Bridging the Generation Gap

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Bridging the Generation Gaps : 

Bridging the Generation Gaps Diana Halfer, RN, MSN Cynthia Saver, RN, MS NA478B

Course Objectives : 

Course Objectives The purpose of this program is to provide nursing assistants with knowledge they can use to work more effectively with different generations. After you study the information presented here, you will be able to — Explain the advantages of intergenerational teams. Describe the differences between four generations Explain how healthcare team members of different generations can work together more effectively. The authors and planners have declared no real or perceived conflicts of interest that relate to this educational activity.

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Today’s nursing workforce is a lively mix of generations. Four generations of nurses work side by side, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in discord: Veterans Baby Boomers Generation X Generation Y Four Generations!

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Too often, people view generational differences as hurdles to leap. Here’s a different perspective: Nursing assistants and nurses of all ages bring expertise that arises from their experiences as a generation. But to create a successful team, we must understand each generation’s views on life and work. A Successful Team Approach

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The ancient Arab proverb “Men resemble their times more than their fathers” captures how history influences the collective personality of a generation.1 People born around the same time develop personalities shaped by a common history of cultural events, images, and experiences.2 Generations experience the same national catastrophes and achievements, grow up with the same music and cultural memorabilia, and start school and work at about the same time.2,3 Generational commonalities cut across racial and ethnic lines. Spanning 15 to 20 years, each generation has its own way of viewing the world.2,3 Collective life experiences shape what generations value and expect in relationships. In addition, these experiences influence how people of a generation filter and process information. Generations View the World Differently

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The table “Four Generations” presents an overview of the generations. At first glance, you’ll see major differences. For example, Baby Boomers value teamwork, but Generation X values self-reliance and can work independently. But notice the similarities: Both Generations X and Y crave work/life balance; Baby Boomers and Generation Y value teams. These commonalities can provide a framework for talking with and motivating people from different generations. The message is that each generation has strengths to leverage in the workplace.4 Veterans and Baby Boomers have years of knowledge to share. Gen Xers like to get to the crux of a problem quickly, which helps move projects along. Generation Y approaches tasks with an entrepreneurial spirit and works with tenacity while still having fun. The Big Picture

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Consider what happened to Susan, the nurse manager on a med/surg unit in a large medical center. Susan was happy to hire Zane, a member of Generation Y with five years of experience in a small community hospital. One day, Susan was surprised to learn that Zane was struggling with the computer documentation system. Susan had assumed that as a member of Generation Y, Zane would be tech savvy. On further questioning, she and Zane’s preceptor learned that Zane’s previous hospital used computers on a limited basis and documentation was done on paper. If they had investigated Zane’s computer experience, rather than assuming an expertise that wasn’t there, they could have saved Zane a lot of frustration. A Case Study: Generation Y

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Sandy, age 55, can’t understand 33-year-old Matt’s “obsession” (her words) with avoiding overtime, a classic case of colliding generations. Baby Boomers like Sandy feel committed to getting the job done, no matter what. Gen X nurses like Matt want work/life balance. Neither view is “correct”; it’s a matter of different perspectives. By understanding differing viewpoints, team members can enrich rather than confound work relationships. A Case Study: Generation X

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The key is to be nonjudgmental — just as we are nonjudgmental of patients. Accept the values, strengths, and weaknesses of all. The Key

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To minimize the effects of generational collisions, try these strategies: Find a common purpose Understand communication styles of different generations Include a mix of generations Use the strengths of each generation Avoid storytelling Strategies for Working Together

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A mutual goal brings people together.7 It might be true that Generation Y likes to have fun at work and strives for work/life balance. And it might be true that Baby Boomers approach work more as a “mission” and too frequently become workaholics. But put both groups in a room, toss in a few Veteran and Generation X personnel, and you’ll find an important common goal: quality patient care. Keeping the focus on excellent care draws the healthcare team together Find a Common Purpose

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Learn to communicate in a variety of ways. Generations X and Y feel comfortable with the latest technology and often prefer e-mail to other forms of communication.4,6 A Veteran nurse may throw his or her BlackBerry in a drawer and forget about it, so notes on the bulletin board and face-to-face meetings are better ways to reach them. Use several methods, including e-mail, meetings, and bulletin board postings, to reach all generations.4 Understand Communication Styles of Different Generations

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Veterans tend to be conservative conformists, oriented to the past rather than present, and logical thinkers.2,8 Baby Boomers value learning about issues through group discussion. Generation Y tends to be optimistic, tenacious, sociable, and team-oriented and embrace change.2,8 Gen Xers like to quickly find solutions for problems. Having representation from each generation will lead to outcomes all team members are likely to support. Include a Mix of Generations on Work Teams

