Hiring, Managing, and Working with Millennial PTs

Perhaps you’ve heard the news: the future is doomed because of the up-and-coming millennial generation. At least that’s what many, many news and business publications would have us believe. After all, according to dozens of generation think pieces and market analyses:

But I’m not here to chime in with another generational hit-job. In fact, I’m deeply opposed to this caricature-like stereotype of millennials, because while the assumption that millennials are self-involved workplace nightmares might be widespread, it’s entirely untrue. Around 50% of WebPT team members are part of this generation, so I’m speaking from experience when I say that the millennial workforce is just as ambitious as previous working generations, and its members could be a huge asset to your clinic—if you know how to work with them.

Millennials are not who you think they are.

To successfully hire and work with a millennial—or anyone, for that matter—a practice manager or owner has to shelve his or her preconceived notions and approach the hiring and collaboration processes as neutrally as possible. After all, if you enter a professional relationship with a host of negative biases, you’re sabotaging yourself from the get-go. It also helps to debunk the stereotypes that could sour your perception of these potential PTs and front office workers before you even meet them.

They’re not so young anymore.

The members of the millennial generation, according to Pew, were born between 1981 and 1996. That means the eldest of the cohort are 38 years old—and the youngest are 23. Millennials are no longer children or teenagers; for the most part, they’re adults who’ve been active in the rehab workforce for several years. And although the newest batch of PT millennials are about to graduate and enter the rehab therapy workforce, they likely aren’t the first millennial candidates to interview at your practice—nor will they be the last.

They’re better-educated than previous generations—and they’re waist-deep in debt.

According to Pew, millennials, as a whole, are better educated than previous generations: 39% possess at least a bachelor’s degree. But, while the rise in education levels is wonderful, it also means that these college-educated professionals are burdened with debt: “Compared with earlier generations, more Millennials have outstanding student debt, and the amount of it they owe tends to be greater.” This analysis certainly aligns with the student debt data WebPT has collected as part of our annual industry report. In 2018, we found that more than half of rehab therapy students will accumulate more than $70,000 in debt before graduation.

They work hard—to the point where they’re susceptible to burnout.

Many millennials are workaholics—often to their own detriment. According to a survey conducted by Alamo, the majority of employed millennials (59%) feel shame taking and/or planning a vacation—whereas less than half of workers from older generations (41%) reported feeling the same way. Another survey from Happify identified that the millennial mind is dominated by thoughts about work—positive, negative, aspirational, you name it. And yet another survey (this time from Growth from Knowledge and Project: Time Off) found that millennials are disproportionately interested in being viewed as work martyrs (i.e., they want to be seen as fully dedicated and mission-critical employees).

In the rehab therapy space, that’s like having a PT who skips lunch and stays an hour late each day to complete his or her documentation—or a new-grad PT who never says no to adding another patient to his or her schedule and volunteers to work overtime in addition to answering emails at home. This unhealthy preoccupation with work is uniquely tied to the millennial experience—to the point where many stand on the cusp of, or have already succumbed to, total burnout. Burnout is no new topic in our industry—and it’s critical to understand that your newest crop of PTs may be more susceptible to it than their predecessors.

They’re not sold on the standard corporate narrative.

Unlike other generations, millennials are not particularly loyal to the companies they work for—and our industry is no exception. According to various Gallup surveys, millennials are:

  • more open to new job opportunities,
  • less likely to stay put at their workplaces, and
  • “the most willing to act on better opportunities.”

This is not due to laziness or a sense of entitlement. In fact, some speculate that this trend stems from the effects of the 2008 recession. Others point to a clash of ideals between millennials and their employers (e.g., millennials frequently mention their deep-seated desire to perform meaningful work). Either way, it’s clear that millennials are not sold on the standard professional environment offered by many of today’s industries—including ours.

They need a different professional environment.

So, we have a group of highly-educated workaholics in their 20s and 30s who are burdened with debt, want to make a difference in the world, and have an unmatched willingness to leave companies if things aren’t working out. How do we in the PT field hire, manage, and work with such a group?

Millennials care about the organizations they work for—if those organizations care about them, too.

Luckily, the PT field is already primed to accept millennial workers. After all, the name of the PT game is helping patients live better and move without pain. You can’t find a job more meaningful than that! But while meaningful work is a big part of the millennial m.o., it’s not the only thing millennials are looking for in an employer.

They want to work in a practice that has a good culture.

