1. Alexander, Mary MA, RN, CRNI(R), CAE, FAAN

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As the economy roils and forces changes in the healthcare workplace with layoffs and staffing changes, delayed retirements, and shrinking budgets, we nurses are still obliged to provide high-quality care to our patients. To do so, we have to navigate the obstacles and pitfalls that come with the changing economic scene and consider new, constructive approaches to handling workplace issues.

Figure. Mary Alexand... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Mary Alexander, MA, RN, CRNI(R), CAE, FAAN, INS Chief Executive Officer Editor, Journal of Infusion Nursing

Maintaining a healthy work environment is crucial for retaining experienced staff, building successful teams, sustaining financial stability, and recruiting new nurses. In troubled economic times, it is more important than ever to have a smooth-running work unit. All healthcare professionals must participate in this effort, but nurses-the backbone of any healthcare facility-are well positioned to lead.


With many older nurses delaying retirement or returning to work for financial reasons, in many healthcare settings you'll find as many as 4 different generations of nurses working together. Whether their collaboration results in positive patient outcomes depends on the nurse leaders who manage the diverse traits and work styles of each generation.


As INS' president, Lynn Phillips, pointed out in her address at the 2009 Annual Meeting, an essential task for building successful work teams is developing solid generational connections. Understanding the ways in which different generations interact in the workplace can lead to a more productive, healthy work environment.


Human Resources professionals have labels for the 4 generations who work together today:


* Veterans, who were born between 1922 and 1945;


* Boomers, born between 1945 and 1965;


* Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980;


* Generation Y (or "Nexters"), born between 1980 and 1994.1



Each of these generations has different contributions to make to the nursing profession. Nurse leaders who take advantage of these attributes and successfully blend the different work styles create a healthy healthcare workplace that offers patients the best of care.


Veteran nurses, many of whom are nearing retirement age, or have returned from retirement, have years of valuable experience to share with younger nurses. Their responsibilities have expanded over the years-particularly in the specialty of infusion therapy-and they've seen the influence of technology on the well-being of their patients. Yet some veterans don't feel comfortable with all technological advances. Generation X and Y nurses, who grew up with computers and other electronic devices, can, when encouraged by leaders, help veterans overcome their apprehension and embrace high-tech solutions for patient care.


Baby boomers, currently the largest cohort in today's workplace, have a great deal of experience and a reputation for a positive work ethic. They have expected to move up the career ladder by taking on extra work shifts and assignments ungrudgingly, accepting long hours, and often sacrificing family time for the sake of their patients. Younger nurses, however, expect a better work/life balance and seek more flexibility in scheduling and assignments. This difference in outlook can be a potential source of conflict, but nurse leaders can turn the situation around through communication, accommodation, motivation, and respect for each nurse's skills.2


Communication styles also vary among nurses of different generations. Veteran nurses feel comfortable with more formal communication; baby boomers prefer written notes or phone calls, but many can navigate e-mail and are happy to communicate that way. Gen X and Y nurses are accustomed to instant gratification; they prefer instant messaging and Twittering.3 With a clear understanding of the range of communication styles, nurse leaders can develop efficient methods that work for all.


By listening to and learning from each other, respecting the skills and diverse work styles of other nurses, and encouraging all generations of nurses to participate in decision making, we can create a healthy work environment that challenges nurses to do their best. Our patients deserve no less.


Mary Alexander, MA, RN, CRNI(R), CAE, FAAN




1. Sigma Theta Tau International. Understanding generational differences in your new members.. Accessed July 6, 2009.[Context Link]


2. Sherman RO. Leading a multigenerational nursing workforce: issues, challenges, and strategies. Online J Issues Nurs. Accessed July 7, 2009 [Context Link]


3. Heffernan H. Managing generational differences in the workplace. Fast Accessed July 7, 2009. [Context Link]