Leadership: Millennials in the Workforce

By: Rae Oliviera

We all joined the EMS profession for many of the same reasons: protecting the public, helping others, the satisfaction of making a difference. But for all these similarities, our industry—just like many others—must still strive to ensure we’re all working together in the best ways possible.

So why do we occasionally misunderstand each other? What molds us as individuals are influenced by multiple factors: race, religion, culture, place of birth, how we were raised, just to name a few. One aspect that makes us unique and can have a particular effect on the workforce is our age. Let’s take a look at some of the newest members of our workforce, millennials.


Who are the Millennials?

First, let’s define the generational categories in the workforce:

  • Baby boomer (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Millennial (1981-2004)

As leaders in EMS, it’s important to know what percentage of each is in your workforce. Today, millennials are the largest generational workforce category. In 2016 they made up an estimated 35% of the workforce, and in 2020 they will comprise an estimated 46% of the workforce.

Understanding the generational makeup of your staff can provide insight into what leadership techniques may be most effective. You can also make assumptions about what is important to them, which will help you understand their motivations so you can be an effective leader. Though employees are individuals and should always be treated as such, understanding their generation can give you a place to start in your interactions.


Distinctly Millennial: Traits to Look For

Tech savvy. It should come as no surprise that millennials are the most tech-savvy group in the workforce. As technology is playing an increasingly important role is EMS, having millennials who have grown up with technology is a significant bonus. However, this growing familiarity with technology has also impacted millennials in other ways, such as changing group dynamics, underdeveloped interpersonal skills, and shorter attention spans.

Different social skills. Though most millennials experienced group dynamics in the classroom, their interactions generally moved toward more technology-based rather than face-to-face interactions as they grew older. This focus on technology-based communication rather than personal interaction has led many managers to worry that millennials lack some of the interpersonal skills needed to communicate effectively with patients. This lack of face-to-face interaction experience has also created shorter attention spans in millennials.

Job hopping. In EMS, especially fire-based EMS, older generations stayed with an organization until retirement. Millennials, on the other hand, are not afraid to change jobs often, which can have a significant impact on workforce retention. Millennials are enthusiastic, need to be linked to a cause or feeling of purpose, and will give respect only when respect is given to them. Work-life balance is also often one of the most important job features for them. So, when all or part of these needs is not met by their employer, they will look elsewhere.

Need for transparency. Finally, millennials want to feel respected and involved. Leaders should provide regular and timely feedback on job performance to provide transparency in the workplace. This feedback should be truthful, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then provide the resources for improvement.


Successful Millennial Leadership

Leaders can mentor and retain millennials in the workforce by capitalizing on their strengths while recognizing their wants and needs. Here are a few proven strategies for effective leadership of millennials:

  • Give them technology that works when possible. Ensure that your equipment meets the needs of their scope of practice and that software is up-to-date.
  • Create collaboration opportunities to improve their face-to-face communication skills.
  • Use team building exercises and scenario-based training to build interpersonal skills.
  • Provide non-traditional benefits that help establish a more balanced work-like dynamic. Some examples include flexible scheduling; gym memberships or in-house exercise equipment; a variety of healthcare, insurance, and retirement program options; pet-friendly environments; and convenient childcare options.

Millennials are here to stay—they’re the largest group in our workforce today and can be an important asset in any work environment. In EMS especially, where we have such a wide range of ages across providers, it’s important for leaders to recognize the unique needs of individuals in each generation in order to maximize the human resources we have to serve and protect our communities.


Rae is a Paramedic with over 30 years of emergency medical services experience.  She retired as an EMS Battalion Chief in 2009 from the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue (HCDFRS), Maryland after 23 years of service.  As part of her experiences in the HCDFRS, she obtained her Maryland EMS instructor credential in 1996 and oversaw the EMS section of the training division.  She has been teaching EMS and AHA courses ever since, and in 2015 became a nationally certified EMS educator through NAEMSE.  After her retirement in 2009, she was hired at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services (MIEMSS) and is currently the Director of the Office of Licensure and Certification for Maryland EMS.  Additionally, she is a critical care transport nurse, licensed in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

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