Congratulations! For the first time in contemporary history, the American workforce is comprised of four different generations — and you're a part of it.
As our human lifespan continues to increase, more value is being placed on age diversity in the workplace than ever before. Since the U.S. multigenerational labor force is made up of four generations — baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z — it's common to see employees ranging in age from 16 to 75 years old. Let's take a closer look at each age group and the generational differences between them, both in the health industry and how they function as an intergenerational workforce overall.
About the baby boomers
Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers are the oldest generation in the workforce. After the first year of the boom in 1946, there were nearly 2.5 million boomers in the U.S. By the last year in 1964, the baby boomer population had grown to more than 72 million people. Currently, boomers make up almost 30% of the American population and 40% of boomers say they'll “work until [they] drop,” according to recent statistics.
These older adults were born right after World War II and were largely influenced by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, and Watergate. They're known for being optimistic, competitive, and team-oriented workaholics that don't know the definition of “quit.” Baby boomers thrive in mentor or coaching positions since they're motivated by loyalty, teamwork, and responsibility.
Generational attitudes for baby boomer nurses
These attitudes and deeply-ingrained traits are essential to consider in both traditional healthcare and in the way that travel nursing impacts both inpatient and outpatient services. That sense of duty and loyalty also means that of all the nursing generations, baby boomers often receive more personal job satisfaction than some other nursing professionals might.
Baby boomers, their careers, and the healthcare system
Since the baby boomer generation has also been earning paychecks longer than the younger generations, they have also had more time to focus on career advancement. Their majority representation in leadership positions means that nurse leaders or nurse managers are more likely to be boomers than newly licensed registered nurses, for example.
It's difficult to discuss the baby boomer workforce without acknowledging that they are, as a group, rapidly approaching retirement age. This, combined with the nationwide nursing shortage, the state of the economy, and the environment post-Covid, means that there is a significant group of baby boomer nurses choosing to defer their retirement and stay in the nursing workforce.
Their job commitment, experience improving health outcomes with excellent patient care, and ability to relate to older patients make baby boomers incredibly valuable members of the multigenerational nursing workforce, and as they begin to retire and reduce the available pool of RNs to three generations, healthcare providers and other hospital nurses will need to be aware of necessary adaptations and adjustments.
Introducing Generation X
After the baby boomers come Generation X. This generation was born between 1965 and 1979—they're often seen as equivalent to the “middle child” of generations, since Gen Xers are sandwiched between two larger generations, baby boomers and millennials.
The lives of Gen Xers were shaped by the AIDs epidemic, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the surge of the worldwide web. They're motivated by diversity, work-life balance, and their own personal and professional interests. Those in Gen X value immediate feedback, flexible work schedules, and many opportunities for personal advancement.
Generational preferences for Gen X nurses
The desire for career advancement and opportunity to become nurse leaders means that Generation X nurses should be pleased — they have lots of chances to get ahead as they begin to step into the shoes of the nursing leaders before them. These nursing professionals prefer direct communication, have a sense of healthy skepticism without proof, and crave independence and control more than their fellow generational cohorts.
Linda S. Edelman, PhD, RN, and associate professor at University of Utah College of Nursing, said, “I attended a presentation about generational differences attended by nurses in the hospital where I worked at the time. A baby boomer nurse said Generation X nurses didn’t take initiative or offer to lead. The Generation X nurses responded that they tried but weren’t allowed to do the job ‘their way.' It was an eye-opening exchange for me, and I think my communication style changed as a result."
Generation X, their careers, and healthcare
Nurses belonging to Generation X often have work habits that revolve around technology and making sure that they have enough information to do their jobs correctly. Generational conflict might be due to different communication styles and values — for example, many Gen X nurses would prefer motivation directly related to their clinical practice or income rather than public recognition.
Treating these veteran nurses with the understanding and respect that makes their nursing work environment comfortable is a good move when considering generational cohort work satisfaction.
Gen X nurses are also often juggling life experiences like assisting their aging parents and their own health plans. When members of this generation become part of nursing administration, be prepared to witness health care transformation at their hands.
Meet the millennials
Millennials are next in the generational line. These folks were born between 1980 and 2000 and make up the largest portion of the American population. By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce and by 2050, it's estimated there will be more than 72 million millennials in the U.S. alone.
Millennials are the first generation to “come of age” in the new millennium, plus the first digital natives of modern times. Surviving major life events like the boom of the internet, Columbine, and 9/11, millennials are known to be responsible, competitive, civic- and open-minded, as well as achievement-oriented.
Millennials want to be challenged. They want to grow and further develop their personal, professional, and life skills to be the best they can be.
Generational attitudes for millennial nurses
As a general rule, millennial nurses often prefer to be part of a team and are not afraid of change. This part of the intergenerational workforce was heavily influenced by the 2008 recession, and is one of the most likely to effectively manage a major career change like getting into travel nursing.
The millennial generation, their careers, and healthcare
Millennial nurses are more likely to report significant decreases in mental health after the pandemic, which worsened existing and developing conditions across the nursing profession. Of the distinct generations, a focus on millennials which often infantilizes or skews negative can also cause generational conflicts. Millennials are also more likely to attach more personal meaning to their clients and clinical visits, which may increase patient engagement.
The newest member of the team, Generation Z
Finally, the newest generation to the American workforce—Generation Z. This group of people were born between 2001 and 2020 and are the most “racially and ethnically diverse cohort,” according to Pew. Their generational diversity and fresh perspective helps them look at health systems from a new angle.
They're also the first generation where most can't recall a time without technology or the internet. Gen Zers grew up in a post-9/11 and post-Great Recession society. Because of this, Gen Zers are entrepreneurial, progressive, and creative. They're motivated by diversity, personalization, and individuality and value their independence.
