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Diversify your leadership style to motivate multigenerational staff


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Today's workforce is more generationally diverse than ever before. Thus, today's nurse managers need to vary their approach to both lead and motivate staff.

"It's the first time in history that we have had four generations in the workplace [at once], and four generations that have very, very different needs," says Rose Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, director of the Nursing Leadership Institute and assistant professor at Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing in Boca Raton, FL. "Nurse managers have to become extremely flexible in their leadership style to navigate this environment."

The first step toward becoming flexible might be doing a self assessment. Nurse managers should recognize that the communication, motivational, and recruitment strategies that worked well for them in the past may not be as efficient today, says Sherman.

In addition, managers must find ways to get staff to work together synergistically, despite their different generational traits, values, and beliefs.

Lead the Vets

Veterans (born between 1923-1943), are the oldest nurses in the workforce and their numbers are declining. However, Sherman believes many will remain in the profession due to the lethargic economy and consequentially lost retirement funds. Therefore nurse managers should be mindful of the generation's traits and strategies so as to keep them engaged:

  • Value their experience. "Veterans carry a lot of historical information of the organization and have a tremendous knowledgebase," Sherman says. They also enjoy mentoring opportunities and typically mesh well with Generation Y nurses.
  • Focus on their strengths and weaknesses. Sherman says vets like the satisfaction of a job well done, so give them good feedback when possible. She also suggests partnering them with millennial nurses to work on areas that might prove challenging to them, such as adapting to new technology.
  • Recognize they have a strong desire to build a legacy.

Move the Baby Boomers

Baby boomers, or those nurses born between 1943-1960, according to Sherman, are often very collegial. They enjoy staff meetings and participating in committees and task forces. To keep them motivated:

  • Value their experience and give them frequent recognition. Perks such as employee parking spaces and professional award nominations will be well-received by this group, says Sherman. "Titles, recognition, and money are very important [to them]," she says. "Time lost is less important."
  • Think about ways to make the facility environment flexible enough so they can continue working.
  • Grant them mentoring opportunities when new staff members come on board.

Drive Generation X

Many Generation Xers (born between 1961-1980) grew up in single parent households or spent some of their childhood in day care, due to both parents working. As a result, Sherman says they are typically extremely independent.

"They are very anxious to develop their careers and believe competence is more important then years of experience," Sherman says.

As a manager, be sure to:

  • Provide fast feedback.
  • Offer developmental opportunities that will allow them to grow.
  • Avoid micromanaging. "They want freedom and independence," says Sherman.
  • Respect their need for a healthy work-life balance.

Propel Generation Y

Nurses from Generation Y were born after 1980, and are booming in the workforce.

"One of the things we don't do enough of in our environments today is ask our younger nurses to apply their fresh outlook to some of the problems we have," says Sherman. Because these nurses grew up enmeshed in technology, Sherman recommends including them in technology decisions within hospitals.

Nurse managers should also:

  • Consider new methods to deliver information. "This group tends to read less, so think about how you are putting information out there," she says. Managers should take advantage of using social networks and using text messages to communicate updates to staff.
  • Give lots of feedback, but be mindful of how criticism is delivered.
  • Offer plenty of guidance and coaching.