A strong, positive company culture is the best way to attract (and retain) millennial workers. This means your practice should cultivate an open, friendly environment that makes employees feel valued, encourages innovation, and rewards initiative. Additionally, your culture needs to promote:

  • communication,
  • collaboration,
  • core ideals, and
  • work-life balance.

Not every clinic’s communication strategies and core ideals will be the same, but being mindful of these general categories will help you create, nurture, and grow your clinic’s culture into something truly special. This was always a huge area of focus in my practice, as I strove to create a welcoming, flexible environment that my employees could thrive in—and I’ve carried this philosophy over to WebPT as well.

Culture Maintenance

Maintaining a good culture hinges on the employees who work at your practice. You need to hire therapists and office staff who buy into—and will uphold—your ideals. When you’re looking to buff up your ranks, slow down the hiring process and ensure that you’re hiring for cultural fit—and not for convenience, or because a prospect’s résumé checks all the boxes. Don’t get me wrong, expertise is invaluable, but skills can be taught—personality cannot. And if your employees don’t mesh with your practice’s culture, any expertise they may have brought to the table could be completely overshadowed.

They want to work for a clinic that practices conscious capitalism.

According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey (2018), millennials (and the generations to come) are losing faith in businesses. Only 48% of survey-takers believe that businesses behave ethically, and only 47% believe business leaders are committed to improving society. This Forbes article contextualizes this data perfectly: “They expect more than what is currently being delivered from their leaders.”

And honestly, are millennials asking for a whole lot here? They essentially want businesses to be cognizant of—and responsible for—the effect they have on the community. They are asking for conscious capitalism: a philosophy I wholeheartedly support—and have spoken about previously.

Tenets of Conscious Capitalism

Conscious capitalism is a pro-capitalist philosophy that encourages business owners to use their companies to elevate humanity via four tenets:

  1. Higher Purpose (i.e., “businesses should exist for reasons beyond making a profit”)
  2. Stakeholder Orientation (i.e., businesses should care for everything they touch—from customers and suppliers to employees and the environment)
  3. Conscious Leadership (i.e., business leaders should inspire positive movement and uphold the “Higher Purpose” tenet)
  4. Conscious Culture (i.e., businesses’ cultures should foster trust and care, as well as “accountability, transparency, integrity, loyalty, egalitarianism, fairness, and personal growth”)

By following these tenets, clinic owners can demonstrate their dedication to people, which creates an environment that naturally nurtures culture and provides meaningful work. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves? It’s an amazing feeling when you belong to a group that impacts people’s lives in an uplifting way—and work in a place where you can contribute to that positive effect on a daily basis.

They can be wonderful assets to your practice—provided that they are managed and motivated correctly.

I work closely with dozens of amazing millennials here at WebPT, and they continue to amaze me each and every day. They’re dedicated, innovative, hard-working, and fiercely loving people who give back everything WebPT pours into them—if not more. Because we give them the work environment they crave (i.e., one that truly has purpose and prioritizes culture), they’ve flourished and become invaluable to our company. This is completely attainable for any PT practice owner out there.

Final Advice

Don’t prioritize perfect financial metrics at the expense of your therapists. Maintaining good financials is integral to running a successful business, but if you’re laser-focused on productivity—and ignore things like NPS® and outcomes—you’ll drive away your millennial workers. Additionally:

  • Remind them of the effect they’re having in their patients’ lives;
  • Make them feel valued—not like another brick in the wall; and
  • Encourage them to stay connected with their personal lives.

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Millennials aren’t the first generation to get some flak from their elders—and they won’t be the last. Just remember that they’re eager, generous people: ones who aspire to be the very best version of themselves. Don’t count them out until you’ve given them the chance to grow and excel. I bet they’ll end up surprising you.

 

 

About the Author

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, is the president and co-founder of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She co-founded WebPT after recognizing the need for a more sophisticated industry-specific EMR platform and has since guided the company through exponential growth, while garnering national recognition. Heidi brings with her more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and multi-clinic site director as well as a passion for healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

An active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA, Heidi advocates for independent rehab therapy businesses, speaks as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, and participates in local and national technology, entrepreneurship, and women-in-leadership seminars. In 2014, Heidi was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees. She also serves as a mentor to physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs and leverages her platform to promote the importance of diversity, company culture, and overall business acumen for private practice rehab therapy professionals.

Heidi was a collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Davis, and remains a lifelong fan of the Aggies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology, went on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida, and obtained her doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence in Motion. When she’s not enjoying time with her daughter Ava, Heidi is perfecting her Spanish, practicing yoga, or hiking one of her favorite Phoenix trails.

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