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Positive workplace communication is possible
Nurses must look at generational challenges as opportunities to understand one another better
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By Eileen P. Williamson
MSN, RN
The workforce is changing and along with it so are the staff, workplaces and the age at which we retire.
Some nurses are leaving the workforce earlier than before, while others choose to stay on the job through their 60s and 70s, some even into their 80s. There no longer seems to be a “right” retirement age. “By 2024, about 25% of the workforce is projected to be over the age of 55,” according to an
article on the HR Daily Advisor website
. “That compares to only about 12% of the workforce in 1994. In fact, in some workplaces, 55 doesn’t even begin to signify time to retire.” On average American workers plan to retire at age 66, according to the
results of an April Gallup poll
, compared to the 1990s when the average worker planned to retire at age 60. The poll also reported that the percentage of those looking to retire before age 60 has dropped 15% since 1995. That’s a drop from just over a quarter of employees to just 12% today. These statistics point to the fact that our national workforce has more older workers, in general, and more generations in it. In fact, there are five generations working together in many places across the country right now.
Let’s define the generations
Most workplaces are comprised mostly of the baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials — the three largest groups among the five generations. But five generations contribute to the current workforce.
1.
Traditionalists (silent generation)
Born before 1945
Age 73 or older
Eldest working generation
2.
Baby boomers
Born between 1946-1964
Ages 54 to 72
3.
Gen Xers
Born between 1965-1976
Ages 42 to 53
4.
Millennials (Generation Y)
Born between 1977-1997
Ages 22 to 41
5.
Generation Z
Born after 1997
Age 21 and younger
“In the last couple of years, millennials passed Generation X to become the largest segment of the U.S. labor force,” according to an
article in Forbes
.


The article goes on to share that at 56 million, there are only 3 million more millennials than Gen Xers in the workforce. Despite that small difference, discussion tends to revolve around generational conflict in the workplace between millennials and baby boomers.

Given the many descriptions, opinions and so-called difficulties that can arise among the different generations in the workplace — some of which can be unfair, exaggerated and even erroneous — it would seem their size is about all the three have in common.
Debunking myths around the generations
We’ve all probably heard baby boomers are set in their ways, not technology savvy, afraid of change and likely to stay with one employer forever, while Gen Xers want to move ahead, take chances on new things and work autonomously.
And millennials are said to be somewhat self-centered, disinterested in rules and likely to move from job to job quickly.
Others disagree with these myths. For example, a
chart on the stereotypes of each generation
from the American Psychological Association describes:
  • Baby boomers as optimistic, ambitious workaholics
  • Gen Xers as self-reliant risk takers who want a balance between work and their personal lives
  • Millennials as hopeful, diversity and change-valued employees who want meaningful work
Others also had something say about the myths surrounding baby boomers and their ongoing vital role in America’s workplaces.
“The
generalizations made about the baby boomer generation, like most stereotypes, are exaggerated
and simply not true,” according to an article by the digital agency PHOS. “However, many marketing strategies disregard the truth about baby boomers and can neglect great opportunities to reach them.”
Challenges can be opportunities in disguise
The important question to be answered regarding all of this is whether the different generations can overcome their age differences, varied viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences and work together successfully.
If we look at these things as challenges that can be opportunities, the answer is “Yes.”
Here is some advice to use to work more seamlessly together:
  • Avoid stereotyping. Look at each employee individually and remember that every baby boomer, Gen Xer and millennial is not the same.
  • Focus on how your colleagues are the same instead of different.
  • Promote workplace changes, trends, rules and regulations to all groups equally.
  • Create a supportive work-life balance aimed at a happier workplace for all.
  • Take time to get to know and understand the members of each generation.
  • Showcase everyone’s knowledge. Make it clear that every colleague has something to teach and something to learn.
  • Make accommodations for different learning styles among the different age groups.
  • Provide any special generational training that may be needed.
  • Create mentor-mentee relationships not based on age because baby boomers have knowledge to share with Gen Xers and millennials have knowledge to share with the baby boomers.
  • Provide as much advanced technology as possible to each group.
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EDITOR'S NOTE:
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is our former senior vice president and chief nurse executive. Williamson continues to write for Nurse.com and serve in an advisory role.