How to Navigate
Baby boomers’ sense of duty is solid trait for nurses
Communication with these nurses should be open, direct and informal
Lisette Hilton
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Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.

A multigenerational profession, nursing is witnessing the last of the retiring Silent Generation of nurses born between 1925 and 1945. Baby boomers are on the heels of the silent generation, born between 1946 and 1964. They remain vital to nursing’s workforce.

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Boomers are excellent team workers, according to Moss. “They value collaboration,” she said. “They don’t mind outcomes being defined by an authority figure, like the millennials do. They are patient and are usually willing to help other learners. However, they really demand respect for what they know, and they want to be heard.” Today’s healthcare workplace, according to Moss, is seeing a rise of
interdisciplinary teams
where one individual is equally as important as another. “This kind of takes some adjustment for the boomer staff because they still consider the physician to be the senior-most member of the care team,” she said. Many baby boomers value the concept of “putting in your time,” said Linda S. Edelman, PhD, RN, associate professor and chair of the Health Systems and Community Based Care Division, University of Utah College of Nursing, and an author of the paper in the Journal of Nurse Management. “As they were developing their careers, there was an expected route and timeline they would follow for advancement," Edelman said. "Younger generations don’t adhere to this philosophy as much and may become frustrated when baby boomer supervisors or coworkers tell them that they need to spend time gaining experience before advancing to a new role.” Generations also tend to differ in how they perceive respect. A baby boomer might see obedience and deference as signs of respect from coworkers, according to our webinar. Moss shared the analogy that a boomer might think a younger millennial nurse being on her phone while the boomer is talking to her is a sign of disrespect. On the other hand, the millennial doesn’t necessarily see phone use during another conversation as disrespectful. The best way to resolve the generational difference, said Moss, is to talk about it in an effort to better understand the other point of view and come up with a middle ground. The webinar emphasized that while referring to these generalizations can help navigate multigenerational workplaces, it’s important for leaders and others not to rely on generalizations about nurses’ preferences, values and traits. Rather, they should simply ask staff members how they like to receive communication and more.
Their most defining characteristic is the sense of duty that was embodied by their parents. For the baby boomer, this duty is manifested in their strong dedication to work and in the causes they fight for.”
— Noelle Trinder, RN

Boomers: What drives them?
Baby boomers are work focused, team players and technological immigrants. They make up 25% of today’s population, according to our webinar. “The traits of many baby boomers stem from being the children of parents who fought for freedoms during World War II,” said Scott S. Christensen, DNP, MBA, APRN, ACNP-BC, clinical operations director at University of Utah Health, and lead author of the paper “Can I relate? A review and guide for nurse managers in leading generations” published September 2018 in the Journal of Nursing Management. “Their most defining characteristic is the sense of duty that was embodied by their parents. For the baby boomer, this duty is manifested in their strong dedication to work and in the causes they fight for.” A baby boomer herself, Barbara Wilson, PhD, RN, interim dean and associate professor at the
University of Utah College of Nursing
, said she identifies with how Christensen describes her generation as having a strong work ethic. Wilson said she doesn’t understand others who don’t work hard, particularly given work in healthcare is so important and impactful. “Not only do we have a strong work ethic, but we will be the first in line at a rally or protest if we have strong beliefs in the cause,” according to Wilson, also an author of the paper in the Journal of Nursing Management. It’s important for nurse leaders and others to remember the strong value that baby boomers place on work. “Work is more than just a means to a paycheck — work is life and requires the utmost dedication,” Christensen said. “The process of a workplace project is just as important as the outcome.” Because of the high value they put on work, baby boomers are more likely than younger generations to appreciate public recognition for workplace achievements, Christensen said. Boomers also embrace non-monetary rewards for their work achievements, including things like a better parking spot next to the building or recognition in the corporate newsletter, according to Kimberly Moss, PhD, RN, CNE, ODCP, organization and leadership development consultant. Moss was an expert panelist during our recent webinar “How to Thrive Communicating Across Generations.”
Do baby boomers work well with others?
Boomers’ preferred communication approaches
Nurse leaders and educators need to use several communication approaches to effectively deliver information to multigenerational nursing audiences, according to Noelle Trinder, MSN-Ed, RN, clinical education director, at Banner Health. Trinder also was an expert panelist during our webinar. Baby boomers tend to be versatile in their communication. They have adapted to modern electronic communications and enjoy traditional face-to-face meetings and handwritten notes, according to Christensen. While they “tolerate” technology, baby boomers aren’t dependent on technology to be productive at work, Moss said. “Usually boomers prefer open, direct and informal communication. They favor face-to-face interactions,” Moss said during the webinar. Baby boomers generally prefer to read printed written material, Trinder said. “If you’re discussing a new or changing policy at your next staff meeting, consider providing printed copies to your boomer staff ahead of time so they have time to thoroughly review them and make notes in the margins,” Trinder said during the webinar.