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Different generations of nurses work better together

Communication and understanding is key

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Depending on your organization, you might be working with nurses from as many as five different generations. According to the literature, each generation can share common characteristics and values. This is viewed largely as a result of growing up at the same time and experiencing major historical events and cultural trends of each prospective time period.

By Carole Jakucs, MSN, RN, PHN

Summer Bryant, DNP, RN, CMSRN, president-elect of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) and managing consultant with BRG/Prism Healthcare, said, “Some strategies work regardless of a nurse’s generation. We can usually find something in common with others. This is essential in building teams.” Participating in formal and informal team-building activities can provide opportunities for staff to uncover some of the shared commonalties they have, Bryant said.
Staff meetings are an example of a formal environment for staff to learn more about each other.
“One practice I use is to ask each staff member to state one thing they did the past weekend,” Bryant said. “This reveals their interests in movies, TV shows, sports teams and hobbies that others in the group also have.” Bryant also encourages staff to meet informally outside the workplace. “These gatherings can be powerful as people are typically more relaxed,” she said.

It’s important teams understand they can also learn from each other. If there’s a more efficient way to do a task, I encourage them to share.

— Yasmin Sharifi, MSN, RN, CNOR

Common ground builds teams

Stress goes up for nurses and patients when they don't interact well because of generational differences, according to Alfaro-LeFevre. “Posting articles about generational differences where nurses congregate or posting online can promote understanding of generational tendencies,” she said. Establishing behavioral expectations is the foundation for building teams, according to Bryant. “Requiring staff to show respect for one another is essential,” she said. “If difficulties arise between staff, I encourage them to talk it over before I get involved, unless it’s a safety issue I need to address immediately. Finding projects they can work on together can help nurses mentor and get to know one another.” Encouraging empathy and learning to walk in someone else’s shoes can provide insight and help understand each other better. “If someone is having difficulty with a new policy, procedure or coworker, I’ll tell them, ‘Let me help you with this,’” Walz said. Different generations can have various work styles. “Because of this, I encourage staff to see the positive traits in their coworkers regardless of their generation,” Sharifi said. “Pointing out examples of good work to the entire team at a staff meeting is one way to achieve this.”

About the Author

Carole Jakucs, MSN, RN, PHN, is a freelance writer and a diabetes educator. Her background in nursing includes tenures in healthcare management and as a care provider. She has worked in med/surg/telemetry, pediatric emergency department and ambulatory/college health.  

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Keys to working effectively

Summer Bryant
DNP, RN
Dave Walz
BSN, RN
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Rosalinda Alfaro-LeFevre MSN, RN
Yasmin Sharifi MSN, RN

Awareness of generational differences

Communication from leadership must be clear so all staff receive the same message, according to Bryant. “Miscommunications can pave the way for misunderstandings,” she said. Alfaro-LeFevre added, “Recognizing generational communication preferences can reduce frustration and improve results. If you know your millennial colleague responds best to texts, send a text. If your baby boomer coworker prefers phone calls or face-to-face communications, do that.” Sometimes people can make quick, negative assumptions of others and their actions that aren’t accurate, according to Walz. “Whether in a leadership or staff role, attentive listening and assuming positive intent is imperative, he said. To better understand different generations, take our courses on bridging generation gaps and on how work culture affects patient safety.

Finding common ground helps build rapport, said Dave Walz, BSN, MBA, RN, CNN, FACHE, president-elect of the American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA) and a senior director at CentraCare, St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn. “Getting to know each other outside of work, learning more about each others’ families, children and even pets, is part of building relationships,” he said.

Rosalinda Alfaro-LeFevre, MSN, RN, ANEF, president of Teaching Smart/Learning Easy based in Stuart, Fla., and Fellow of the National League for Nursing Academy of Nursing Education suggested, “Get to know your coworkers and patients as people. What do they value most in their lives? This can help reach across generational barriers by showing interest in each individual.”

Understanding how each generation learns is also important, said Yasmin Sharifi, MSN, RN, CNOR, director of perioperative services at Frank R. Seaver Ambulatory Surgery Center at PIH Health Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
“Different generations process information differently, so I customize how I share information with the group while addressing staff as one unit,” she said. “It’s important teams understand they can also learn from each other. If there’s a more efficient way to do a task, I encourage them to share.”

The five generations — from the oldest to the youngest, according to the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development  — are as follows:
  • Silent Generation
  • Baby boomers
  • Generation X
  • Generation Y
  • Generation Z
Given the fact that nurses from multiple generations work together, their different generational traits might, at times, pose a challenge for leadership and colleagues. To gain insight into how nurses at all levels can work as cohesive teams, Nurse.com spoke with nurse leaders skilled in this topic.
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