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Millennials, Boomers, Gen Xers—Can They All Get Along?

By Jennifer Thew RN  
   September 08, 2015

Do Millennials act entitled? Are Baby Boomers old-fashioned? Nursing workforce demographics are changing. One St. Louis-based hospital has changed its practices to meet this younger generation's needs.

This is the first column in a two-part series on Millennials in the healthcare workforce.

Kids these days! Perhaps you've heard these words or maybe even said them yourself. I know I've been guilty of muttering them on occasion, and probably at some point in my life have had them said about me. It's nothing new. As long as there have been adults, there have been judgements made about the generations who follow in their footsteps.

In their youth, Baby Boomers were called hippies. Gen X (to which I belong) was labeled slackers. And today Gen Y, also known as Millennials, is often described as entitled.

As this last group—defined by the Pew Research Center as those ranging in age from 18 to 34 as of 2015—establishes itself in the nursing workforce, the differences between generations should start to become even more apparent, due in part to shifting demographics.

While the Baby Boomers have long been the dominant age-related group in the U.S, Millennials are projected to surpass them in number this year, reports the center. Gen X, which is a smaller cohort in general, will be sandwiched between the other two.

As the make-up of the working population shifts, the nursing profession will have to change as well. But will a multigenerational group with a reputation for eating its young be able to do this? Possibly, but it will require give and take from all groups involved.

Leslie Neal-Boylan, PhD, RN

Respect Your Elders

Incivility, lateral violence, and workplace bullying have been and continue to be problems in nursing. In fact, just last month the American Nurses Association set a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence and bullying.

Leslie Neal-Boylan, PhD, RN, dean and professor of the College of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and author of The Nurse's Reality Shift: Using History to Transform the Future, agrees that aggressive behavior towards colleagues is unacceptable, but she points out that it may, at times, stem from generational differences.

"There is absolutely no excuse for incivility no matter what," she says. "But I do think that part of this is because we have new graduates who are coming out of school who very often—and this does not go across the board—come out thinking they know everything they need to know and also expect immediate responses. This is the email/Twitter age."

That need for immediate information and lack of recognition of other's expertise may rub some experienced nurses the wrong way.

"We have to make sure that students who are graduating understand that they are entering a world that, in some ways, is old-fashioned," she says. "You have to earn respect, and you're not going to get it unless you show that you are willing to listen to those who are more experienced and you're willing to learn and do your homework."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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