The next generation is coming . . . are you ready?

By Pam McDonald

When senior living leaders talk about generational cohorts, they’re usually focusing on Baby Boomers – that enormous population burst consisting of people born between 1946 and 1964 that will make up the next big wave of future residents.

But as employers, senior living providers need to be paying attention to another generational group poised to affect senior housing and care in a big way – the Millennials, who are also known as Generation Y.  

In January of this year, the Pew Research Center reported that Millennials (born between 1981 and 1997) became the dominant age group in the workforce, comprising 53.5% of those working or looking for work. That’s one-in-three American workers who are age 18 to 34 today.

Gen X-ers are closely on their heels at 52.7% of the labor force. Born between 1965 and 1980, this group’s members currently are age 35 to 50. Baby Boomers still make up 44.6% of workers but at age 51 to 69, more are leaving than joining the workforce. Two additional cohorts – The Silent and the Greatest Generations – are age 70+ and comprise less than the 3% of workers.

The Workforce Shuffle

Jim Rubadue, Vice President of Customer Success for OnShift, a leader in senior living human capital management software and a Senior Housing Forum partner, is closely watching this “workforce shuffle.” Jim notes, ”While generational shuffles take place all the time, what’s significant here is that Millennials came of age in the 21st century and never knew a world without the Internet or smartphones.”

As Jim continues, “Millennials are accustomed to managing their lives and jobs on their smartphones.” According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, more than 85% of Millennial workers own smartphones, (although some argue that their smartphones own them). Additionally, Millennials rank their phones as more important in their daily lives than deodorant or toothbrushes.

Young people are doing everything on their smartphones and other personal, mobile devices – ordering food, shopping, ordering Uber or other transportation, and staying in touch with their networks of colleagues and friends – regardless of geography.

Jim says, “Naturally, these people have expectations about the technology available to them on their job. They are unlikely to be impressed when you say, ‘Welcome aboard. Your schedule is taped to the wall in the break room.’”

Millennials Workplace Preferences

Knoll Workplace Research recently published a glimpse into offices of the future. They identified four features favored by Millennials:

  • Choice
    Gen Y views the office as a setting for an array of collaborative work experiences and social activities. They want to choose workspace based on their immediate needs. They’re looking for location and work hour options and expecting a greater degree of control.

  • Experience
    Millennials desire an environment that will provide engaging experiences, allow them to blend their work and private lives, and keep them connected to people they value. They’ll want workspace to evolve from its predominant functional role to a more holistic one that embraces social and emotional components of work.

  • Integrated Work
    Gen Y favors workspace that supports the transition of people between individual and group work modes. They’ll choose environments that feel active with people coming and going. The sounds of the many simultaneous interactions will seem less distracting to this cohort who multitask and crave multiple sources of stimulation.

  • Distributed Interaction
    Millennials will expect greater use of technology for facilitating interaction and decision-making. They have been digital and wireless from the start of their work lives and are used to conducting their lives on the go. They’ll desire less acoustical privacy and want more short, informal meetings in casual settings.

Many senior living providers already are reviewing and changing their policies regarding personal technology on the job. Some now allow employees to use their cell phones more throughout the day.

The Next Generation Workforce

“I’m not condoning caregivers having their phones out while working with residents,” Jim says. “But more and more providers are permitting cell phones during breaks so staff can check on their kids or other family members. This provides a better work/life balance and promotes employee satisfaction, something that’s beneficial for employees and, therefore, for resident care.”

Jim notes, “If you want to attract the best and brightest workers, smartphones must play a significant role in how you engage with this generation. Why not take advantage of that relationship by leveraging the technology available to you?

“And,” he warns, “if you think Millennials have high expectations for personal technology, wait until you see what Generation Z has in mind.”

For more details on how modern technology and other practices can engage workers in senior living, click below for the whitepaper, Ready, Set, Engage: 5 Tips to Make Your Workplace Employee-Centric.