Can we all just get along: Communicating through 4 generations of Nurses

Today in nursing there can be 4 generations of nurses all trying to work together. Each generation has its own tagline and focus and often getting along can be too much for even the most diplomatic. Is it possible to get along when each generation has such a different view of life, work, and what it means to be a nurse? Nurses Relations Article


Can we all just get along: Communicating through 4 generations of Nurses

Each generation has it's own defining experience and viewpoint and sees the world through that lens. Think about your workgroup; do you have different generations to contend with? Do you find yourself judging someone because they can't work the weekend or they need reading glasses or have a tattoo or because they don't make eye contact and prefer to text? Is it possible to go beyond the obvious differences and find common ground? After all, you all are nurses and have chosen this profession. Mentoring programs that acknowledge and celebrate differences would go a long way in bridging the gap. Withholding judgment and learning to use active listening to truly understand where someone is coming from will quickly shorten any gap that exists between generations.

Can you work this weekend?

The "Veteran or Traditionalist Nurse" born between the years of 1925 and 1942 would respond to the question, with "When do you need me?" Growing up during the Depression and WWII taught them to be frugal, work hard, sacrifice and stick it out staying with the same employer. With no exposure to technology, this group is the most resistant to change. This group likes private, face to face conversations.

Compare this group to the Millennials, 1980 to 2000, raised in a global society with the technology part of everyday life. Their values include working hard but they want immediate gratification and are noted to be self-indulgent. And if they do not get the validation or feedback they need, they will move on. With social networking woven into the fabric of their being, millennials need to be engaged early on and like short 140 characters "conversations." They would probably respond to the question, "Can you work this weekend" with "I am busy."

The largest group of nurses is the Baby Boomers, born between the years of 1943 to 1960. This group's world view was shaped by the equal rights movement, peace and love in the 60's and the Vietnam War. They have a strong work ethic and define themselves by their work. They are the classic overachiever and workaholic. They are most likely to also define others using this standard. They would respond to the question, "Can you work this weekend?" with "It depends on who else is working."

The third group of nurses is the Generation Xers born between 1963 and 1980. This group grew up when single-family households were the norm and or both parents worked outside the home. Corporations and organizations were restructuring and layoffs were common. This group grew up on their own for the most part with technology as a big part of their lives. They are a small group in nursing and very often came in as a second career. This group might answer the question, "Can you work this weekend?" with "What's in it for me? Do I get overtime or an extra day off?"

In my practice, I work with nurses from all generations and frequently hear complaints about not being heard or understood.

Generation Xers really want to be involved in the problem-solving aspect of leadership, they are more independent and entrepreneurial. The Boomers have most of the positions in leadership and may judge the Gen Xers harshly because they have the ability to value their own time - something which is not true for boomers, the ultimate workaholic. Gen Xers want direct communication and short discussions while the boomers like to talk more about things.

It is easy to see how one can misjudge behaviors based on the generation you come from. It is important to learn more about each generation to be able to get along. One way to do that is to have a mentoring program where different generations are paired together. A Millennial would be paired with a boomer who would provide technical expertise and a unique viewpoint to the boomer just as the boomer may help to teach patience and critical thinking to the Millennial. It is important to create a culture where differences are respected while the common ground is acknowledged.

Each group chose nursing. How they view nursing and their own career is what is different. Very often because boomers are the largest group and they hold most of the leadership positions, they are more likely to "expect" the other generations to "do their time" and resent any fast track growth that is so important for the Millennials.

All groups would benefit from a mentoring program where they can accept and recognize differences. Since the beginning of time, each generation feels the next one is lazy or incompetent. Today with 4 different generations coming together it is a great opportunity to close this gap between generations.

Each group needs to learn something in the process

Millennial's need to learn to spend time with people rather than their machines along with recognizing they do not know it all. Growing up with more praise and attention has created a group more entitled than any other. This means as a mentor to this group, you want to give more continuous feedback and provide opportunities for growth.

Gen X grew up like a middle child, on their own and forgotten. They learned that hard work doesn't always pay off and learned work life balance. They are flexible and adaptable and have some trouble acknowledging what they can do to improve. They really need to have leadership opportunities and would greatly benefit from a boomer mentor as long as they are not micromanaged.

Boomers can recognize that while they rewrote the rules when they were young and growing up the next generations are doing the same thing in their way. Technology is here to stay and developing a comfort level with technology will enhance their life not burden it. Asking for help to learn technology can be the window into their world.

