• Article
  • January 6, 2021

The ABCs of Generation Z and Workforce Motivation

What health care leaders need to know about recruiting, managing and retaining the oncoming generation.

Coming soon (if not already here) to a workplace near you: Generation Z.

Researchers at the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) define this large, diverse population as North Americans born from 1996 to roughly 2015. A set of shared experiences along with the tech-driven world in which they grew up has shaped this group into one that's decidedly different than their millennial predecessors, according to Jason Dorsey, Gen Z speaker and researcher in health care with CGK.

With the oldest members of Generation Z turning 25 this year, Children's Hospitals Today caught up with Dorsey to discuss what makes this population tick and how they might influence the pediatric health care landscape.

From a workplace perspective, what are some of the defining characteristics of Generation Z?

Gen Z's parents are primarily Generation Xers, and how Gen X has raised Gen Z has affected their attitudes as they enter the workforce.

Gen Z was at the right place where they got hit by the Great Recession. Not so much that they personally were employed during the Great Recession—they were 12 years old at the time—but they often saw their parents struggle. Because of that, Gen Z is very fiscally conservative; this is important when they're looking for a job because they want to make sure the job has stability and offers retirement benefits. That is pretty shocking. Our research shows offering some retirement and other benefits are extremely motivating for Gen Z, and that's stunning given the fact they're so young.

They also are much more worried about student loan debt than millennials were because Gen Z saw what happened to millennials. Gen Z is trying to figure out how they can graduate or finish their education with as little debt as possible. That's why we're seeing a lot of student loan forgiveness or student loan incentive programs—"If you work for us for a year, we will provide 'x' amount of dollars for you to reduce your student loans". Suddenly that's very important because they want to get out of debt as fast as they can.

Another defining characteristic we see with Gen Z is they do not remember a time before smartphones and social media. Because of that, they expect that type of technology experience as employees. It doesn't have to be the absolute latest technology, but they expect people to use current technologies to communicate, collaborate, find information and work with colleagues. That expectation is fundamentally different and it's because they've always been able to do everything through a mobile device, and they're bringing that expectation into this industry.

What kind of tech trends do you foresee this generation driving in the workplace?

We see Gen Z driving trends in their adoption of early technology when it comes to communication, collaboration, money and education.

For example, Gen Z is not turning in their paper-based homework through an e-mail—they're using the cloud to turn in their homework on Google classroom. That's how they're used to it. But then they show up for work at a health care facility, and now they've got to print something out and sign it three times or send it in an email. That seems massively antiquated. That's the kind of challenge they're bringing. Other generations may be inventing the technology, but Gen Zers are the early adopters. They're the ones who make it the new normal, and then they bring that new normal into the workforce.

Another example of change we're going to see is in employee onboarding. There's an expectation that a provider or employer of any size is going to be able to offer individualized training to develop people's skills, whereas it used to be an expectation that you had to be a big company to do that.

Because this generation has grown up learning everything on YouTube, they expect you're going to offer them video-based or other training on demand through their phone—and that's going to help them solve pretty much any problem. That is going to be a big shift and a further move away from the kind of traditional "certify the trainer and go to the workshop' training.

How can leaders at children's hospitals best position their institutions to recruit and retain this up-and-coming workforce?

The best thing is to recognize what you can and cannot do, because guardrails are important in health care for a variety of reasons—whether it's HIPAA, security concerns or just being respectful of people. The trick is to not hide behind those factors when it is reasonable that there is a technological solution to address a problem.

That's the challenge for a lot of health care leaders—not in the sense that they're hiding behind it, but it's just easier to keep doing things the way they are and extend it out another two, three, four years. But the reality is if we want to attract and keep Gen Z employees, they don't want to work with dated systems, because two, three, four more years in health care could be dramatically different from what they're expecting.

We always say, "Find the things that you can do that are allowed and are low-risk. See how that works and then build on the success of those things". It can be as simple as being more active on social media or using some different types of internal communication or training platforms. Those things are all totally doable within the guidelines of health care. Sometimes in health care people think you have to innovate to solve a problem. But a lot of these employees think the solutions already exist—it's just choosing whether you're going to act on them.

I see this not as a challenge but as a really exciting opportunity. We've got this great new generation coming in. They're bringing lots of exciting perspective, energy and value. Stepping back and being open and willing to embrace that—which I believe children's health care leaders do—is the right approach. If we do that, they'll strengthen the organizations, help us to bridge a generation and help us to best serve children. It's a great narrative. It's a great opportunity for leaders to reach out to this generation and, in doing so, also better serve our communities.