Generation X nurses prefer direct communication
Former latch-key kids desire autonomy
Lisette Hilton
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Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.

Generation Xers are an experienced, influential part of today’s nursing workforce. Their life experiences, motivations and communication styles tend to differ from the older baby boomers and younger millennials, but their input remains invaluable in nursing.

Preferred communication approaches
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Generation Xers tend to value having independence in how tasks are completed, according to Christensen. “This generation will value communication that supports their independence, such as offering multiple options in completing an objective," he said. "On a personal level, I am a member of Generation X and do place a strong value on having autonomy in completing my professional endeavors." No need to handhold many nurses in this age group. “Tell them what you need to have done and get out of their way!" said Barbara Wilson, PhD, RN, interim dean and associate professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing and author of the paper in the Journal of Nurse Management. "Share the end result. They will figure out the ‘how.’ Extensive details or descriptions are usually not needed.” Gen Xers usually prefer communication methods that use technology, like email and web-based applications, according to Moss. Nurse managers and leaders who plan meetings to discuss a new or changing policy, for example, should consider that Generation Xers often prefer meeting times to be reserved for fielding questions, said Noelle Trinder, MSN-Ed, RN, clinical education director at Banner Health and an expert panelist during our webinar. “For this group, consider sending one email containing the meeting agenda and material before the meeting, so they can digest it on their own time and clarify information as needed at the meeting,” Trinder said during the webinar. Public recognition, which tends to work well with boomers, is not at all motivating to Gen Xers, Moss said. “Generation Xers prefer financial compensation, like a bonus," Moss said. "Or give them ways to advance their careers. Send them to a conference or give them continuing education opportunities. Give them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. The Xers are so competitive on a peer-to-peer level and because they value work-life balance, I like to encourage leaders to really offer professional development trips, paid time off and more freedom in the workplace. That is their currency.”
In contrast to the younger millennials who embrace being parts of teams, Generation Xers usually prefer to work alone, which satisfies their independent, hard-working persona. “They really hate being micromanaged," Trinder said. "So the idea of having teammates looking over their shoulders is intolerable. They usually don’t mind decisions being made unilaterally. They just accept it and move on." Early on — even before hiring a nurse — nurse leaders and managers should ask what nurses’ expectations are for their jobs, their leaders and their teams. This is regardless of age. That way those managing, mentoring or educating nurses can better reach, connect with and retain them. Meaningful coaching is one of the most effective retention strategies for every generation. The challenge is that coaching means different things to different generations, according to Moss.
These are the latch-key kids who walked themselves home while their parents worked late and, as a result, have zero interest in a life dominated by work.”
— Kimberly Moss, RN

What drives Gen Xers?
Generation X is known for its diligent workers and desire for work-life balance. The generation’s members, born from about 1965 to 1980, make up nearly one-fifth of the population, according to our recent webinar “
How to Thrive Communicating Across Generations
.” “Generation Xers are skeptics who read the fine print. They respond well to direct, authentic communications without the fluff,” said Scott S. Christensen, DNP, MBA, APRN, ACNP-BC, clinical operations director at the 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
. Among the generalizations that helped define the generation’s ways: Many Generation X children were unsupervised by their parents and carried keys to let themselves in after school. They prepared their meals and freely wandered through the neighborhood, he said. “These are the latch-key kids who walked themselves home while their parents worked late and, as a result, have zero interest in a life dominated by work,” said Kimberly Moss, PhD, RN, CNE, ODCP, an organization and leadership development consultant and expert panelist during our webinar. The result is a generation defined by fierce independence, a willingness to take risks and skepticism of others, Christensen said. The good news for nurse leaders is Generation Xers tend to be highly productive and creative, according to Moss. “The popular movie quote, ‘Show me the money’ provides an example of a football player who wanted to see a contract instead of trusting in the words of their agent," Christensen said. "Such skepticism is found in generation X and this is something to keep in mind. Combat skepticism by being direct, authentic and in offering reasons for your requests.” Linda S. Edelman, PhD, RN, associate professor at University of Utah College of Nursing and author of the Journal of Nurse Management paper, saw firsthand how generational differences between the elder baby boomers and Generation Xers can impact nurses’ perceptions. “I attended a presentation about generational differences attended by nurses in the hospital where I worked at the time," Edelman said. "A baby boomer nurse said Generation X nurses didn’t take initiative or offer to lead. The Generation X nurses responded that they tried but weren’t allowed to do the job ‘their way.' It was an eye-opening exchange for me, and I think my communication style changed as a result."
Do Gen Xers work well with others?