Generational theory “explains that the era in which a person was born affects the development of their view of the world”. People born in the same era tend to have similar value systems, which drive attitudes and behavior. This knowledge can be valuable in terms of staff retention. Knowing what individuals of different generations value can help to predict what employees need to be content and satisfied in their workplace.
Silent Generation: This generation is comprised of individuals born before 1946, who experienced great hardships, including war and the Great Depression. They are used to hard work and grew up in an era of poverty, so they tend to be conservative and cost-conscious. They admire discipline and order and are respectful towards authority.
Baby Boomers: The post-war years spawned a huge generation of people who came of age in an era of productivity. They tend to have a very strong work ethic and may have struggled to find a work/life balance. Baby boomers comprise the largest generational group in nursing. Many will be retiring soon, and their eminent departure has provoked fear regarding a massive nursing shortage.
Generation X: The generation born between 1964 and 1980 are generally very self-reliant because often they needed to be when they were growing up — these individuals often come from families where both parents worked, whether because they both wanted to or they both needed to. Technology is something this generation is fairly comfortable with. Achieving a good work/life balance is important to them.
Generation Y: Individuals from this generation (1980s to 2000) have come of age in a time of relative affluence. They use technology to enhance their lives within their working environment and in their personal lives — they have never known life without technology. They make up a small percentage of the nursing workforce, but their numbers are growing.
How does knowing the characteristics of each generation help managers to retain staff? Australian researchers surveyed 900 nurses and categorized them according to their generation. The researchers sought to identify the drivers behind nurse retention.
Their results showed that Baby Boomers identified five independent variables as important to their intention to continue nursing, including work/family conflict, autonomy in deciding when and how to carry out tasks, importance of working and how well they got along with coworkers. On the other hand, Generation X nurses identified the quality of their relationship with their nursing supervisor as being very important.
The one item identified across all generations was being committed to healing and nursing. Surprisingly, flexible working arrangements were not deemed important by any of the groups. One can look at the results of this study and predict which retention strategies might be valuable to each group.
Of course, individuals are just that — individual. We must be careful not to make sweeping generalizations regarding any groups of people, including nurses. The application of generational theory is only meant to serve as a guideline or a jumping-off point in designing and implementing retention strategies. With the current nursing shortage situation, understanding and supporting staff so that they feel fulfilled in their roles and workplaces is crucial to retaining nursing staff.