Magazine article American Nurse Today

Lead to Succeed through Generational Differences

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Lead to Succeed through Generational Differences

Article excerpt

Chelsea enters the unit chewing gum and texting on her new smart phone. Deb stands there, waiting to get report. Minutes pass as Chelsea chuckles and continues to pound out a couple more texts on her phone. She then looks up to see Deb, arms folded staring at her with an annoyed glare. Chelsea shrugs her shoulder and says, "What?" Deb starts to say, "Well miss twinkle thumbs, you are 15 minutes late for report and it's time to pass out medications." Before Deb can complete her sentence, Chelsea interrupts with, "I'm here so that's all that matters." Shift report is completed and the nurses go their separate ways. Soon chatter spreads through the unit as staff choose sides--the lazy new nurse with the obnoxious attitude or the cranky old nurse who needs to lighten up and have a little fun.

As a nurse leader, you're likely familiar with situations like these in your own work area. As leaders, it's our responsibility to step up to the plate and stop disruption related to generational differences. We need to gain knowledge of how to lead a workforce that spans four generations, deal with conflict resolution for all age groups, and coach and motivate them to be productive employees. Although real differences exist, we can leverage these differences to create a well-functioning team.

Managing people and priorities

Today's nursing labor force is composed of staff from four diverse generations, Veterans (born between 1922 and 1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1960), Gen Xers (born between 1961 and 1980), and the GenYs (also called Millennials) (born after 1981), and this diversity will continue in future years. To manage these generations, consider what each brings to the table. For instance, one generation might have conquered computers, while another might be able to orally communicate better with patients. Also keep in mind that the information presented in this article consists of general guidelines. Individuals in different generations may have different characteristics, so it's important not to stereotype people.

In our unit at Hanover Hospital, nurses who can speak well with patients (often Veterans or Baby Boomers) teach younger generations (X and Y) how to communicate effectively. GenXers and GenYs are not as versed in dialogue because most of their communication is through a smart phone or some other form of electronic device. On the other hand, GenXers and GenYs can help the Baby Boomers and Veterans become well versed with the computer or other forms of newer technology because they know the short cuts and quick keys on the computer.

Some principles to use in managing your multigenerational workforce are embracing flexibility, fostering collaboration, creatively using technology, and developing talent. Flexibility includes the ability for leaders to learn how to flex their leadership style so that each generation learns to value the generational differences. Does this mean as leaders we give something up? No, we value the differences but hold all staff to the same expectations.

Collaborating and learning between generations can generate fresh ideas and produce new solutions for solving challenges. A good place to start is with the generational aspect of conflict. The more we can understand the big-picture patterns around generational differences, the more effective our conflict conversations will be.

Managing conflict

Put a group of strangers together, ask them to work side-by-side in a stressful environment for 8 or more hours each day, and you're bound to have some conflict. And when that group contains people from differing generations, all with different values and views of the world, the amount of conflict can greatly multiply. Much generational conflict stems from the differences in communication style and skills and how those differences are interpreted. Differences can form a barrier that gets in the way of trust, and without trust there is no team. …

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