Nurse Leadership Through Multi-generational Differences

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Research has shown that today’s nursing workforce comprises staff from three different generations. With each generation comes a multitude of differences in relation to attitudes, ideologies, beliefs, financial responsibilities and work habits. In order to effectively work together as a team, nurse leaders will need to be able to understand the generations and individuals that they are working with. To learn more, check out this infographic sponsored by Bradley University’s Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

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Researchers have shown that the reality of three different generations in the registered nursing workforce has carried with it a host of different ideologies, financial responsibilities, beliefs, attitudes and work habits from one generation to the next. These differences ought to be clearly understood by both the registered nurses themselves and nurse leadership in order for the generational gaps to be built, for the strengths of each grouping to be harnessed and for results to be maximized due to each group working effectively with the other. These three generations are the baby boomers, the Gen Xers and the millennials. As it stands in 2016, those individuals falling within the baby boomers category range in age from 51 to 70, while Gen Xers are between 34 and 50, and millennials between 12 and 34.

Examining Generational Trends in the Nursing Workforce over the Last Decade

Standing at approximately 3.2 million, the statistical breakdown of registered nurses (RN) across baby boomers (born 1946–65), Gen Xers (born 1965–82) and millennials (born 1982–2004) is 50.2 percent, 30.4 percent and 19.4 percent, respectively. Changing demographics since 2004 indicate that comparatively there were more nurses aged 55 and over in 2013 than in 2008 and 2004. Additionally, nurses aged below 30 and between 30 and 34 are consistently outnumbered by nurses 45 and older across the years surveyed.

RNs between the ages of 45 and 49 charted the highest numbers of all the years surveyed and all three generational groupings in 2004, with the second and third highest overall numbers being registered by RNs aged 50 to 54 in the years 2008 and 2004, respectively. As far as the three years surveyed are concerned (2004, 2008, and 2013), in 2004, RNs aged 45 to 49 accounted for the highest numbers in the profession. In 2008, the 50 to 54 age group posted the highest numbers in the profession, while in 2013, RNs aged 55 to 59 posted the highest numbers for that year.

Looking at What Nurses of Different Generations Bring to the Profession

As far as what each generation of RNs brings to the profession, there are strengths and weaknesses. Baby boomers are strong in areas of cost effectiveness, working hard and having executive presence. They were, however, found to be lacking in technical skill and were very cynical. Gen Xers, on the other hand, were found to be strong in areas of problem-solving, relationship building, revenue generation and being the most productive part of an organization, while having negative tendencies of questioning and challenging authority, as well as having a strong need to work independently as opposed to as part of a team. Finally, millennials were found to be very tech and social media savvy with high levels of enthusiasm. On the negative side, millennials were found to display entitlement issues, were difficult to work with and were the least cost-effective group of workers out of the three.

Bridging the Generational Gap: Harnessing the Strengths of Each Generation by Implementing Effective Management Strategies

Each generation in the nursing profession has strengths and weaknesses. Both weaknesses and strengths need to be effectively managed for the best results. As such, the best management strategies are those that make the most of these strengths, while ensuring contingencies are in place to compensate for weaknesses. This reality may mean different things for each generation.

For baby boomers, harnessing strengths will mean finding opportunities for them to share their vast expertise, utilizing their cost management abilities and ensuring there is public recognition for their skills. Open dialog and face-to-face or telephone contact is ideal for this group. For Gen Xers, micromanaging should be avoided at all costs. Instead, allowing them to work independently and putting to good use their problem-solving skills is best. Communication with Gen Xers should be direct and short, and text or emails are preferred. For millennials, their technological savvy should be engaged in all possible instances. Also, their infectious enthusiasm and willingness to share their opinions should be encouraged and given room for expression. Communication should be frequent and short, and texting as well as social media platforms (such as Twitter) should be used.

Finding Solutions: Nurse Leadership Tips

At a leadership level in the nursing profession, it is important that a finger is kept on the pulse of the organization. This oversight can be achieved by conducting a regular generational workplace inventory. The results of such an inventory will help nurse leaders meet the needs of workers from an organizational level. Nurse leaders should strive to cultivate an environment of understanding, respect, productivity and tolerance by positively highlighting generational differences, focusing on employee strengths and not weaknesses, and ensuring that all ideas and opinions are not only heard but also valued.

It also is critical that nurse leaders regularly implement a host of different channels to effectively communicate with employees across the three generations. The communication structure must be diverse and integrated into the systematic operations of the organization. This fact will mean that communicating using text, emails, social media platforms, telephone and face to face (depending on who the communication is being directed towards) be ingrained into the organization’s communication structure. Tailoring communication in this way will ensure that the message, as intended, is fully accessible and can be well received by the intended party.

Finally, mentorship and partnership programs are also an important part of a nurse leader’s management program. Mentorship and partnership programs help to foster an environment with positivity and an exchange of ideas. It also helps to ensure that positive values, attitudes and ideas are all encouraged across the board. In this way, partnership and mentorship programs bring out the best in everybody.


Recommended Readings

Leading a Multi-Generational Nursing Staff

Four Ways to Sustain a Nursing Career

Bradley University Online Nursing Programs