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Essay: ‘Generations’ – the four unique cohorts

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  • Subject area(s): Nursing essays
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  • Published: September 21, 2019*
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  • 'Generations' - the four unique cohorts
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The word generation refers to the grouping of individuals born around a span of 15-20 years that share similar life experiences (Stanley, 2010).  Currently, the nursing workforce is a diverse organization being comprised of four generational cohorts for the first time in history (Hahn, 2011).  The Veterans, the Baby Boomers, the Generation Xers, and the Millennials make up the four generational cohorts found in the nursing workforce today (Carver & Candela, 2008).  Despite the increase in the number of generational cohorts seen in the nursing workforce, there is an ongoing nursing shortage (Wilson, Squires, Widger, Cranley, & Tourangeau, 2008).  According to Carver and Candela (2008), it is estimated that by 2020, the United States will be one million nurses short.  While there is a decrease in supply of nurses, the demand for nursing care is increasing due to the ageing population (Stanley, 2010).  Wilson et al. (2008) noted that job satisfaction is an indicator of a nurse’s willingness to work in the current area of employment. With the nursing shortage, it is important for nursing employees and nursing leaders to understand and respect each cohort’s differences to reduce conflict and provide an environment that all four generational cohorts desire to work in.  It is also necessary to explore the best way to lead each of the four generations to ensure contentment in the work environment (Hahn, 2011).

The variety of generational cohorts poses the challenge of multiple groups with unique upbringings coming together to form a cohesive and functional workplace.  With the diverse experiences faced by each generational cohort comes the multitude of beliefs, values, expectations, work habits, and attitudes.  The uniqueness of each cohort presents complexity to the workforce posing not only challenges, but also advantages and strength to the nursing workforce environment (Olsen, 2008).  The purpose of this paper is to examine each of the generational cohorts that exist in the nursing workforce today and discuss the environmental structures each cohort finds satisfying in order to increase job satisfaction and combat the nursing shortage.

Generational Cohorts

The four generational cohorts seen today in the nursing work field are the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, the Generation Xers, and the Millenials (Carver & Candela, 2008).  The time periods each of the four cohorts grew up during led to a variation of life events, ultimately shaping the characteristics of each generation.  It is important to assess the features of the differing generational cohorts to grasp a better understanding of how each cohort functions and how to bridge the generational gap among nursing coworkers.

The oldest of the generational cohorts, born between 1925-1942, are the Veterans grew up during a time of economic uncertainty, facing the challenges of the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, and World War II.  These lifetime events molded Veterans into being highly dedicated and loyal workers (Hahn, 2011).  The Veterans believe in life time employment and value consistency, respect for authority, law and order, sacrifice, and hard work (Stanley, 2010).  This generation is known to be stable, reliable, and practical (Hahn, 2011).

The Baby Boomers, born between 1943-1960, make up the largest group of workers in the current nursing workforce (Wilson et al., 2008).  This group grew up post World War II in a time of economic prosperity, and during a time when a husband and wife shared household responsibilities and both worked outside of the home (Olson, 2008).  Some events that occurred during the Baby Boomers childhood include the Civil Rights Movement and the Apollo 11 lunar landing (Hahn, 2011).  Growing up in an era of progress and affluence this generation is known to be optimistic and opportunity seeking (Olson, 2008).  Baby Boomers are known as “workaholics” who live to work (Wilson et al., 2008).  They have a competitive spirit and like the older Veterans, have a strong work ethic (Carver & Candela, 2008).  This generational cohort values opportunities for personal growth, a team approach, personal gratification, and involvement (Hahn, 2011).  While Veterans are fine with a delayed reward for a job well done, Baby Boomers desire immediate recognition (Hahn, 2011).  

The smallest generational cohort, born between 1961-1981, is the Generation Xers, who unlike Baby Boomers, work to live (Carver and Candela, 2008).  With more mothers moving into the workforce, this generation grew to be self-sufficient and independent.  During childhood, Generation Xers observed long work hours and layoffs (Hahn, 2011).  This generation also experienced a rapid development in technology, shaping them into resourceful, tech-savvy individuals (Stanley, 2010).  Generation Xers value taking action, technological literacy, work life balance, and diversity (Stanley, 2010).  Generation Xers prefer working alone and desire individual positive feedback (Hahn, 2011).

