenerational nursing team.

The key to attracting and retaining not just millennial, but nurses across the generations, seems to be more than just offering a series of enticements but in creating a workplace that workers value – for much more than just their salary and benefits. A recent message from Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Global, in the Deloitte Millennial Survey, sums it up: “The message is clear: when looking at their career goals, today’s Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits.”2

It seems to me that nursing already has all the key ingredients to be a very desirable occupation for the generation of millennials.


  1. Fry, R. “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation,” Pew Research Center. April 25, 2016. Accessibility verified February 13, 2017.
  2. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey Accessibility verified January 31, 2017.
  3. Gen Y Women in the Workplace. Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. April 2011. Accessibility verified January 31, 2017.
  4. Wagner, Karen. “Leadership Strategies: Harness Strength of Multigenerational Workforce to Improve Healthcare.” HERe. Accessibility verified January 31, 2017.
  5. Schulte, B. “Millennials want a work-life balance. Their bosses just don’t get why.” Washington Post, May 5, 2015. Accessibility verified February 13, 2017.
  6. Phillips M. Embracing the Multigenerational Nursing Team. Medsurg Nurs. May-Jun 2016; 25(3):197-199.


Marcia Faller is chief clinical officer at AMN Healthcare

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