3 Rules of Managing Millennials in Senior Living

With a labor crisis in store that includes a worker shortage and wage pressures ahead, health care organizations are grappling with yet another workforce challenge: the rise of the millennials.

Millennials, or those born roughly between 1982 and 2000, comprise the largest generation since the baby boom. Known for being “job hoppers,” “entitled,” and the “me, me, me generation,” millennials (also known as Gen Y) are prompting employers to rethink many of their management practices.

Senior living providers have both an added challenge and an opportunity in managing millennials due to the nature of what they do in providing care to an aging population.


But how they manage this challenge and opportunity can truly change the shape of their organizations, says Lindsey Pollak, millennial workplace expert.

“[As an employer] I have a choice: Do I want to make them suffer though how I paid my dues in my first job or make them effective in their jobs?’ Pollak said during a presentation during the ACHA/NCAL Independent Owner Leadership Conference in San Diego this week. “…Are we going to manage them the way we want or the way they are going to respond?”

Pollak suggests several rules of managing millennials that will help organizations thrive, rather than struggle with this new, growing population of workers.


1- Promise personal development. Millennials thrive on experience and they have grown up with technology that opens doors and access to them. As a result, they often “want it all” in their careers—from day one.

“They ask for what they want earlier in their careers,” Pollak says.

Training is essential, despite about half of new employees today across industries not having received any, Pollak says.

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“If you provide training, that is very important, and it’s something to promote from the first moment,” she says.

Successful employers have approached this in different ways. One way is eliminating the annual review. Because millennials thrive on feedback, a more regular approach to feedback has proven effective for this population.

Another organization—Pals’ restaurant chain—has enforced a policy where managers are required to spend 10% of their time on training and coaching.

Yet another, audit and accounting firm PwC, has created a career hotline, available 24 hours a day. Employees can call to get help or advice about issues they are having and to provide advice toward resolving them.

2- Provide variety. “We all have come to expect this, but millennials have never known a world where this didn’t exist,” Pollak says.

The millennial generation is accustomed to a customized shopping experience, and a social media world where every experience is different. This expectation extends to the workplace.

While it may not be possible to promise variety in job functions each week or day, there are some things operators can do to engage their millennial staff when it comes to variety.

“They might want to know, what are the other jobs in this facility?” Pollak says. If you can’t offer a rotation, a mini-rotation may be more feasible. Consider allowing someone in one job function to experience other functions in short time frames.

This variety also extends to communication with the workforce. A community operator might consider combining text messages with emails, phone calls and face to face meetings in order to communicate with staff in a varied way.

Some have also found success with eliminating some technology as a way to vary the work experience.

“[Your] jobs are physical,” Pollak says. “Try putting phones away. Some have figured out there’s a real appeal to turning off your phone.”

3- Stress experience. “Experience is the new swag,” Pollak says.

This is particularly important in assisted living or service environments, where millennials have a chance to create change.

Instead of offering water bottles and promotional merchandise at career events, recruiters are bringing the CEO of the company, Pollak says.

Other effective methods of proving an engaging experience include field trips, such as special events or conferences, and “hack days” in which organizations compete to solve a common problem. While many millennials are accustomed to casual work environments, some are finding “Fancy Fridays,” in which employees dress up are a counter activity to “casual Fridays” of the past.

“Millennials want impact,” Pollak says. “This is a point of continuity among all generations who work with older adults; they want to do the work you are passionate about. Impact is very important with this generation. Celebrate the face they will impact from the first day.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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