Each group has to reach out to each other to get along. All groups want to feel successful, appreciated and accomplished. If all the groups would learn to actively listen for understanding and stop the knee jerk judgments, there may be a chance at getting along not to mention world peace!


Stokowski, Laura RN, MS, The 4 Generation Gap in Nursing. Nursing Perspectives, Medscape. April 11, 2013.

Sherman, Rose EdD, RN, CNAA, Leading a Multi-Generational Nursing Workforce: Issues, Challenges and Strategies, OJIN, vol 11, 2006.

Mentor to Healthcare Leaders; from US Specialty: 36 year(s) of experience in Leadership Development

2 Articles   73 Posts

Share this post

Share on other sites
Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Thanks for this insightful and informational article. It sheds a lot of light on the communication problems that can happen with 4 generations all working in the same location.

You also have to add in the education methods used for the various eras. This cannot necessarily be categorized by generations as nurses start their careers at different ages. "Back in the day", we didn't have computers, sim labs, online learning, etc. Things were different...... But the one thing that remains constant is that the focus of all care care should be centered around the patient. We need to try to put our own differences aside and use all technologies available to us, while not forgetting the values of nursing through the ages.

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.

I was born in 1981, so I'd be a Millennial according to the aforementioned piece. However, I certainly do not feel like a Millennial! I feel more like a Generation X member. I am 33 years old and feel I had a very different frame of reference than a 20-year-old nurse born in the mid 1990s. However, we would both be considered Millennials.

Instant gratification? Not this so-called Millennial! Delayed gratification is one of my core values. Hence, I drive a nine-year-old vehicle even though I'd love something newer because I'd rather save money than have a car payment. I have a six-figure savings account, which is something that many persons older than me do not have. I'd rather save for the future instead of engage in immediate gratification today.

Also, I do not require the degree of validation and feedback that other Millennials supposedly need. I did not grow up being told that I was 'special,' a 'winner' or that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Hence, I have always sought validation outside the workplace.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the article! :)

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

I'm a boomer but again like TheCommuter I don't fit the mold either: I'm very techno-savvy, pt focused but also very business minded - we must always keep in mind, especially as advanced providers that our role is to keep the cost of care down while keeping the amt of care up. This is the way we stay profitable for our hospitals/practices.

Specializes in Leadership Development.

the commuter... indeed you have overcome the stereotype! Thanks for sharing.

Specializes in Leadership Development.

yes, and it is the boomers that rewrote the rules!! You have an amazing career. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

Everything I've read about the Boomer generation sets the cutoff year at 1964. This makes sense to me, since I was born in the early 60s and identify more with Boomers than Gen X. I remember growing up watching the Vietnam War on TV; watching the fall of Hanoi; Nixon's resignation, etc.

I don't think I would ask "Who's working?" if I were asked to work a weekend. I'd probably feel guilty/like I needed to explain if I couldn't work.

I've inherited my Dad's uncanny ability to find something in common with almost everyone. It's a talent that's served me well in my career.

This is a great post. This post helped me to learn about myself and other Millennials. I understand why my mother and I both clash in communication about work and work ethic. Great post.

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

I am like OCNRN63, in that I can find something in common and can relate to just about anyone.

I have something in common with each of the groups mentioned above. I was born in 1949, but have a lot of the Veteran/Traditionalist in me as I was raised by a nurse of the same ilk (she was born in 1916).

The Millennials don't bother me with their short, terse talk because I grew up in New England and that's practically a given up there, in any situation!

I'm not 'hot' on technology, but will learn what I have to to keep going. And I know for a solid fact that I don't 'know everything'!

My mother used to tell me I was a 'better' nurse than she was, but I think that's only because of the difference in generations.....each newer group has to deal with more responsibilities and newer technologies. I feel kind of at a loss for the same reasons. But I don't think that makes anyone 'better'.

It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round, and that's a good thing. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But, together we can each contribute, and thus make up an awesome team!

Specializes in Pedi.
They would probably respond to the question, “Can you work this weekend” with “I am busy.”

I AM busy this weekend. ;)

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Moved to Nurse Colleague forum.

In the words of another famous middle child "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha" (Jan Brady).

Don't count us (Gen X) out, we are the ones you don't see coming! Perhaps we were raised by Sesame Street, but there are other programs running behind the scenes (read:depth).

Commuter, before reading your age (revealed in a few of your posts), I would have assumed you were in my generation due to wisdom. In nursing school as a second (second? maybe third or forth) career, I am learning there are many wise, brilliant young men and women out there.