Managing and understanding multigenerational staff

Nurse Leader Insider, March 26, 2007

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Being a nurse manager is a stressful job, and trying to figure out how to successfully manage your staff is enough to keep anyone up at night. It would make life easier if your staff all wanted the same things from the workplace. The trouble is, the current nursing workforce is extraordinarily diverse, with myriad different needs and life experiences.

Your current workplace is made up of four generations. You are liable to have 20-year-old new graduate nurses working with 60-year-old experienced professionals. You may be a nurse manager supervising staff young enough to be your children or old enough to be your parents. This can be intimidating, or at the very least, confusing.

By understanding the generations, and sometimes helping them understand each other, you can successfully manage staff of any generation.

Beware of stereotypes
It would be easy to assume that all employees who fall into one generation are alike, but this can lead to labeling and stereotypes, which can be inaccurate at best and dangerous at worst. The way people typically fulfill the characteristics of each generation can be demonstrated by a bell-shaped curve. This is a theory used in research that demonstrates how things naturally occur: most results will be in the middle, while those at either end will be one or two standard deviations from the norm. Some people will be almost completely unlike the characteristics ascribed to a particular generation, while others will be almost 100% like the description. Most people will fall somewhere in the middle, exhibiting a lot, but not all, of the characteristics.

For example, many of the characteristics we attribute to Generation X (born 1965-1980) are a result of having had both parents in the workplace during childhood, which shaped the behavior, needs, and culture during the formative years of this generation. However, members of this generation who grew up with stay-at-home parents may exhibit characteristics that are more similar to a generation when stay-at-home parents were commonplace, such as the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964).

In addition, those born at the beginning or the end of a particular generation group usually have a blend of the characteristics of their own generation and the next closest group.

It is also imperative to remember that there are forceful personalities in any generation, so do not allow extreme cases to distort your view of most people within that generation.

Editor's note: This excerpt was adapted from HCPro's book "A Practical Guide to Managing the Multigenerational Workforce: Skills for Nurse Managers." Click here for more information.

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