With the mix of four different generations in the workforce trying to balance their competing values and priorities, it’s easy to see how quickly challenges could arise. When generational differences occur between nursing staff it often results in conflict or job dissatisfaction. This is why it’s crucial to recognize unique characteristics and understand expectations of each generation to help promote a more positive and productive work environment.
It can be challenging to understand the diverse traits and characteristics of each generation. Focusing on a few elements that can assist you in leading your staff effectively, and traits that are often shared between nurses of all generations, can help nurture a workplace environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration.
Recognize Generational Similarities
Education on diversity and generational differences often begins with supervisors since these differences can present challenges for leaders. Nursing is a stressful job that requires people with different values and views to work closely together. Recognizing that all employees don’t respond well to the same style of management is helpful when addressing conflicts.
Most nurses entered the nursing profession with the desire to make a difference and help others. Share how this correlates with the mission of your organization and how each person’s contributions are essential in meeting overall goals to help develop a shared sense of purpose.
- Educate staff about the differences in perceptions regarding work practice and the varied methods of achieving desired results to reduce multi-generational misunderstandings.
- Prioritize accountability and focus expectations on outcomes rather than which approach is correct.
Educate on Generational Differences
Encourage engagement and gain feedback by utilizing surveys, committees, or other structured meetings to encourage creativity, new ideas and methods to solve challenges. This can help discover what’s important for your staff and where to focus recruitment and retention efforts.
Determine opportunities within your organization to enhance communication rather than risk employees leaving if they feel they’re not being heard or that their needs aren’t understood. Common areas in which generations have differing preferences include:
- Communication methods
- Schedule and work/life balance
- Benefit and salary packages
- Education and training methods
- Recognition for work performance
- Management style
Information gained can be utilized to educate on generational differences to adjust negative attitudes and reduce misconceptions. Emphasize the value of each generation and encourage collaboration by:
- Incorporating reverse mentoring by pairing a seasoned nurse to educate on interpersonal skills with a nurse from a different generation who can share technology skills
- Developing flexibility with scheduling options and methods of learning
- Encouraging diversity in opinions
- Providing roles and opportunities to develop leadership skills
- Making opportunities that embrace ambition and drive as succession planning
Consider Generational Characteristics
Nurturing an awareness of characteristics and traits of the current blended workforce generations can help determine what kind of feedback you require.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Baby Boomers are one of the factors contributing to the nursing shortage as this large generation has started to retire. This generation values time, self-fulfillment and takes pride in working extra hours in the vertical climb up the career ladder. Hard work is rewarded with credit and compensation. They value knowledge and may prefer incentives such as tuition reimbursement toward advance degrees and flexible schedules as they transition toward retirement.
Generation X (1965-1980)
Generation X grew up more independent in a time of latch-key kids, high divorce rates, and single parents. This generation is often more independent, resourceful and may have a distrust of authority figures and don’t like structured work hours. They prefer a suitable work and life balance where they work to live rather than live to work. They don’t like to be micromanaged and usually adapt well to change.
The Millennials are currently the largest generation in the workforce. Growing up in a time of economic uncertainty drew many to nursing for the job security. They measure productivity by the work delivered rather than hours, prefer a better work and life balance and new career opportunities that allow for professional growth.
Growing up with media and technology influenced communication by virtual or online messaging, learning preferences of online curriculum and digital advertising for job searches. Millennials desire immediate feedback and want to be involved in decisions. They prefer leaders to act in a nonconventional way which includes mentoring and coaching with open honest conversations.
Generation Z (1996 to 2015)
Generation Z is the up and coming workforce that you’ll be recruiting. They grew up with the Internet during the Great Recession, which made many more frugal and likely to stay for job security if it provides the right support, freedom and flexibility. They prefer to avoid the debt they’ve observed with millennials and might be drawn to positions offering student loan repayment or other methods to reduce costs of work and transportation.
For recruitment approaches, consider that this generation often trusts written online reviews more than advertisements and prefers face-to-face interactions.
Gain and Retain Nurses
Blending the positive traits of workforce generations may require more flexibility among leaders, but in the long run these efforts might help gain and retain nurses. The practice of embracing these differences and creating flexibility in the workforce might help your nurses of today and tomorrow succeed and want to stay with your organization.