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Nurse Leaders: Bridging the Gaps Between Generations

By Keith Carlson, via Multibriefs

In 2016, there are three generations at the heart of the American nursing workforce: the baby boomers, Generation X and the millennials. These nurses interface daily in myriad settings, and the quality of that interface is crucial to patient satisfaction, nurse satisfaction and the creation of a positive workplace culture.

Millennials are now the largest living generation and the largest segment of the American workforce; paying attention to such demographic shifts is paramount.

Nurse leaders must maintain awareness of the differences between these diverse generations of nurses, actively working to create positive rapport and collaboration between staff members who may see the world in contrasting ways.

The nurse generation gaps

For younger millennials, a high level of comfort with technology is the norm. Many of these young nurses have interacted with computers and software from a young age, and their relative facility with technology makes it easy for them to roll with the changes.

Baby boomers and some Gen Xers struggle with technology, with most baby boomer nurses likely having begun their careers in the era of paper charting. Adapting to EMRs and other digital platforms can be challenging for such nurses, and the resulting steep learning curves can be frustrating for everyone.

Those growing up in the aftermath of World War II and the post-war industrial boom may have wildly different views of life and work as opposed to those who matured in the days of social media, YouTube and the 2008 economic downturn. With Gen Xers coming of age during the Reagan years, even more varied experiences of socioeconomics, race, gender and sexual orientation inform how certain nurses approach their personal and professional lives.

Bridging the gaps

While some nurses may go out of their way to nurture relationships with colleagues of other generations, there may also be rancor, resentment, discontent and the potential for bullying and discrimination between nurses of different generations.

From differences in comfort with technology to patterns of speech and views about work, some nurses may find a yawning divide between them. Such divides can be bridged, but may necessitate outside intervention for such connections to be made.
The nurse leader takes action

One role of an effective nurse leader is to facilitate intraprofessional communication and collaboration. Whereas some nurse leaders may recognize the need for staff development that addresses generational variances, others may not see the problem, which allows such issues to ferment without positive attention and a plan for addressing them.

A prudent nurse leader recognizes the potential for intergenerational friction while simultaneously seeing the opportunity for powerful staff development that will harness the positive untapped potential of such cross-generational nurse relationships.

Formal and informal mentoring programs could pair tech-savvy millennial nurses with older colleagues in need of friendly support. Other programs might facilitate conversations that allow younger nurses to learn from the deep clinical and organizational experience of those who have been nursing for decades.

Generation gaps don't occur in a vacuum; they occur in the context of the times, and there are always several generations active in the workforce. Forward-thinking nurse leaders and administrators recognize both the negative and positive potential inherent in such generational gaps, and actively intervene in the interest of a positive workplace culture and the harnessing of the gifts that every generation of nurses brings to the table.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway and a widely read freelance nurse writer. Keith is also the co-host of RNFM Radio, a popular Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

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