Baby boomers, generally defined as those individuals born between 1946 and 1964, are so named for the increase in birth rates that immediately followed WWII. The number of baby boomers reached a population peak of nearly 73 million in 1999. Since reaching that high point, however, the number of aging and retiring baby boomers has had a dramatic impact in the workplace. 

The rate of baby boomer retirement is staggering. According to the Pew Research Center, the baby boomer labor force has been declining by 2.2 million people on average each year since 2010, or about 5,900 daily. Across every industry, organizations have had to increase hiring to replace baby boomers as they exit the workforce. 

Perhaps more than any other industry, healthcare has been greatly impacted as baby boomers move from working age into retirement. The number of retiring nurses, in particular, has been consistently high. Research points to an estimated 60,000 RN baby boomers retiring each year since 2012. However, given our rapidly changing world with COVID-19, it’s hard to say if it will accelerate healthcare boomers into retirement sooner to protect their own health, or cause them to stay on the frontlines longer to help with the pandemic. 

The impact of aging and retiring baby boomers in the workplace is changing the way many organizations approach hiring and talent management. Here are five ways baby boomers are impacting human resources, specifically in the healthcare workforce.

1. Shifting Candidate Experience

Even when talent is plentiful, it is important to provide a positive candidate experience that keeps candidates engaged and excited about your organization. But when talent is scarce, as it is for many healthcare organizations, the candidate experience is even more critical for success in recruiting. Providing a less-than-stellar candidate experience can have detrimental effects on your hiring success rate by pushing great candidates away to pursue other opportunities. A poor candidate experience can also negatively impact your reputation. Candidates who have a poor experience are likely to share it with others. One study found that 72 percent of job-seekers who had a poor candidate experience with a prospective employer went on to share it in an online forum or on a review site.

Healthcare organizations need to attract new talent to replace retiring baby boomers, and they can hire more effectively by offering a great candidate experience. By having an efficient application, interview, and screening process, you can increase the likelihood of keeping candidates engaged through the process and reduce the chance they’ll have a negative experience to share with others. Some of the ways you can build a positive experience for all candidates include: 

  • Communicating frequently with candidates as they move through the interview and hiring process
  • Keeping the application process short and straightforward
  • Automating parts of the screening process and making it easy for candidates to submit and receive information

2. Loss of Institutional Knowledge

As retiring baby boomers are replaced with talent from younger generations, lessons learned from trial and error and the knowledge that comes from experience can be lost. In nursing, the loss of institutional knowledge has left a larger number of inexperienced nurses to care for patients. Research by the Advisory Board has found that the number of mid-career nurses has been on the decline, while the number of younger nurses has grown. With a less experienced nursing workforce, HR teams must focus more on training and development programs that will upgrade employee skills and knowledge.

Losing long-tenured employees doesn’t mean that patient care has to suffer or that inexperienced staff have to be put into situations they’re not equipped to handle. Some programs and activities that can bolster the knowledge and experience of your healthcare workforce include mentorship programs that pair younger talent with more experienced individuals, skills-based training and certification programs, and team activities that encourage knowledge sharing. By creating an environment that is geared toward building the knowledge of less experienced employees, it is possible to create a healthcare workforce that is highly skilled and prepared to take on current and future challenges. 


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3. Greater Demand for Flexibility 

According to Glassdoor research, many baby boomers are delaying retirement and working longer than previous generations, a trend that is expected to continue. However, just because baby boomers are working past traditional retirement age doesn’t mean they’re all continuing with traditional full-time work. Part-time work, consulting, and contract roles provide the flexibility some boomers may desire, allowing them to pursue outside interests while also benefiting from the income and structure that working provides. 

To maximize the value and contributions from the baby boomers in your workforce, many of whom may be considering retirement, it is a good idea to consider flexible working options. Flexible work schedules and the option for remote work can help to retain aging baby boomer employees and can help you continue to benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

4. Increased Focus on Younger Talent

With the loss of so many retiring baby boomers, it is imperative to focus on building a strong pipeline of younger talent. Some individuals entering the workforce may have identified healthcare as their chosen career, but others may not be aware of the many opportunities available or just may not know how to get started. In addition, given the lure of startups, consulting, and technology, it is important to demonstrate to young talent how rewarding a career in healthcare can be.

Hospitals and health systems can successfully attract the newer generation of talent by going beyond job postings and recruiting on campus. Some of the ways you can attract young talent include:

  • Raising awareness among young people about healthcare careers through employee branding and targeted content on social media
  • Offering students and young professionals opportunities to interact with employees through career fairs, on-site visits, and partnerships with learning institutions
  • Establishing a presence on professional networking sites that attract young talent 

5. New Ways to Provide Care

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the US will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply. As a result, healthcare employers will need to consider providing care in new ways, including redefining how patients communicate and interact with their healthcare providers. 

When there are fewer doctors to go around, it may make sense to explore options such as digital health services, remote care, and electronic health information exchanges (HIE). Each leverages technology in new ways, helping healthcare providers serve more individual patients and connect with them in ways that go beyond a traditional office visit.  Pursuing these alternatives is likely to spur an increase in new ways of working, such as more remote and per diem work arrangements.

The Changing Healthcare Workforce

As baby boomers move further into retirement, the healthcare workforce will continue to feel the effects of talent scarcity and greater demand for care by older patients. Considering that the youngest baby boomers have yet to reach retirement age, there is still time to explore new strategies for managing your ever-changing workforce. When you effectively hire, develop, and retain talented individuals from multiple generations, you can build a healthcare workforce poised to meet the demands of tomorrow.


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