Those 19-36 years old, often called the millennial generation or just millennials, are positioned to occupy a larger portion of the workforce in the next few years. In the nursing field, where staffing shortages have become a challenge, hospitals and institutions are looking for ways to recruit and retain millennial nurses. To do that, employers need to learn what draws millennial workers to their jobs. What are they looking to gain from their employment? What are their opinions on workplace culture and the attitude of leadership?
Exploring Generational Differences in Nursing
In an attempt to answer exactly these questions, medical staffing agency AMN Healthcare surveyed over 3,000 nurses. Those surveyed fell into three distinct generational groups: the millennial age range, the Gen X age range (37-53), and the baby boomer age range (54-71). The survey’s goal was to gain some insight on how each generation works, why they chose nursing as a profession, and where they hope to be in the next few years. The results showed marked differences between millennials and baby boomers in a few areas, with Gen X skewing more closely to the millennial view.
AMN’s survey split their findings into four distinct categories: career path, education, leadership, and work environment. In this article, we’ll go over these categories in more detail and what the results could mean for the millennial nursing workforce.
In the career section of their report, AMN concluded that millennials were “upwardly mobile and not afraid of change.” Millennial nurses, when surveyed, said they were more likely than their older counterparts to seek new employment. When asked how an improving economy could impact their career plans, 17 percent said they would look for a nursing job somewhere else, followed by 15 percent of Gen X and just 10 percent of baby boomers.
Millennials in any field have long had a reputation for “job hopping,” moving from one place of employment to another after less time than previous generations. Data from a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey appears to back this up, finding that boomers stayed an average of a 10.1 years in a job while millennials stayed an average of 2.8 years. AMN also found that 10 percent of millennials said they would pursue careers in travel nursing, a career that lends itself to that desire for change. Just under half of millennial nurses surveyed said they would continue working in their current jobs.
The millennial generation spent half of their time growing up during economic plenty and the other half during economic uncertainty. Two economic crashes occurred during the time many millennials were trying to find jobs — one of which, the 2008 recession, was the worst since the Great Depression. Weathering those crashes may have changed how attached that generation became to their careers and workplaces.
Millennials were by far the most enthusiastic about attaining higher education degrees and continuing their education as part of their work. AMN notes in their study that while the collective data shows just under half of nurses don’t plan on furthering their education, the data taken by age tells a different story.
Just over 20 percent of millennials said they planned to get a bachelor’s degree in the next three years, with Gen X respondents answering about the same. Thirty-nine percent of millennial nurses said they planned to pursue a master’s, and 11 percent said they’d go after a Ph.D. Less than 10 percent of baby boomer nurses, most of whom are preparing to retire, showed an interest in getting any kind of higher education degree in the next three years. AMN pointed out this trend as a good thing since the nurses entering the workforce or preparing to take over the positions of those retiring will be more committed to educating themselves in matters of the field.
Millennials also displayed more of a desire to attain specialized degrees, with 28 percent of those surveyed saying they planned to pursue a nurse practitioner’s degree within the next three years. The specialties were varied, including clinical nurse specialists and nurse anesthetists, but the numbers taken together show nearly half the millennial nurses surveyed wanted to go into specialized practice. Nurse practitioners also have a higher degree of autonomy in their work, something the study noted could be a draw for the millennial crowd.
AMN’s data showed millennial nurses were more likely than baby boomers to go after leadership positions in the workplace, with 36 percent reporting a desire to enter a leadership role. Only 10 percent of baby boomers expressed this desire, and about a quarter of Gen X respondents. In the case of baby boomers, this is probably also linked to retirement. It is worth noting that boomers had a larger number of nurses already in leadership positions, however.
Millennials also reported a more positive outlook in terms of workplace leaders; the study found around 60 percent or higher of millennial nurses agreed with statements like “My leader is someone whom I trust,” and “My leader cares about me as a person.”
In an article for American Nurse Today, Amanda Veesart, PhD, RN, CNE, wrote on the challenges of millennial leadership in a multigenerational workforce, how they can be overcome, and what it takes to be an effective leader. A big part of that, she wrote, is understanding generational differences and knowing you’ll encounter stereotypes. She said:
“Understanding the challenges you may encounter as a millennial is key to advancing into a leadership role. Use good judgment and always be true to yourself, while also consistently learning how to improve your skills. Frequently, a leader isn’t in front of the pack but is willing and able to move to the front if needed.”
All three generational categories felt that a healthcare organization’s culture could translate to better patient care, and millennials thought it the most. Sixty-eight percent of millennial nurses surveyed said they agreed with the statement that patient care quality is strongly influenced by culture. They also believed that the mix of skills among the nurses in a unit positively influenced patient care, with 78 percent agreeing versus 67 percent of boomers.
A diverse generation themselves — some say the most diverse in America’s history — it makes sense that millennials view a variety of skills and experience levels as an asset.
The rise of electronic medical records (EMR) in medicine highlights another difference between millennial nurses and previous nursing generations. Having grown up with the internet from a young age, millennials generational differences in nursingoverall seem to have an easier time adapting to technology and reported positive responses to statements like “The use of EMR positively influences my job satisfaction” in greater percentages than Gen X or baby boomers.
Taking the Next Step
Demand for nurses is only expected to grow, and with that demand will come a changing workforce made up to a greater and greater degree of people with different beliefs and values than the previous one. It’s important to note that shift, while at the same time making room for those who came before. Nurses, and the American workforce in general, will be a generational melting pot for years to come.
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