The youngest of the generations and the future of nursing, born between 1982-2003, are the Millennials, also known as Generation Y.  This generation is known for being raised during a time of massive technological advance and are known for being masters of cell phones.  As compared to previous generations, Millennials are more affluent, diverse, and better educated (Stanley, 2010). Millennials grew up with parents holding strong family values, and this generation spent time after school in a multitude of different activities (Hahn, 2011).  This generation is sociable, outcome driven, optimistic, ambitious, and determined.  Like Generation Xers, Millennials desire a flexible schedule that allows for a work life balance (Hahn, 2011).  Unlike Generation Xers, but like Baby Boomers, this generational cohort embraces teamwork and collaborative approaches (Wilson et al., 2008).  

By breaking down the four generational cohorts it is evident that similarities and differences exist among the cohorts.  The nursing workforce is currently made up of a flatter organizational structure, which allows for multigenerational groups working together (Stanley, 2010).   Healthcare workers are also expected to work as a team, resulting in multiple age groups working together (Olson, 2008).  Differences among cohorts can present with challenge and conflict in the nursing workforce, but having a knowledge of the experiences and characteristics behind each generational cohort can lead to respect among the multiple generations and open up new ways of thinking (Hahn, 2011).  Each generational cohort brings something new and unique to the work field.  Instead of using generational diversity as conflict, combining the strengths, skills, and talents of each cohort can be an approach for achieving success and providing extraordinary healthcare (Stanley, 2010).

Leading Generational Cohorts

As mentioned previously, there is an ongoing nursing shortage.  According to Wilson et al. (2008), retention rates increase as job satisfaction increases.  Given the different backgrounds and values of the four generational cohorts stated above, job satisfaction is perceived differently across generations (Wilson et al., 2008).  It is important for nurse managers and leaders to examine each cohort and provide a flexible and effective approach to ensure the most appropriate leadership style for each generation (Olson, 2008).  Understanding the organizational needs and desirable environmental structures of each generational cohort can lead to increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment (Carver & Candela, 2008).

With the nursing workforce being a flatter organizational structure, there are cases in which younger nurses are found to be managing members of older generations.  In these instances, it is important to view work environments older generations function the best in (Carver & Candela, 2008).  

Generation Xers and Millennials both desire to feel as if they belong to an organization by being active participants in a process.  These two younger generations enjoy making a difference and having a sense of belonging (Stanley, 201).  Wilson et al. (2008) suggests a shared governance model for younger generations to allow them to have autonomy and contribute in the decision making process. Younger generations also yearn for finding a work environment that offers flexibility to allow for a work-like balance (Stanley, 2010).  Self scheduling would increase job satisfaction in younger generations by allowing for the opportunity to find that work-life balance. (Wilson et al., 2008).  Growing up in an era of technological advance, allowing opportunities to handle the newest technology would satisfy both of these generational cohorts (Olson, 2008).  Generation Xers and Millennials are willing to leave and pursue other job opportunities if the current work environment does not present with challenges and support for advancement in education and skills (Carver & Candela, 2008).  What sets these two younger generations apart is the amount of supervision they desire.  Generation Xers are more independent workers and are demotivated by too much supervision, while Millenials thrive in environments with close observation (Olson, 2008).  In fact, Millenials expect a more detailed orientation period, and Generation Xers would rather orientation be short, sweet and to the point (Carver & Candela, 2008).

Taking into account the work environments and leadership styles each generation prefers can lead to an overall increase in job satisfaction and a desire to work, ultimately combating the nursing shortage. Despite the differences in leadership styles and ideal work environments among the four generational cohorts, all of the cohorts share a common ground of the need for respect.  Mutual respect among generational cohorts can increase an individual’s commitment to the organization and overall increase retention rates (Carver & Candela, 2008).  It is also important to notice that what binds the four unique cohorts together is a longing to become a nurse and provide care for individuals (Stanley, 2010).

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