On any given day, nursing staff working together can have a 30- to 40-year age gap between the oldest and the youngest. Falling into different generations with different defining characteristics, these employees must function as a team—but it isn’t always easy. For nurse managers, whose job is to keep things running smoothly, understanding how to address generational differences and build teams can be the building block of an effective, happy workplace.
The skills and knowledge to manage team building for nursing staff are best obtained through academic programs, such as Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing. Also offering Post-Master’s Certificate programs to meet the needs of all healthcare providers, Duquesne’s online master’s in nursing helps prepare students pursuing MSN careers for success in the workplace.
In a recent article, the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN) summarized the general characteristics of the four generations currently working in the nursing profession:
- Born between 1925 and 1945, veterans tend to be respectful and loyal. They adhere to rules and they work hard.
- Baby Boomers. Born between 1943 and 1960, boomers are hard workers and team players. They enjoy recognition for their efforts.
- Generation X. Born between 1961 and 1979, Generation Xers have a tendency to question rules. As employees, they are independent-minded and self-reliant.
- Born between 1980 and 2000, millennials are comfortable with technology and very accepting of cultural and lifestyle differences. They value a healthy work-life balance and will readily change jobs to achieve it, if necessary.
AMN Healthcare looks beyond the current crop of nurses to an imminent fifth wave, Generation Z, which consists of those born from 2001 onward. As employees, Generation Zers are expected to be technologically savvy and excellent at multitasking. Accustomed to a world where Siri provides answers to any question on demand, they should prove to be confident problem-solvers and information-seekers.
All of these generational profiles, of course, paint entire groups of employees with a broad brush and do not take individual differences into account. But the accepted wisdom—backed up by surveys and studies—is that such profiles capture a valid reality of the current workforce. Marked differences between generations can, indeed, lead to a variety of workplace issues. The OJIN lists the main issues:
- When nurses do not understand each other’s viewpoints and do not respect each other’s approaches, they are more likely to behave in uncivil ways. This behavior has a number of negative effects, including disrupted patient care and poor outcomes caused by mistakes and carelessness. A negative workplace atmosphere can also lead to low morale and increased turnover, which increases organizational costs and also impacts patient care.
- Stressors and errors. Differences in skills, priorities, and perceptions between generations can easily lead to stress and miscommunication. An example is the tendency of older nurses to delegate technological tasks to younger and presumably more proficient nurses. Not only does this practice increase the workload of the younger nurses, it also introduces an extra person into the patient’s care, thus increasing the chances for error.
- Although generational characteristics do exist, employees sometimes make the mistake of applying them to all coworkers in a stereotypical manner. For example, a Veteran or Baby Boomer nurse might hold the attitude that all Millennials are lazy and entitled. A Millennial nurse might see older colleagues as hopelessly incompetent with technology. These types of stereotypes prevent coworkers from seeing and valuing each other as individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities to contribute to the team.
Along with potential problems come many benefits. The website Act-On suggests four key benefits of a multigenerational workforce, regardless of the industry:
- A fuller understanding. Every generation brings its own talents and skills to the table. This depth of experience broadens the capabilities of the team as a whole. It also enables nurses to better understand and care for their patients, who run the gamut of generations.
- Older nurses can impart years of wisdom and training to younger nurses. At the same time, younger nurses can help older nurses understand a world that is more technological and socially diverse than the one they grew up in.
- A deeper bench. In sports terminology, having a “deep bench” means that you have talented backup players standing ready. In nursing, a deep bench means that committed young nurses are preparing themselves to step into the shoes of older, retiring staff, thus keeping the workplace vital and effective.
- Diversity of all sorts—be it age, culture, gender, or anything else—is a critical component of innovation. With multiple generations of nurses on board, a workplace is positioned to create novel solutions and approaches in any situation.
Extracting these benefits from an age-diverse staff begins with the nurse manager. The website Nurse.com explains that good leaders recognize the varying needs and abilities of their staff and deliver individualized guidance and feedback. They work tirelessly to promote a team attitude through both everyday actions and team-building exercises, as necessary. They also take stock of employees’ individual talents and give them chances to put their unique skills to work.
Most important of all, however, may be simply recognizing employees’ good work. The current trend toward frequent kudos originated with the millennials, who tend to have a greater need for validation. But increased recognition, beyond the annual review, is proving to be a positive motivator for nurses of all ages. People just like being praised—and by being generous in this one simple way, nurse educators can please employees of all generations.
About Duquesne University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing Program
Duquesne University’s online master’s in nursing programs prepare RNs in all stages of their careers to become nurse educators, forensic nurses, and family nurse practitioners. The university offers both MSN and Post-Master’s Certificate degree programs in all three concentrations and provides one-on-one faculty support to encourage academic success. The coursework is presented entirely online, so students can maintain their careers and personal lives while pursuing their education goals.
For more information, contact Duquesne University today.
Four generations now working in nursing – Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Generation Z – AMN Healthcare
Problem areas – Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Many benefits – Act-On
The nurse manager’s role – Nurse.com