CHIME/HIMSS: Generational gaps make stable health IT workforce a 'fantasy'
ATLANTA--The healthcare industry workforce in 2010 is composed of baby boomers who are unable to retire, counting for approximately 35 percent of the employees, said Marilyn Moats Kennedy, MSJ, CEO of Moats/Kennedy during the 2010 CHIME/HIMSS CIO Forum.

The session discussed seven generations of individuals born in the U.S. during the Twentieth Century  in terms of their past and present roles in the workforce and the changes they have faced during the current recession. The generations included depression, pre-boomer, boomer, “cusper,” “buster,” “nester” and “next.”

According to Kennedy, an ongoing issue within the healthcare workforce is that baby boomers have found themselves unable to retire, with only 20 percent of this generation reporting being financially able to retire by the age of 66.

“The current age for retirement is between 72-75 years old and there are three times more [healthcare] workers ages 55-70 than there are 18-24 year-olds,” explained Kennedy. “Nothing in the near future is going to change those numbers.”

Kennedy said that one of the reasons for this trend is due to individuals starting families later than in past generations, noting that 24 percent of 12-year old or younger children in the U.S. have a 55 year-old father, with these children being the father’s first family.

“Cuspers,” or the generation following the baby boomers account for 11 percent of the workforce, said Kennedy, “However, they are not as entrepreneurial as the younger generations,” she said.

Another change evident in the workforce is the trend of “delayed maturation,” evident by the rising age of first marriage, said Kennedy, with the average age being 30 for college educated men and 29 for college educated women.

“When you have people getting married later, they are not working on their careers the same way that baby boomers did who were married by 22, with children by 26 and a mortgage by 30,” she explained.

Kennedy describes the idea of a stable workforce for health IT in 2010 as being a “fantasy. It can’t exist because the values of these generations are clashing,” she explained.

One way values differ for the generation now in their 20’s, is a phenomenon Kennedy referred to as “on the side,” which refers to this younger generation working a 40-hour a week job and building wealth through businesses outside from their healthcare career.

Since younger generations, consisting of individuals in their 20’s and 30’s, are not staying in their jobs as long as past generations and many have been reported as saying that they do not have plans of retiring within their first career path, Kennedy noted the idea of cross-functional-job rotation.

“Physicians are treating careers as if they have a shelf life of 25 years,” said Kennedy.

To remedy this, Kennedy suggested three key features that the boomer-aged healthcare employee will be looking for in the future. Flexibility is the main component within their first career, she noted, as people want more time to spend on outside activities. The second feature is value. She said that on many employee surveys, many individuals rank the feeling of being valued at their job as high on their list of priorities. Thirdly, the feature of flexibility is revisited again, but this time as noted in the healthcare employee’s second career.

However, she noted, employee happiness is different than employee satisfaction. “Does your job fit you? Do you feel in control? These are the questions you should be asking,” said Kennedy.

It’s about the climate,” she stressed. “It’s about what the working conditions are and it’s about how they feel about going to work every day.”