Spanning the generations: A look at age diversity in our workforces

By | 2020-04-06T11:17:29-04:00 August 31st, 2016|0 Comments

How to manage the multigenerational workforces we find in today’s healthcare organizations and facilities is a topic most nurse leaders have heard about, thought about and certainly talked about. Most have workforces primarily made up of baby boomers (born 1946-1964); Generation Xers (born 1965-1976) and Generation Y, aka millennials (born 1977-1995). Two other groups also can be found on some current employee rosters — members of the Silent or Traditionalist generation (born before 1946) and the Generation Z group (born after 1996), which is just starting to enter the workforce.

As leaders we probably can recite the differences in the traits, work habits and attitudes of each of these generations. We understand their strengths and weaknesses and the challenges and opportunities that exist when they all work together as a team.

Sociologists and economists can give us many reasons why current workforces might have members of three, four or even five of these generations working together. They can include things like longer life expectancies, the financial inability to retire, baby boomers having become the sandwich generation that is supporting millennials and traditionalists, and more.

The positive in our multigenerational workforce is that maybe its members don’t have to be managed as much as we think, but led, guided and encouraged instead. No matter when they were hired, we hired them because of their educational backgrounds, credentials, experience and skills. Maybe they’re able to work together better than we think by simply sharing their knowledge with each other. We may just have to create the right environment for them to do that. There’s a synergy that is created when people with diverse backgrounds come together and share their experiences, ideas and approaches.

Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Cohesion, unity and a successful think tank can come out of looking at different opinions and perspectives on an issue, and can lead to good — even great — decisions. When the synergy is at its best, I think things like titles, seniority and pecking orders take on much less importance; what’s important is what each can add to the team.

For example, when it comes to skills, one member may have strengths in technology that can benefit the team, while someone else may have great writing or organizational skills to share, and so on. Their seniority (or age) doesn’t matter.

Healthcare seems to have concluded some time back that multiprofessional and multidisciplinary were imprecise terms because they indicated working side by side rather than together as one, so we replaced them with interprofessional and interdisciplinary. Could the same be true of what we’re calling multigenerational? Should our workforces instead be called intergenerational? Can’t baby boomers work as one with millennials, and can’t Gen Xers work well with both groups?

In the Sept/October 2016 issue, we look specifically at the millennial generation and explore their goals and expectations and what they can contribute. You’ll read about how one hospital created an environment that valued all of those things and how it achieved success. •

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About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, continues to write and act as a consultant for Before joining the company in 1998, Eileen was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York (now Northwell Health System) where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of their System hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in nursing administration and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. A former board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing, Eileen currently is a member of the Adelphi University, College of Nursing and Public Health Advisory Board.

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