Oct 12, 2012

Generation Y, and what they bring to – and expect from – public health

What can Generation Y bring to the work of public health? And how can workplaces and colleagues make the most of their talents? Thanks to the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA f

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

What can Generation Y bring to the work of public health? And how can workplaces and colleagues make the most of their talents?

Thanks to the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA for organising for us to hear direct from some of the people themselves.


Generation Y and Public Health – a match made in heaven?

Dr Melissa Stoneham writes:

Generation Y are the most materially endowed generation ever, and bring invaluable talents to a workplace such as social media and technology skills.

With just 1 in 5 employees falling in the Generation Y category, many “experienced” practitioners are still learning how best to manage or work alongside these “dot-com” kids.

So we asked three Generation Y’ers who are enrolled in the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA mentoring program to enlighten us about how the “want it now” generation is coming to terms with the challenges of waiting for longer term strategic outcomes in the field of public health.

Here is a little of what they had to say:

Emma Lee Finch is a Corporate Health Officer in the Risk Management Section with the Department of Environment and Conservation in WA.

Gen Y’ers have high expectations of themselves but also their employers. This generation likes a challenge and are determined to succeed.

They are the “best generation for productivity, creativity and work satisfaction when on projects that extend their skills” said one source. This relates back to Gen Y’s constant need to learn but more importantly their expectations of their workplace.

Research indicates that this generation seek career development potential and an organisation that shares their values and ethics. A report into Gen Y’s and the finance sector stated that they “are confident about their own careers and willing to move quickly if sufficient opportunities do not arise in their current organisation”.

A quote from an interviewee also stated “the brand is important because it reflects on me as an individual”. Another article stated that “their expectations are different. The millennial expects to be told how they’re doing”.

I think this is where it is important for managers and supervisors in public health to be aware of generational traits. In order to retain Gen Y’ers and get the most out of them they must feel valued and their needs must be met. Such a simple change in management style could have great flow on effects.

Put simply, I believe that career driven Gen Y health professionals will make a huge impact. Their determination, desire to make a difference and willingness to continually learn will position them well. To finish on a quote “Gen Y are not a negative force, they are simply their own force”.


Lauren Tracey is a Program Officer in the Healthcare Associated Infection Unit of the Communicable Disease Control Directorate with the Communicable Diseases Control Directorate in the WA Health Department

What sets Gen Y apart from other generations? According to my baby booming father, we are capricious; he cites my ever-changing array of mobile phones and other gadgets of evidence that Gen Ys tire of things quickly.

I choose to put a more positive spin on this attribute and point to Gen Ys love of technology, and the need to always be up to date. Access to information about everything, including our own health, is in the palm of our hands.

We couple this love of information and technology with social media engagement, and are much more willing to share personal details about ourselves than previous generations.

From a public health perspective, a growing and ageing population means health systems will struggle to provide universal for the population in the future. Gen Y will experience increased pressure to take responsibility for preventing illness and disease through individual choices and actions.

I think this prospect fits well with Gen Y, who like to take control of all aspects of their lives, including healthcare. Gen Y will undoubtedly challenge a paternalistic model of healthcare to seek out solutions, using the information available to them to empower their own choices.

It is also realistic to expect a person to soon be able to gain genetic insights into which choices and behaviours will be more or less likely to influence disease outcomes, and this will usher in a new era for healthcare. Embracing this new technology will test the limits of Gen Ys willingness to share personal information, as people are required to relinquish the most personal of all data.

Gen Y wants to be empowered when it comes to their health, and be instrumental in making decisions and using new technologies to their advantage. I think a focus on preventive healthcare in the interest of sustainability will reinvigorate public health as a discipline, and that Gen Y will be plugged in, switched on, and ready to embrace the future of public health.


Prue Reddingius is an Environmental Health Officer with the City of  Vincent

Tech savy, well educated, driven to succeed and influenced by peers – these are just a few ways to describe the up and coming workforce of the future – Gen ‘Y’s.

Yes, it has also been said that they are lazy, head strong and with unrealistic expectations; however, it is a balance of all these traits that hold Gen Y in a good stead.

Generally, Gen Y’s are adaptive and open to fresh ideas, so when it comes to Public Health it could be suggested they will be a good target audience and also a good avenue to push Public Health initiatives.

With the technological advances and media influences that are out there in this day and age, utilising these outlets will be/have already become an integral part of driving key initiatives and messages of Public Health out into the wider community. Gen Y’s sit in a prime position to be able to make this a success, having grown up with these means of communication/education.

On a negative, they (Gen Y’s) are clearly heavily influenced by these outlets and also their peers – which can lead to a level of conformity, which has been considered a hallmark of their behaviour and may reduce the effectiveness of any campaigns/messages that are broadcast via these outlets.

With an increasing proportion of Gen Y’s entering the workforce, their influence on varying sectors of Public Health will become clearer as time moves forward – however, at this point in time it can be said those driven to succeed in their field of expertise will surely help to put Public Health ‘on the map’ and in front of wide target audience using those mediums they feel most comfortable with.


• PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at








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