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Team-oriented Baby Boomers will likely do well on committees. Clinical practice issues or quality improvement initiatives are ideal for the questioning, skeptical Gen Xers. Generation Y team members, who enjoy participation and feedback, are valuable in developing incentive programs for staff retention.4 They are also ideal for positions on technology-related committees and may be helpful in teaching others about technology.9 Use the Strengths of Each Generation’s Differences

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We all create stories in our head based on what we believe is true. We’re all Steven Spielbergs, directing our own movies. For example, imagine that four Generation Y nursing assistants are laughing and talking as they sit in the nurse’s station. A Veterans generation RN thinks, “They’re goofing off again.” In reality, the group is brainstorming on how to ensure better handoffs between the unit and long-term care facilities. Sociable Generation Y staff enjoy solving problems informally with peers. Avoid Storytelling

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All generations must be sensitive to how their behavior appears to the public, patients, and other health professionals. Important Note!

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Generations X and Y dress more casually. Veterans and Baby Boomers may be turned off by body piercings and purple streaks in the hair. Younger generations may resist clothing restrictions. Remember, it’s what inside that counts. However, all healthcare team members need to think about patients’ perceptions. It’s reasonable to expect everyone to follow a dress code.9 Accept Differences — To a Point

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Remember that preceptors and orientees from different generations can learn much from one another, so don’t worry if you end up with a match of different generations. Such a match reflects the work group the orientee will be part of. When precepting a new staff member, tailor your teaching strategy to the generation. Orienting a New Team Member

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Members of this generation like more a more formal, structured teaching sessions.2,10 Present facts and use lessons from experience as examples. Remember, Veterans typically don’t question authority figures, so you may have to invite questions and check frequently for understanding. Respect Veterans’ experience and you will go a long way toward forming a solid relationship. Although not as comfortable with technology, this adaptable generation can, with repeated hands-on practice, learn to use modern technology. Be patient. Learning Styles: Veterans

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Many Boomers prefer more formal, organized education rather than self-study technology techniques. Unlike younger generations, who see learning as a tool to achieve a goal, Baby Boomers value learning for learning’s sake.10 They enjoy learning in a relaxed, caring, and respectful atmosphere and tend to be highly motivated and driven. Learning Styles: Baby Boomers

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Members of Generation X tend not to focus on the past (lessons learned) but on results that can be achieved. They want to learn what they need to know and lose interest in information that is just “nice to know.” Deliver information in small chunks and provide regular feedback. Members of this generation learn better by doing than by reading.2,11 Don’t forget to include time for fun. Use humor and be relaxed. Learning Styles: Generation X

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Born into the digital world, Generation Y members have been called “digital natives.” Computers and video games shaped their learning style.12,13 Generation Y individuals are used to instant communication with cell phones, text messaging, and wireless Internet connectivity, and process information at warp speed. Use graphics instead of printed text and let them learn by trial and error when possible.2,10,12,13,15 Generation Y team members need lots of time for orientation and skills.9 They are used to a busy schedule and get bored easily. Move quickly to keep their interest. Learning Styles: Generation Y

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Whatever your role, you can use the following strategies to mentor and motivate the team members you work with.6,9 Motivating for Success

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Show respect and an interest in what they have to say. Acknowledge that they have experiences that other generations can benefit from. Ask them how to do a task or procedure. Motivating for Success: Veterans

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Ask them about themselves and their families and give them recognition for their work. Remember that Baby Boomers respond well to positive feedback. Be delicate with criticism; first find something to praise. Motivating for Success: Baby Boomers

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Provide constructive feedback. Keep in mind that they may work around the rules rather than tell you they are unhappy with them. Motivating for Success: Generation X

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Find out their goals and how to provide support. Many were coddled by their parents, so you may need to provide strong mentorship and step-by-step guidance. Generation Y individuals may be reluctant to speak up when a mentor or a unit isn’t a good fit, so be alert to the signals, such as not asking many questions. Motivating for Success: Generation Y

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Some people see the glass half empty, others half full. Similarly, some people view generational differences as hurdles while others view them as strengths that open a world of possibilities for collaboration. Leveraging the strengths of each generation will give the nursing team a boost in its quest to deliver quality care. Gannett Education guarantees this educational activity is free from bias. It’s How You Look at It

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Diana Halfer, RN, MSN, is the administrator of clinical and organizational development at the Children’s Memorial Medical Center in Chicago and responsible for the orientation, training, and continuing education of 850 RNs and 4,100 medical center employees.   Cynthia Saver, RN, MS, is president of CLS Development Inc. in Columbia, Md.

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