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‍Gen Z Healthcare Workers Are Here. Are You Ready?

March 29, 2023
Parker Pell

Categorized by the COVID-19 pandemic, an aging workforce, rising healthcare costs, and the digitalization of the industry, it’s no surprise the healthcare industry has borne the brunt of the last several years.

The pandemic magnified longstanding issues within the American healthcare system, such as a shortage of healthcare workers, a high level of burnout, and unequal distribution among communities. In just the initial two years of the pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 healthcare workers stepped away from the industry (over 230,000 of them). 

Long story short: the healthcare sector is facing a critical talent shortage and must look to new solutions (hi, Gen Z!) emerging generation to fill these vacancies. 

The state of early-career talent in the healthcare industry

Several key traits of healthcare professions align with the core characteristics of Gen Z, including social responsibility, human connections, and a desire to create a positive impact on the world, so it’s no surprise that Gen Z has gravitated towards healthcare as a career. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, nearly 40% of Gen Z are aiming for a career in healthcare and another recent survey found that 55% of Gen Z report an increase in post-pandemic healthcare careers. Healthcare and medical pathways have been popular in high school education programs in the last decade and the pandemic has only increased demand.  

Although their dedication to offering care and service to their communities is expected, Gen Z job candidates have particular demands from the organizations they select, especially within the healthcare industry (and especially for nurses!). They have witnessed entire communities coming together to support healthcare professionals, but they also recognize that the healthcare environments are often understaffed, under-resourced, and overworked. 

As we’ve explored, Gen Z’s unique, steadfast commitment to purpose, flexibility, support, and respect keeps them as dynamic and transformative as ever. However, in order to attract and retain this type of talent, healthcare organizations must comprehend (and put into action!) what both inspires and discourages them…those that do will be positioned to transform healthcare.  

Provide ample mentorship opportunities 

Healthcare professionals, such as nurses, often utilize judgment, intuition, and evidence-based practices to provide the best care to their patients. Developing nursing judgment requires time and often relies on more experienced nurses as mentors. However, with experienced nurses leaving in droves due to retirement or burnout, Gen Z nurses may lack access to these vital team members, making it challenging for them to manage their shifts (and mental health - we’ll get to that below). Generally speaking, Gen Z greatly values mentorship and views it as a way to acquire new skills and further establish a sense of unity and purpose. 

Regular touch bases with new healthcare workers can help with organization and prioritization skills, facilitate engagement, and make them feel supported, as outlined by this Indiana hospital, which trialed regular 1:1 meetings between entry-level nurses and clinical operations managers. Prioritizing coaching, training, and intergenerational bonding can help facilitate successful mentorship programs, all while enhancing team morale, trust, and overall performance. 

Reduce anxiety with on-the-job training

The climate of burnout and turnover is causing Gen Z candidates to enter the healthcare industry in a state of anxiety. The fear of inadequate onboarding processes drives this sensation: an Incredible Health survey found that nearly 80% of new healthcare workers found their training to be overwhelming, rushed, or lacking information. Gen Z, many of whom completed schooling in the midst of the pandemic, face unique challenges when it comes to hands-on training, in-depth learning, and overall well-rounded experiences due to remote or hybrid learning environments. 

As a result, hospitals are scrambling to train new graduates and make up for deficits from virtual schooling experiences. It becomes the classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma - as new graduates, they need to gain experience, but the opportunities to do so are limited. And, despite the decades-long nursing shortage, younger healthcare workers lack the clinical judgment and experience of retiring ones, putting the responsibility on healthcare organizations to support and prepare them to backfill these roles. Training and support should not only be thorough and organized but also open up a clear pathway toward specialization (and career growth!). 

Mental health support

The stress, anxiety, and overwhelming nature of healthcare has always been known, but the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on younger healthcare workers. According to recent data, almost 50% of nurses under the age of 35 have sought professional mental health support since March 2020. And, among those under the age of 25, 69% reported experiencing burnout, more than double the percentage reported by those over the age of 25. Emotional health is a significant concern for Gen Z healthcare workers and presents the need to address the mental health and well-being of younger nurses 

The cost of turnover in the healthcare industry 

If we look at nursing specifically, the cost of turnover is significant on multiple levels. For Registered Nurses (RNs), turnover rates range from 17-30% in the first year and up to 57% by the end of the second year. Based on data from a 2021 NSI National Healthcare Retention and RN Staffing Report, the cost of a single nurse turning over averages around $45,000. These costs include various expenses, including overtime pay, agency nurse fees, recruiting and advertising costs, training, and decreased productivity. As a result, the average hospital can lose between $4 and $7 million dollars in turnover each year. On the flip side, hospitals with low nurse turnover rates (between 4-12%) tend to have lower risk-adjusted mortality and lower patient stay lengths, in addition to better management and cross-departmental communication. 

Key Takeaways

To retain Gen Z employees in the healthcare industry, organizations must be ready to provide the appropriate training, support, and mentorship. The healthcare sector is uniquely positioned to transform alongside folding Gen Z into the workplace: Gen Z’s community-minded, collaborative, pragmatic approach makes for a great pairing. 

To create a future-focused and rewarding career pathway for early talent, the healthcare industry should consider the following:

  • Investing in thorough, consistent on-the-job training opportunities to minimize skill and knowledge gaps, increase time to productivity, and build confidence 
  • Foster a culture of mentorship and intergenerational collaboration
  • Provide mental health support to mitigate the risk of burnout 
  • Recognize the financial and professional implications of consistently high turnover rates to enact change

For more insights and tips on building a workplace environment that attracts and retains Gen Z talent, contact Abode. For more information on Gen Z in the workplace, download our full report, Working for the Future: How Gen Z is Driving Transformation in the Workplace, here

“Abode provides a solution that allows us to better connect with Gen Z talent in a way that is engaging to them. It offers a way for Elevance Health to enhance our brand and coin ourselves as an employer of choice for college students and graduates. Working with Abode is an easy and seamless experience.”
Brooke Smith
University Relations Manager, Elevance Health (fka Anthem)