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Healthcare leaders: Here’s how to recruit—and retain—Generation Z

By 2020, more than 20% of the workforce will be Generation Z. Healthcare leaders, take note: this is an enormous opportunity.

The oldest of this cohort, arriving on the heels of the Millennial generation, are just now beginning to graduate from college, ready to launch their careers. They’re hungry for specific kinds of opportunities, and healthcare organizations are uniquely positioned to deliver them.

If, that is, health systems can learn to understand what Generation Z truly wants from their workplace.

This article dives into what the research reveals about Generation Z’s professional preferences. In it, leaders will find some promising trends that give healthcare organizations a distinct advantage in the war for high-quality talent.

The trick, of course, is to capitalize on them.

Who is Generation Z?

The first thing to say: Generation Z is not Generation Y.

Generation Y—also known as Millennials—entered the workforce in the shadow of 2008’s Great Recession. When many of them graduated from college, they faced relatively scarce job opportunities, and they felt unprepared for that.

Generation Z, by contrast, has the benefit of the Millennials’ experience. As Millennial researcher Dan Schawbel puts it, “Gen Z has a clear advantage over Gen Y because they appear to be more realistic instead of optimistic, are likely to be more career-minded… [and] since they have seen how much Gen Y has struggled in the recession, they come to the workplace better prepared, less entitled, and more equipped to succeed.”

“Realistic,” “career-minded,” and “equipped to succeed”—traits any employer would want in a new hire.

So how can healthcare leaders entice this robust new generation to join their organizations?

 What does Generation Z want?

 NRC Health’s own research points out what Generation Z is looking for in a job.

One survey, conducted in 2018, asked 970 Gen Z healthcare workers about what keeps them engaged in their work.

The biggest factor? Communication: 50% of respondents said the fact that  “communication among the people I work with is never a problem” is the primary driver of satisfaction with their job.

Pride also plays a role: 82% said they want to be able to talk up their organizations among their friends.

And finally, on a daily basis, Gen Z healthcare workers want to feel that they’re making a difference: 71% reported that this makes them feel that they “love coming to work every day.”

These statistics should be encouraging to healthcare leaders.

After all, “making a difference” is an intrinsic part of working in the industry, and large health systems frequently command an eminent position in any community. Bragging rights are virtually assured to the people who work for them.

What are they afraid of?

However, this shouldn’t suggest that Gen Z will flock en masse to healthcare roles. They have real fears about their future in the workforce—fears that could become serious liabilities for health systems that want to hire them.

Foremost among these fears is a general sense of declining opportunities. Cooling rates of economic growth and the rise of automation leaves these youngsters feeling unassured about their professional futures.

Seventy-seven percent of them believe that they’ll have to work “much harder than previous generations” to have a satisfying career. Reflecting that fearfulness, 69% would rather have a steady job than one they’re passionate about.

Such large-scale pessimism aside, Gen Z also worries about interacting with their colleagues: 45% of Gen Z believes that working with the Baby Boomer generation will be “very or somewhat difficult.” They worry that Boomers will perceive them as “kids” and not take their ideas seriously.

How to create loyal Gen Z employees

With this fuller understanding of Gen Z’s expectations, it becomes clear how health leaders should approach recruiting and retaining them. They should strive to create the workplace culture Gen Z is looking for, while simultaneously allaying their fears about an uncertain future.

Easier said than done. But here are a few important steps to emphasize, in order to secure Gen Z’s enthusiasm.

Listen to them

Reservations about working with Boomers reflect Gen Z’s fears that they won’t be heard in their new jobs. Fortunately, this is a concern that leaders can tackle directly and simply—with face time. (And no, that’s not referring to Apple’s video-chat software.)

Despite having grown up in the era of ubiquitous messaging technology, 53% of Gen Z’s members report that face-to-face conversations are the most meaningful way to communicate in the workplace. Simply taking the time to talk, in person, with Gen Z staffers will go a long way toward assuring them that their voices matter.

Offer work-life balance

Unlike Millennials, who consider work-life balance to be something of a perk, Generation Z sees it as a baseline expectation: 40% of them say that it’s an important career goal.

This is a challenge in healthcare. Direct patient care can be a 24/7 job, and affords few opportunities for remote work or telecommuting.

But leaders should bear in mind that Gen Z workers will appreciate any flexibility that organizations can afford.

Deliver security and growth

 Finally, what Gen Z wants most out of their work is something health systems can readily deliver: stability and opportunity. Forty percent of Gen Z report that job security is important to them, and 64% say the same about opportunities for advancement.

Careers in healthcare have long been prized for their stability. As one of the truly indispensable industries, healthcare is about as “recession-proof” as any employee could hope for.

Career advancement, however, is another question. Gen Z is a very ambitious generation; presumptuous as it might sound, 32% of them believe they’ll be in a supervisory role within the first five years of their career.

To retain them, then, it may help to give them clear, fair, and straightforward criteria for promotion into managerial roles. This will help spur them on to high performance, and give them incentive to stay.


Managing a multi-generational workplace will always be a challenge. Accommodating the needs of five generations simultaneously can stretch leadership’s capacities to their limit.

However, the challenge is not insurmountable. By keeping an ear attuned to what each generation demands, leaders can find ways to bring everyone’s concerns into consideration, and cultivate the kind of workplace that works for all.

While compromise is an inevitable part of working together, disengagement is not. If you want help discerning what drives your employees to succeed, NRC Health is here to help.