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.