Generational preferences for Generation Z nurses
Generation Z is often lumped in with their millennial counterparts — and while they do have a lot in common (a focus on mental health and work life balance, a focus on patient engagement and diversity in health systems, and a desire to make a difference), the younger generations are not the same. Gen Z is often more motivated by job stability and the ability to connect with others.
Generation Z, their careers, and the healthcare system
According to the World Economic Forum, 38% of Gen Zers are aiming for a career in health care, which likely stems equally from a focus on social responsibility as well as pragmatic and practical assurance for a secure option in a multigenerational workforce where they are the newcomers.
Gen Z is also coming into the world of medical care at a strange time, with some new nursing students beginning their roles either at the height or in the strange aftermath of massive pandemic upheaval.
This unique position means that they often view traditional healthcare, a multigenerational nursing team, and healthcare providers overall differently than their peers in other generations. These younger nurses may see the generational differences in nursing in stark contrast, and have an opportunity to make the most of those variations.
How it started vs. how it’s going
Since the birth of travel healthcare in the early 19th century, the industry has survived a number of obstacles like technological advancements, an aging population, and a staggering demand for high-quality healthcare workers. Healthcare travel has changed throughout the years and the way you onboarded may look wildly different than someone else's experience.
The travel process has evolved and nowadays, new grads and first-time travelers have specific requirements they must meet to be eligible for healthcare travel. For example, travel nurses need at least one year of clinical experience before they can officially call themselves a healthcare traveler. On the other hand, most therapy travelers don't have a wait time, so they can jump into their travel career right away.
Not only has the healthcare travel process changed, but the healthcare industry has, as well.
It's important to keep up with the most popular and relevant trends of the healthcare industry. No matter what division or specialty you work in, today's healthcare travelers can expect speedy onboarding, electronic charting systems and records, advanced health technology, and even more demand. In fact, by 2025, the healthcare industry is expected to make up 20% of the total U.S. economy and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a need for 2.6 million new jobs by 2030.
Benefits of multigen teamwork and generational differences
It may seem like a lot to have four different generations and people from all age groups working together. But believe it or not, generational diversity has incredible benefits to a workplace. Without the diverse group of workers, there would be less opportunities for creative problem solving, perspective sharing, and more.
Among the many benefits of multigenerational teamwork, the top perks include:
Multiple perspectives. With different generations comes alternative thinking and different perspectives when it comes to job responsibilities. When you share your perspective within and across teammates, it enhances the team's knowledge and supports innovation.
Unique problem-solving capabilities. Different generations also bring about a myriad of problem-solving techniques that can be shared across the team. Since baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers have different life experiences, they can each offer a variety of unique ways to address and solve problems in the workplace.
Learning and mentoring opportunities. The more diverse a team, the more chances you'll have to learn and/or mentor others. Seasoned travelers with extensive experience can over sage wisdom to those just entering the profession. Plus, younger healthcare workers can help alleviate the technological struggles experienced by some older generations.
Meaningful relationships. Building relationships with your colleagues and coworkers is an obvious and important aspect of teamwork. When it comes to the multiple generations in the workforce, these relationships can help meet someone's emotional needs, mirror a family structure, and offer opportunities for personal connections with someone outside of your own generation. Plus, these multigenerational relationships in the workplace help increase overall job satisfaction.
At the end of the day, to achieve success, employers should strive for maximum diversity in their workforce. By adding multiple perspectives, unique problem-solving capabilities, learning and mentoring opportunities, and meaningful relationships into the workforce, you have a higher chance at job satisfaction and meaning. Everyone has their strengths to offer. Combine your strengths with others and surround yourself with those from different generations.
How staffing agencies can recruit multiple generations
It may seem impossible for healthcare staffing agencies to recruit and retain employees from multiple generations. Now more than ever, it's important to learn how to recruit and retain travelers from the baby boomer, Generation X, millennial, and Generation Z age groups. Here are some tips for staffing companies:
Tailor your recruitment strategies per generation. Each generation and age group have their preferred methods of communication. For example, most Gen Zers are avid social media and job board users, whereas baby boomers may rather speak on the phone with a recruiter to find their next travel job. By customizing your recruiting methods by generation, you can get the most out of your efforts.
Offer praise in ways travelers want. Most people, and especially those from different generations, like to receive support, feedback, and coaching in their own ways. Knowing this, it's important to utilize tools that allow you to mentor, coach, and provide feedback in a multitude of ways that helps create a more communicative and collaborative working environment.
Provide flexible learning opportunities. While e-learning might be a millennial or Gen Zer's jam, it may not resonate well with baby boomers. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach for employee learning and development, offer flexible learning opportunities that respects the needs of each different generation by providing the tools they need to achieve their career goals.
To achieve ultimate workforce diversity, ensure your healthcare staffing agency and recruiters are getting creative with their recruiting techniques and targeting each generation in ways that matter to them.
The job board for all generations
No matter what generation you're a part of, Fusion Marketplace makes it easy and efficient for you to browse through available travel jobs, compare assignment pay packages and benefits, plus rate and review agency recruiters. Make your life easier with a traveler profile and set your job preferences so you only see jobs that pertain to your division, specialty, or other customizable filter.
Marketplace also connects healthcare staffing agencies with the top talent they've been searching for. As a staffing company, you can join Fusion Marketplace as an agency partner, create recruiter profiles, and list your travel jobs on the online job board for thousands of travelers to review.
As more generations and age groups enter the workforce, it's important for both healthcare travelers and staffing agencies to promote generational diversity for maximum employee and company success. When you work in a multigenerational workplace, you have the chance to see things from multiple perspectives, learn unique problem-solving capabilities, participate in learning and mentoring opportunities, and bring meaningful relationships onto the team.