Managing the Intergenerational Workplace
The complexities of today’s changing world of work become more interesting with the presence of at least four generations in the workplace. Managing a mixture of values, life experiences, cultural diversity, and work ethics can either be a nightmare or a dream for nurse managers. When nurse managers are guided by the principle of—and require—respect for all, they lay the foundation for healthy workplace relationships regardless of the generational mix.
In this chapter, you will learn:
1. The key characteristics of the four main cohorts of generations in the workplace: seniors, boomers, Generation Xers, and Generation Ys
2. What each generation values, needs, and is motivated by
3. Strategies for managing multiple generations
THE CHALLENGES OF MANAGING GENERATIONAL COHORTS
With differing life experiences, values, and expectations about work characterizing staff members, the potential for intergenerational conflict in many of today’s workplaces is very real. Staff members can get caught up in sniping at one another with comments such as, “These young nurses don’t know anything!” or “Why don’t those old ducks just retire and make room for me!” The biggest sources of contention among the different generations lie in their perceptions about levels of educational preparation, work ethic, use of technology, and prior practices and procedures (“the way things used to be done around here”). While generation bashing happens within each cohort, the boomers need to think twice before they bash the Gen Xers and Ys. Why? Because the boomers produced them! Nurse managers who facilitate intergenerational understanding help decrease interpersonal tension, improve the quality of workplace relationships, and promote a spirit of collaboration.
FAST FACTS in a NUTSHELL
• Time spent on generation bashing depletes staff energy, redirects staff focus away from patient care, and flies in the face of the standards of practice, which require nurses to support one another in practice.
KNOW YOUR GENERATIONAL MIX
Nurse managers should have at least a basic understanding of what makes each generation tick and clearly articulated expectations about how all staff members treat one another. With the plethora of available research on the intergenerational workplace, it is easy to become overwhelmed with information about how to manage the members of each cohort. Stuart and Laraia, in their book Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing (2000), offer basic principles that capture the fundamentals of relationships with other human beings. By extension these principles (also implicit in codes of ethics) can shape how we behave at work in relation to one another, regardless of the generation we represent. These beliefs provide a useful framework to guide nurse manager’s actions in promoting healthy intergenerational relationships.
For Your Consideration: Excellent Principles to Live By
Try using and referring to these principles, adapted from American Psychiatric Nursing Association, to guide relationships among all staff, as well as your relationship with staff:
1. The need for respect is universal among human beings.
2. All individuals have intrinsic worth and dignity.
3. Every individual has the potential to change.
4. All behavior is purposeful and meaningful.
Exploring each of the principles with staff can help establish a framework for how the generations work together. Facilitating staff discussions about how each of these statements would be expressed in their peer group relationships would be inspiring, to say the least.
FAST FACTS in a NUTSHELL
• Regardless of the generation all individuals have a basic need to be treated with dignity and respect.
• Nurse managers must lead and facilitate this process among staff.
INTERESTING TIDBITS ABOUT THE GENERATIONS
The span of years attributed to each generation in the descriptions that follow are not carved in stone. Some individuals possess characteristics from two generational cohorts. The descriptions are, by necessity, brief and intended to whet your appetite for further learning:
Traditionalists, a.k.a. Seniors, Veterans, the Silent Generation (Born Before 1945)
• Events of influence: The world wars; the Great Depression.
• Characteristics: Hard work, loyalty, sacrifice, thriftiness; working fast to meet deadlines. Expected the workplace to take care of them for life.
• What nurse managers need to know about them: They prefer to have decisions explained, and clearly defined structures. They have a tendency for black-and-white thinking, follow procedures exactly as outlined, and require support and recognition of accomplishments.