The 4-Generation Gap in Nursing

  1. 8
    The 4-Generation Gap in Nursing
    Medscape Nurses
    Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS
    April 2013
    Free Medscape registration required

    As a colleague, understanding generational differences is important to maintaining effective and satisfying relationships at work. Managers in particular must strive to appreciate these differences if they want to build high-performing teams, establish respect, and create harmony among their staff


    Traditionalists (born 1925-1942). The oldest cohort of workers still in the workforce grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, events that taught them about hard work, responsibility, and sacrifice. This group understands rules, is patriotic and loyal, and dislikes waste. They have a strong work ethic and look to their leaders for direction and guidance. They are likely to remain with the same employer for many years, are the least comfortable with technology, and are the most resistant to change.


    Boomers (born 1943-1960). Currently the largest cohort in the workforce, boomers were shaped by the equal rights movement, the Vietnam War, presidential assassinations, and the "peace and love" movement. Boomers are the original "workaholics" and "overachievers," often defining themselves by the work they do and their success. They are independent, critical thinkers who seek financial security, promotions, and a sense of accomplishment and personal fulfillment from work. According to a survey conducted in 2008, boomers are the most productive of the generations.[7]



    Generation Xers (born 1961-1981). The Xers are the smallest cohort in the workforce. Xers were influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the AIDS epidemic, and MTV. They are the latchkey generation -- the children who went home to empty houses after school because both parents were working. Many are children of divorce. They are considered independent, assertive, and innovative.[7] This group is also well traveled and values individualism. Xers "work to live" rather than "live to work," and they tend to be less loyal to the organization and less tolerant of authority than previous generations. However, they are flexible and adaptable to change, and they embrace technology.


    Millennials (born 1982-2000). The Millennials, a large and fast-growing cohort, grew up in the age of domestic and international terrorism, and the explosion in social networking and information technology. They tend to be protective and careful, yet also confident, expressive, optimistic, and -- according to a recent survey -- self-indulgent.[7] They are the least religious, best-educated, and most racially diverse of recent generations. The millennials are strong networkers, sophisticated and street-smart. They like to work in teams but also crave instant gratification, feedback, and recognition. A disadvantage is their impatience: If they are unhappy, they will give up and move on to another job at another organization. With this group, maintains Clipper, "We need to engage them early, allow them flexibility, like allowing them to change units, so they don't get bored"

    Intergenerational Communication

    One of the most obvious and important differences in nurses from different generations is their communication styles and preferences.[8]
    Traditionalists prefer face-to-face discussions and staff meetings, and are less likely to use email or texting for communication.


    Boomers prefer face-to-face group meetings, and telephone calls for 2-way dialogue. Their style of communication is more open and less formal than the previous generation.


    Xers prefer email and texting, with direct and to-the-point communication; they dislike prolonged discussions.


    Millennials prefer fragmented, short, and frequent communication via text or Twitter. They like to share their opinions electronically as well as in person.
    Nurses from different generations frequently diverge in how they give or accept feedback, whether it is praise or criticism. According to Clipper,[8] traditionalists like to hear feedback privately and tend to anticipate bad news. Boomers also prefer to receive criticism in private, one-on-one sessions, although praise can be given in front of peers.[8] Both traditionalists and boomers will work hard to improve any deficiencies brought to their attention. Xers tend to take criticism more poorly and may overinterpret what is said. Millennials, although accustomed to receiving a lot of advice, also have difficulty accepting constructive criticism, but they happily accept praise in front of their peers.

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    clover2012, Wise Woman RN, dodoy, and 5 others like this.

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  2. 12 Comments...

  3. 1
    Thank you for sharing this
    Esme12 likes this.
  4. 2
    Great article; always great to refresh a way to understand our teammates in the trenches.
    ScubaDog and Esme12 like this.
  5. 2
    Never truer words have been written....I love medscape......
  6. 5
    I agree that it is a good article and can be useful information to have when trying to understand people. However, it is also important to remember that not everyone fit's into their generation as cleanly as the article defines them. I have seen a "traditionalist" with poor work ethic and a "millennial" who cannot figure out a smart phone to save her life. You can put people at a real disadvantage if you label them with the traits of their "generation" without getting to know them as an individual.
    nrsang97, OCNRN63, Squirrely18, and 2 others like this.
  7. 2
    Quote from wsuRN09
    I agree that it is a good article and can be useful information to have when trying to understand people. However, it is also important to remember that not everyone fit's into their generation as cleanly as the article defines them. I have seen a "traditionalist" with poor work ethic and a "millennial" who cannot figure out a smart phone to save her life. You can put people at a real disadvantage if you label them with the traits of their "generation" without getting to know them as an individual.
    I think there is a consensus that I have said in many posts that overlap certain birth years and generations; as well as there are many people raised by certain generations that mimic the generations they were raised from; I'm sure we are well aware that people are individuals; however, in the context of the positives of each generation when working on a committee; there are people generation-wise that approach things very differently; this article-as a results of many studies-have given the rationale to the WHY for guidance purposes only.
    OCNRN63 and cardiacfreak like this.
  8. 1
    My staff ranges from 19 to 79. Since we're Central Intake for home care referrals, standardized processes are extremely important. They all communicate differently and want to receive work updates in different ways.

    Example: Having a disaster call tree no longer works as younger staff only have cell phones and calls go straight to voicemail--so no way I can leave a message to call 2 other staff re delayed work start time...have to move to generating text message to everyone....except for our over 65 staff who don't have a text plan as part of their cell phone package.
    Last edit by NRSKarenRN on Dec 30, '13
    Esme12 likes this.
  9. 2
    One of the truly delightful aspects of my job is getting to work alongside and closely interact with folks all along the spectrum.
    OCNRN63 and Esme12 like this.
  10. 3
    Haha...ha.

    Interesting if your goal is to make broad generalizations about folks born in different eras, but if this is true, then I belong in the Traditionalists category.

    I'm solidly in the Millenial cohort.
    Dazglue, nrsang97, and OCNRN63 like this.
  11. 3
    ​Almost all of the data I've read puts the "Baby Boom" generation ending ~1964, 1965. That makes sense for me, since I have nothing in common with Gen X and everything in common with the Boomers. (So now you know I'm at least 50y old, LOL.)


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