Leading Multigenerational Nursing Teams

Leading Multigenerational Nursing Teams

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

“Every generation needs a new revolution.”    Thomas Jefferson

I recently did a site visit with an experienced director of critical care who was serving as a preceptor for one of my leadership graduate students.  She has been in her role for 17 years.  The student commented on her effectiveness as a leader.  I asked her what is different about the way she leads today versus her first year as a leader.  She remarked that “it took me awhile to figure this out but one size does not fit all in leading my staff.  On my units, we have staff in every generational group – some are more 50 years older than my newest staff.  I made it a point to study the generational literature and I use it in how I manage staff every day.  Communication is a good example.  My Veteran Nurses will come into my office and sit down and want to talk.  My Generation Y nurses text me with their questions and expect immediate answers.  For a long time, I fought these differences but I don’t anymore and it has made me a better leader.”

The director in the case situation above recognized that she needed to flex her leadership if she was to be effective in leading a multigenerational team.   She had taken the time to learn about generational differences. Wise nurse leaders are managing generational differences and conflict in the workplace by following what Zemke, Raines, and Filipczak, co-authors of Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace, call the ACORN Imperatives.

Accomodate Differences

Take time to know your employees and what is important to them. Make an effort to accommodate their personal scheduling needs, work-life balance issues and non-traditional lifestyles.  Recognize that each generation has different ideas about communication styles, ideas about career planning and rewards.

Create Workplace Choices

Allow the workplace to be shaped around the work being done, the customers being served and the people who work there. Shorten the chain of command and reduce bureaucracy. Create a relaxed and informal work environment with lots of humor and connectedness.

Operate from a Sophisticated Management Style

Nurses today look for transformational leaders who provide clear vision and direction to the work.   Leaders should give feedback, provide rewards and recognition as appropriate, and avoid micromanagement.  Every generational cohort wants to be respected and fairly treated.  Leaders should strive to be perceived as fair, inclusive, and as a good communicator.

Respect Competence and Initiative

Assume the best of your employees. Treat everyone, from the newest recruit to the most seasoned employee, as if they have great things to offer. Maximize the strengths of your staff instead a constant focus on weaknesses.  Take time to hire the right people.  Find out what motivates each of your staff members and work hard to keep them engaged.

Nourish retention

Nurse leaders matter when it comes to retention because staff don’t leave organizations but rather leaders.  Each generation has different expectations of their leaders.  In the book Workplace 2020, researchers highlight some differences.  The Veteran cohort’s #1 trait that they look for in a manager is someone who will work well across the different generational groups.  Baby Boomers look for leaders who will give them straight feedback.  Both Generation X and Y want leaders who will help them to develop there careers.

The ACORN imperatives seem simple and straightforward.  Yet not all nurse leaders take the time to practice them.  It is easy to get blinded by their own generational values and fight the tendency to provide a one size fits all management style.  Implementing the ACORN principles takes work and a different way of looking at how to manage multiple generations. But the rewards are immense.

Read to Lead

Zemke, R., Raines, C. & Filipczak, B. (1999).  Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Nexters in Your Workplace.  Amacon Publishers.

© emergingrnleader.com 2012