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Millennials and sustainability: Recruiting and retaining the next generation of health care

By Lauren Koch, Health Care Without Harm climate and health program associate director

I am on the edge of the millennial generation. And, it turns out, my career path mirrors the research on my generation.

After earning a business degree, I ventured into the corporate jungle and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. Driven by my passion, I focused my job search on organizations with ethics that matched mine.

Research shows millennials are inspired by the opportunity to make a difference. Feeling like you’re working for a place that leaves the world in better shape is addictive.

And for many of us, careers in health care present that opportunity. When looking for jobs, we pay attention to an organization’s mission statement from equity initiatives to sustainability practices.

A survey of Fortune 500 companies found 49 percent of the companies indicated sustainability was “very important” to attracting top talent. Forty percent also reported it was “very important” for employee retention.

Former Gundersen Health CEO Jeff Thompson, MD, understands this well. He writes about the importance of consistency from senior leadership in retaining this generation in a blog on “How to Retain Bright, Young Talent: Live It or Lose Them.”

It’s not enough to simply create a green team. Senior leaders need to embody the commitment to sustainability in decisions made across the organization. This strategy has to be woven throughout the recruitment process, orientation and onboarding, and ultimately the day-to-day work environment.

Human resources is essential to this process. It’s where the cultural tone of the organization is set at the beginning of a new employee experience.

Gundersen has established an external reputation as a sustainability leader, incorporating sustainability into their external and internal communications, and has heard from new hires that this was part of the reason they chose to work there. They’re the only health system in the United States to achieve energy independence, saving $3 million a year and winning numerous awards from Practice Greenhealth, the White House Champion for Change, and Becker’s Hospital Review, among others.

Advocate Health Care, another Practice Greenhealth member, has been striving to embed sustainability into its culture in various ways, as demonstrated in this case study. Engagement activities include a sustainability component in employee orientation, incentivized sustainability-related events (Earth Day, recycling challenges, active transportation initiatives), an annual award program recognizing champions of environmental stewardship, regular feedback on the hospital’s performance on key sustainability measures, a Green Advocate and Sustainable Workspace Certification program, and sustainability messaging on signs throughout their buildings.

Advocate measures success by tracking engagement events, as well as through an employee engagement survey, in which employees are asked to rate their agreement with this statement: “My site is environmentally responsible.” Advocate’s 2017 engagement survey results were 80 percent favorable.

A headline from Environmental Leader, “Millennials to Employers: We’re Powerful and We Expect Sustainability” sums it up. This is the generation to consider as you create your recruitment and retention plans. Still not convinced? Consider this: The Harvard Business Review included employee engagement in its Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability and points out cost savings associated with replacement costs up to 90 to 200 percent of an employee’s annual salary by reducing annual quit rates between 3 and 3.5 percent.

Given the 16.2 percent national hospital turnover rate, we understand why our human resources colleagues lose sleep. But Practice Greenhealth has multiple resources to help you improve recruitment and enhance retention:

Employee engagement toolkit: This toolkit offers 12 case studies, a script for employee orientation, a white paper, and more materials designed to empower employees to be part of environmental improvement strategies.

Human resources checklist: HR professionals can use Practice Greenhealth’s new guide to coordinate their role in engaging employees with sustainability efforts. A blog by sustainability and HR professional Kristina Kohl also offers six strategies for attracting millennials.

Green employee benefits: Practice Greenhealth offers benefits you can pass on to your employees, including discounts on solar installation at home and electric bikes. Learn how to implement these programs via our archived webinar.

Free webinars: Mark your calendars for our upcoming educational offerings, including a Jan. 25 webinar on starting or growing a sustainability internship program, led by HCA’s sustainability director. And use this email template to invite your HR colleagues to our Jan. 30 webinar.

Employee engagement is a growing focus area at Practice Greenhealth, and our resources and support will continue to grow with it.

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