Understanding Generational Differences


A session at ONS discussed intergenerational differences in nursing.

Examining Generational Differences

Buchsel noted that the face of nursing is changing and now you may find as many as 4 generations working together, which can lead to conflict because different generations tend to have different preferences and methods for handling responsibilities, which can lead to resentment and a lack of respect between older and younger nurses. Buchsel went on to describe the general characteristics of each generation, starting with Generation Y/Millennials (1980-present). She noted that because individuals born in this generation have always been exposed to technology, they are incredibly technologically savvy and want to do everything quickly. This generation is also socially conscious and generally tenacious, confident, and tolerant. The next generation, Generation X (1965-1980), is generally well educated and technologically savvy. These individuals have also felt the effect of “parent alcoholic workers” and therefore demand a better life balance. They tend to be self-reliant and are sometimes skeptical of authority. Currently, the most prominent generation in nursing is the Baby Boomers (1946-1964). This generation is generally conservative and committed to work at the expense of family. While many become adept at using newer technology, there tends to be a greater learning curve. Finally, there are some Veterans (1924-1945) who are still practicing. These individuals are generally uncomfortable around new technology, but have a strong work ethic, respect authority, and value responsibility.

Strategies for Success

Buchsel told the audience that it is important for administrators to understand how to increase job satisfaction and teach each generation of nurses. When it comes to Veterans, who may need to learn new technologies to perform job functions, a traditional learning style that uses one-on-one coaching and formal instruction generally works best. This generation also values being recognized through personal touches such as plaques and certificates. In contrast, Baby Boomers generally prefer being coached in peer-to-peer situations. This generation values life-long learning and enjoys public recognition perks such as being nominated for a professional award or being acknowledged in a newsletter. Individuals belonging to Generation X generally desire opportunities to demonstrate their expertise and want to make rapid progress toward their career goals. This group tends to be highly independent and has little tolerance of micromanagement. Generation Y nurses generally desire more coaching, mentoring, and personal feedback, and are very goal-oriented. They also prefer working on more fast-paced projects.

Finding Harmony

Buschel noted that it is important for nursing department to consider generational differences and develop generationally sensitive styles to coach and motivate. She also noted that is may be possible to capitalize on generational differences to enhance the work of the entire team. Each generation has something to offer, and Buschel noted if nurses take the time to understand these differences, a harmonious group can be found.

Question for the reader

What do you think? Are generational differences the source of many conflicts in nursing or is it largely just a clash of personalities? Post your comment below or send an e-mail to cloguidice@onclive.com.

In nursing, you often hear that “nurses eat their young.” During the Oncology Nursing Society 35th Annual Congress, Patricia Buchsel, RN, MSN, FAAN, Seattle University College of Nursing, Seattle, Washington, discussed intergenerational differences in nursing and strategies that administrators can employ to keep all generations of nurses satisfied. This may be especially important to retain staff, as it is estimated that 40% of registered nurses will retire in 10 years, yet turnover rates among new nurses are high at 18% to 50%. While it is unclear why there is such a high turnover among new nurses, job dissatisfaction may be to blame in some cases. Buchsel surmised that taking the time to understand generational differences could improve the working environment and increase job retention.

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