1. Mensik, Jennifer S. PhD, MBA, RN

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Differences among the 4 generations (silent, baby boomer, Generations X and Y) in the workplace have been noted.1,2 Unfortunately, most of the literature focuses on differences and negative attributes between the generations, particularly that of Generations X and Y. Although every generation has positive and negative attributes, the literature seems to focus more on negative aspects of Generations X (born 1961-1981) and Y (born 1982-2000) and positive aspects to the silent (born 1925-1942) and baby boomer (born 1943-1960) generations.3 As example, "Baby boomers are committed to their place of employment and enjoy meaningful work. Generation Xers, on the other hand, view work as 'a job' and believe that it is necessity to balance work and leisure,"2(p506) and baby boomers are "dedicated and driven[horizontal ellipsis],"2(p506) whereas later in the same article, Generation X is described as "lazy, demanding, cynical, and detached."2(p506) Generation X members feel demotivated by "disparaging comments about their generation and feeling disrespected."4(p934) Mixed within the negative stereotyping of the generations is some positive. Kupperschmidt5 note that the negative prediction of Generation X as slackers did not materialize and that they are productive employees.


Negative depictions of Generation Y include the following: "[horizontal ellipsis]but also very materialistic and disrespectful.[horizontal ellipsis]trying to grow up too fast without good role models."6(p173) Connecting phrases such as "on the other hand" or "but" can be construed as negative and demoralizing and are used frequently in Generational literature to point out differences. "Narrow and constricted stereotyping should not be used as weapons against any generation."7(p78)


Differences and Similarities

If nursing leaders want to move forward with collaboration among generations, then a positive attitude and understanding for each generation is needed. Swearingen and Liberman state, "The same things that previous generations are motivated by do not motivate Generation Xers. They come to work with a value system that differs from the Baby boomers and Veterans."8(p54) One generational difference in values noted has been that Generations X and Y are disloyal to organizations; however, when asked about their commitment to employment longevity, 47% said that they were loyal to managers as compared with only 23% of baby boomers.9 This difference in values is not to imply that one generation is better than another, but rather as useful information for a nursing manager in building and maintaining a successful work environment.


With the recent emphasis on retention and recruitment, research has focused around perceived organizational attributes in the work environment. However, little is still known in nursing about how employee's behavior or traits may affect the workplace environment. Some traits that we do know about baby boomers is that they value participation and consensus, like to talk about processes and ideas, care deeply about what others think, and are committed to the organization.2 Traits that Generation X exhibit include the preference to work alone, aversion to attending meetings, desire for results done quickly and quietly, and commitment to the manager.2 Does this mean that baby boomers are not committed to their manager? Alternatively, does this mean that Generation X does not participate in meetings? Obviously, no, thus showing the problem with generalizations about any group.


In a study of nurses by Stuenkel et al,10(p284) they noted, "Surprisingly, the Xers [horizontal ellipsis]perceived a higher level of involvement than did boomers." Also, Xers indicated a perceived greater degree of supervisor support. This is in line with Hu and colleagues'9 study that identified a greater commitment of Generations X and Y to their supervisor, not the organization. In another study, Dunn-Cane and associates4 noted that Generation X wanted to solve problems independently in their own way and that supervisors need to give these employees the responsibility and autonomy to determine how to perform their job. Generation X also want a work environment geared toward learning.4 Instruments such as the Nursing Work Index Revised and the Essentials of Magnetism that have been used in workforce studies seem to include many key attributes such as autonomy, supportive nurse manager, and education, which have been noted as important so far by Generations X and Y in the literature.


Now, are there any similarities? Hu and colleagues9 studied the differences and similarities between all 4 generations of nurses. Grouping baby boomers and silent generations together and Generations X and Y together, similarities were noted between the generations. When asked to choose their attitude toward authority, the silent/baby boomers and the Generations X and Y (50% and 53%, respectively) both chose obedient and wanting to interact. Hu and colleagues also found that there was no significant difference between communication style and significance of tasks. These items included respect for coworkers and focus on problem-solving strategies to achieve the goals of the organization and profession. Both groups valued honesty and a positive outlook in their leader.


"It never matters as much where a generation is as where it is going."3(p97) A generation always retains its persona of youth, but it expresses that persona very differently in each successive phase of life.3 The differences we see in each generation are our own reflection of our worldviews. What really matters at the end of the day is that we have nurses who are committed to their patients and nursing leaders who are committed to support these nurses, despite generational differences.




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