Conflict in the Workplace: Bridging the Generation Gap

Conflict in the Workplace: Bridging the Generation Gap

This is part two of a four-part series on conflict in the workplace. Part one described bullying as a source of workplace conflict.

The generation gap is an increasing source of friction in the workplace, say the experts. There are three distinct generations of nurses now working alongside each other, and intergenerational conflict arises when the collective “personalities” of each group clash with each other. Within each generational group, the nurses’ work ethic, communication styles, comfort level with technology, and attitudes toward authority, are said to have been shaped by the events they experienced while growing up.

Understanding the main characteristics and defining forces of each generation can help you work more effectively with others. The three groups you’re likely to encounter in nursing include:

  • The baby boomers: born between 1946 and 1964. They are said to value security and be motivated by raises, promotions, and good benefits. They make their jobs a high priority, work long hours, and expect colleagues to show the same dedication. Their working style is often described as collaborative with open communication—meaning they value teamwork, staff meetings, structured committees, and face-to-face conversation (as opposed to email). Nurses from this generation are most likely to be in leadership positions today.
  • Generation X: born between 1965 and 1982. As “latchkey kids,” this generation became self-reliant and independent—meaning they may easily become impatient with micromanaging, authoritarian baby boomers and their emphasis on meetings and teamwork. Today, Xers are known for wanting a healthy work-life balance. As managers, they tend to delegate and share power, expecting others to work independently as well.
  • The millennials: born between 1983 and 2004. This generation was shaped by changing parenting styles and is said to need more coaching and mentoring from a manager than the other generations. Millennials are comfortable with technology and prefer to communicate through email or even instant messaging, becoming frustrated if they receive a lengthy printed memo or policy manual instead.

As the baby boomers have begun to retire, the millennial generation has grown in numbers and now makes up one-third of the workforce. Unfortunately, several unflattering stereotypes about the millennials have taken hold. It’s often been said that helicopter parents left this generation pampered and needy, that they are accustomed to receiving a trophy just for showing up, and that this translates into them becoming workplace prima donnas who expect good compensation for little effort—or idealistic workers who are convinced they can save the world. It has also been reported that they are too reliant on technology and so immersed in social media that they don’t make clear boundaries between work and personal life. (A recent report by IBM’s business consulting arm debunks many of these myths, however.)

Multi-generational diversity in nursing calls for sensitivity to people’s differences, the same as with cultural diversity. You have to realize that not everyone looks at work – and the world – through the same filters you do. So how do you relate to a boss or nursing colleague from another generation? Here are a few tips:

  • Focus on commonalities. It’s easy to feel frustrated when there’s a wide range of attitudes and working styles within the workplace. Instead of focusing on the differences between people, remind yourself of the things that everyone has in common. Ideally, everyone wants to succeed, to feel valued, and to contribute to good patient outcomes and quality of care.
  • Forget about the golden rule. It doesn’t always make sense to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Instead, honor a coworker’s individual preferences whenever it’s practical, whether it’s by supervising with a light hand or keeping memos brief and to the point.
  • Work at being effective rather than being right. Insisting that your way is the best way won’t get you very far. Be flexible and find ways to work with people rather than against them.

Working to promote a positive work environment and a culture of collaboration and safety is a sign of strong professionalism and leadership. Do you want to make a difference in the lives of your patients? Empower yourself with knowledge through an online RN to BSN or RN to BSN/MSN degree. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, and executive leadership.

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Conflict in the Workplace: Bullying in Nursing
Why Nurse-Physician Conflict Happens and to Resolve It