If you were to ask one of my attending doctors to describe the millennial generation, he would laugh and say, “That group of whiny slackers?”
He'd follow with a list of adjectives including (but not limited to):
His sentiment is not uncommon, even among some of us millennials when we think about our own peers. There is a grain of truth underlying those feelings; however, often they are generated from a misinterpretation of how millennials act and navigate their world.
What millennial optometrists want
The misinterpretation extends to what everyone assumes millennial ODs want out of a job.
- We think they just want a paycheck.
- We think they want to work with their friends.
- We think they want to use their current job as a stepping stone to a different one.
Some millennial optometrists do want these things and have those characteristics. That group perpetuates negative stereotypes. But, another group of millennial optometrists does exist. These ODs are higher performers. These individuals are ready to help you make your practice better. So what do THESE millennial optometrists REALLY want?
- Respect – They want to be seen as equals.
- Fulfillment – They want to do meaningful work.
- Recognition – They want their work to be acknowledged and to be compensated for it.
- Challenge – They want to solve new problems in new ways.
That’s not an unreasonable list. It’s just that they want it tomorrow, not three years from now. Millennials think in the short term. It’s your job, as an employer, to harness their enthusiasm and unique skills for your benefit right from the beginning.
So how do you do that?
1. Performance-based compensation
Performance-based compensation directly addresses millennial optometrists' need for recognition. It says, “Go out and work as hard you want. I’m willing to pay you for it.”
You’ve simultaneously communicated trust and responsibility. High performers will relish in this and run through walls to prove themselves. These young employees have been aiming to please parents, coaches, and teachers their entire lives. Why should it be any different with their employer? A fixed salary can stifle that eagerness. Even if performance is only a piece of the compensation package, it puts the responsibility on the employee to earn what they get.
Of course, there are situations where overconfidence in one’s ability ends in disaster and a more cautious employee turns out to be a better option. But—more often than not—offering to pay for performance gets the attention of those who perform. It’s your job to structure a simple agreement in a way that doesn’t compromise quality in favor of quantity.
2. The chance to create
Millennials are brimming with ideas. A lot of them are bad ideas. But, if you let enough bad ideas come out, a few decent ones are liable to slip through the cracks and potentially make a huge difference in your practice. You have to foster the opportunity for young employees to explore their ideas and create something that is their own.
That does not mean you let them try out every goofy plan that comes into their mind. It means you give their ideas an equal chance given they’ve followed clear and explicit instructions on how to offer that idea.
Keep the line of communication open by asking new associates questions about some of their clinical decisions.
This serves three crucial purposes:
- First, it demonstrates an interest in their work, which they will appreciate and respond to.
- Second, it forces them to reflect and provide a rationale for why they chose a specific treatment plan. You might even learn something new about a new strategy or technique.
- Finally, by initiating communication with them, it makes them more likely to ask you questions when they are unsure. If they feel like you’re inaccessible, they are more likely to “wing it” and make more mistakes.
The key is making your questions come from a place of curiosity, not one of accusation. The purpose of asking questions is instantly defeated if the person you're asking feels like they have to defend themselves.
It’s a tricky skill to master.
Sometimes no matter what you do, the other person will get defensive. This gives you a hint they might be insecure about their choices and may need a little extra help. You just need to remind that you’re all on the same team, not opposing sides, with the common goal of providing great care to your patients.
3. Learning and flexibility in responsibility
Flexibility in responsibility does not mean sometimes an employee is responsible for something and sometimes they aren’t. It means you make their responsibilities explicitly clear.
Be very clear. After that, you teach them how to fulfill those responsibilities. And after that, you encourage them to pursue better ways to achieve the same results. This is hugely important when their responsibilities can be described as “grunt work.”
By saying, “this needs to be done by this time, I’ve taught you how to do it, now do figure out how to do it better,” you’ve turned an item on the to-do list into a problem just waiting to be solved.
The chance of being burned and the task not getting done is significantly reduced when you give them a viable option to fall back on when—not if —they fail to come up with a better plan. So training them well initially is essential before you let them take the reins.
Again it’s a win-win. The job gets done and your employees are personally invested.
They are responsible for their responsibilities. It’s up to them to try to come up with a better solution than is currently in practice. However, you must make it clear to them that they discuss protocol changes they would like to implement before implementing them. Again, you challenge your employees, communicate respect for opinions, create meaning, and provide recognition when someone comes up with a great new way to get stuff done.
4. A good mentor
“I’m really excited about getting started at this new practice, but I’m nervous about being the only doctor there. What happens when a patient comes in with something I’ve never seen before? What do I do then?”
I’ve heard comments like this from just about every new graduate I’ve talked to coming out of school. Having a mentor they can trust and learn from is a huge selling point (probably more important than salary) for this group.
Luckily, many employers looking to hire young practitioners have decades of experience and knowledge to impart on their new colleagues and help them to hone their clinic efficiency and instincts. The trick is doing it in such a way that isn't off-putting.
Millennials grew up in an environment that provided an excessive amount of positive (sometimes false) feedback. Their ability to deal with criticism might be less developed than in those who are a bit older. As a result, providing constructive criticism can become an art.
One of the best ways to mentor new docs is to lead by example. Even though many millennial healthcare workers won’t explicitly say it, they are constantly modeling themselves after more experienced doctors in some ways.
Here are a few of the things millennial healthcare workers glean from more experienced workers:
- Social cues
- Treatment and interpersonal strategies
- Language and terminology
- Mannerisms, gestures, and body language
- Clinical skills
Young millennial workers use this input to build their practice habits. It’s your responsibility to act like the doctor you want them to be.
At this point you might be saying, “That all sounds okay, we’ll get them up to speed and introduce those aspects when we think they’re ready.”
The problem? They think they’re ready right now—especially the high performers. Not allowing them to hit the ground running might cause you to lose some real talent. You can start communicating these ideas to potential employees as early as the recruitment process. You SHOULD start communicating these ideas in the recruitment process. The moment you start thinking about hiring an optometrist, you should understand what is going on in Millennials' minds. You’ll get significantly more high performers applying to work in a business they know they can help build. Containing and directing their enthusiasm into productive pursuits from day one will pay dividends down the road. That’s the other little secret. Employees who feel fulfilled and empowered from the beginning are much more likely to stick around.
So how do you make Millennials into great employees? Give them what they want from the beginning. Just be explicit in your optometrist job description about how much work they are going to need to put in to EARN it. Most of them are willing to do it.