Book a Speaker
Grow Membership
Reduce Turnover
XYZ University YouTube Page LogoXYZ University Instagram Page LogoXYZ University LinkedIn Page LogoXYZ University Twitter Page LogoXYZ University Facebook Page LogoXYZ University Vimeo LogoXYZ University RSS Feed Logo
Talent Development
Generation X
Generation Y

A Call to Action for Hospitals: “We’re going to have deaths”

Healthcare is now the fastest-growing industry in the nation, partly because people are living longer and partly because the Baby Boomer generation—the largest generation of the 20th century and the largest percentage of the healthcare workforce—is now entering their retirement years.

The team at XYZ University works with clients worldwide. In our travels, we learn about industries and see firsthand how generation gaps are threatening the future of workplaces, governments, and membership associations. Sarah Sladek shares her insights from South Carolina Hospital Association’s 2017 Transforming Health Symposium.

A Call to Action for Hospitals: “We’re going to have deaths”

Can you imagine a community without healthcare? It’s a very real and serious challenge as our nation is now facing a healthcare workforce shortage. 

Healthcare is now the fastest-growing industry in the nation, partly because people are living longer and partly because the Baby Boomer generation—the largest generation of the 20th century and the largest percentage of the healthcare workforce—is now entering their retirement years.

In other words, we’re on the brink of the perfect storm: more healthcare is needed and there’s not enough healthcare professionals to provide it.

In 2016, The Atlantic reported that an estimated 700,000 nurses will retire or leave the workforce within the next 7 years. Already, hospitals in the United States lose an average of $5-$8 million annually in employee turnover costs, and this turnover is most evident among young people.

As a result, employee retention has become the key strategic imperative for 90% of U.S. hospitals.

South Carolina is already experiencing a shortage of 2,000 nurses, with a projected loss of 6,800 nurses within the next 10 years. In January, Columbia’s Channel 7 news reported on the critical shortage of nurses in the state. In the report a source from the University of South Carolina boldly stated:

“We’re going to have deaths. We’re going to have unintentional injuries happen. Right now, across the state, we have a critical shortage of nurses at the bedside.”

XYZ University’s team has worked with healthcare organizations in Minnesota, Oregon, Iowa, Illinois, and Georgia, and the concerns remain the same wherever you go. There aren’t enough young workers to replace the retiring workers. Turnover and staffing shortages are skyrocketing, and it’s largely because hospitals are struggling to recruit and retain young talent.

The struggle to engage young talent largely stems from the hospital culture, which is usually rooted in hierarchy, schedules and processes, and outdated technology. In the world of healthcare, young professionals are still expected to ‘pay their dues’, working the worst shifts and longest hours. I’ve heard the phrase ‘We eat our young’ frequently mentioned in healthcare circles, referring to the harsh treatment and criticism that’s given to young professionals as a common, and even expected, practice. Needless to say, teamwork is a challenge, and negativity and turnover have become the side effects.

In his opening remarks at the Transforming Health Symposium, Thornton Kirby, CEO of the South Carolina Hospital Association, explained the four pillars of the association’s Destination Health campaign:

·      influencing health policy,

·      delivering highly reputable care,

·      building healthier communities, and

·      developing a healthy workforce. 

In my opening keynote, which followed his remarks, I noted that none of this matters unless South Carolina’s hospitals can develop a workforce. That one pillar, in my opinion, is the only thing that matters right now. Without talent, everything else is impossible. Without talent, our healthcare—and our health—is at risk. Recruiting and retaining talent must be the imperative in each and every hospital in each and every community. 

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

More posts by this author

Take the first step towards your future.

Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?