Leading a Multi-Generational Nursing Staff

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As of 2016, there are more than 3,966,000 active nurses in the U.S. Many of these health care workers are recent nursing school graduates, baby boomers or traditionalists who have worked in the profession for decades.

Nurse managers are leading teams made up of four generations: traditionalists (veterans), baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (millennials). This range of ages presents a unique opportunity for staff leaders — the ability to harness a variety of different skill sets, outlooks and ideas. Along with this opportunity, managers must prepare for obstacles that arise from leading a multi-generational nursing staff.

Challenges that may arise

The different generations that comprise nursing staff bring various ideologies and experience levels to the table. Each generation has different views on issues like authority, leadership, work ethic and co-worker relationships. This divergence can make fostering acceptance and understanding among a team challenging.

In a recent survey published in the Journal of Nursing Administration, researchers examined the differences between the three generations — excluding traditionalists — in nurses’ characteristics, job satisfaction, quality of work life and psychological empowerment. Baby boomers were found to have more experience and higher levels of psychological empowerment and job satisfaction compared to Generation X and millennials. However, there were no differences found in the three generations’ work-life quality. The results revealed nurses’ sociological value systems had a major impact on their perceptions of their work environment.

A 2013 survey by AMN Healthcare including registered nurses in the U.S. found younger nurses, between the ages of 19 and 39, were more positive about the quality of nursing today. They also viewed health care trends like technology in a different light compared to the older generations. For example, they were far more likely to agree that health IT can positively affect productivity, patient care and job satisfaction.

Leading a Multi-Generational Nursing Staff

Embracing common generational differences

Naturally, nurse managers often fall under and relate better to one generation; however, it’s fundamental to the success of their staff that they work to understand the unique characteristics of all the generational groups that form their team. This awareness allows them to capitalize on the strengths of each generation and anticipate problems.

Managers may find that baby boomers and traditionalists prefer face-to-face care with their patients instead of using electronic health records (EHRs) to communicate. These generational groups are used to personal patient-facing experiences. This requires leaders to provide more educational resources and practice sessions to encourage older members of their staff to become comfortable with EHRs, whereas younger nurses tend to prefer the convenience of technology from the outset.

Main cultural differences aren’t always between traditionalists and millennials. According to the American Nurses Association, there can be noticeable variances between workplace expectations of Generation X and millennials. Generation X tends to be tech savvy and enjoy independent work. Millennials, on the other hand, aren’t only tech savvy but have grown up using technology as their main means of communication and, therefore, often feel most comfortable with health IT over other forms of communication. They’re also more inclined to prefer a collaborative workplace versus an autonomous one.

Best practices for fostering mutual respect

To prevent potential workplace conflict from arising among multi-generational staff, nurse managers should implement a few best practices. While it’s effective to pinpoint each generation’s differences and take advantage of them, it’s also important to emphasize the common goals between generations, such as high-quality care delivery, reduced medical errors and a safe work environment.
Leaders can implement guidelines fostering a respectful workplace. To start, staff leaders should include flexible communication styles and do a self-assessment of their own communication strategies.

When it comes to maintaining high retention rates and job satisfaction, managers must realize that different incentives are going to work for each generation. For example, while older nurses may prefer the traditional career ladder, this isn’t going to satisfy most millennials or Gen Xers, who hold flexibility and work-life balance higher on their list of priorities. To appeal to a wider range of generational groups, consider implementing programs like professional development portfolios and succession plans.

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Recommended Reading

Nurse Leadership Through Multi-generational Differences

Top Skills Needed for Effective Nurse Managers

Bradley University Online Nursing Program