Bridging the Generation Gap: 7 Relationship Tips for Millennial & Boomer Nurses

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Let’s face it, nurses — we’re all different! Millennials grew up with rapid advances and total comfort with technology, more progressive values about women in society and the workplace, and a heightened sense of boundaries and limit-setting. There is so much that Baby Boomer nurses can learn from their Millennial nurse peers. Boomer nurses, on the other hand, have years of valuable experience despite the challenges of providing care amidst inadequate staffing, bullying, and toxic workplace cultures.

I have no doubt that if we can build relationships and respect our differences, the things we can learn from each other will have a positive impact on patient care, career paths, and the nursing profession.

Here are seven tips to help Millennial and Boomer nurses create bridges to thriving interprofessional relationships and all sorts of positive outcomes:

1. Recognize the inherent value in diversity.

Sometimes our differences are overshadowed by fears or power struggles that are hurtful and keep us separated. Yet diversity is an element of complex adaptive systems that allows for a variety of creative ideas. When the clinically seasoned Boomer nurse joins forces with the tech-savvy Millennial, the possibilities for problem-solving in any given situation are much more than the sum of two parts.

2. Be curious!  

I’ve heard Boomer nurses make unkind and generalized remarks about Millennials and visa versa. Is this necessary? Curiosity is a fundamental listening skill that requires focusing on what we don’t know about another person and a willingness to suspend judgment. Rather than making assumptions about experiences, behaviors, or intentions, consider being curious.  

3. Invite dialogue.  

If you’re a Baby Boomer, use your curiosity to find out what it’s like to be a new nurse in today’s healthcare system. What are the challenges and rewards that your Millennial colleagues are hoping for?  If you’re a Millennial, do you ever wonder what it’s been like to practice nursing with chronic problems like toxic cultures and bullying? Taking the initiative to learn more about each other will automatically build relationships. I bet you’ll have some really interesting conversations, too!

4. When values conflict, show ownership for yours.  

If you don’t like the way someone else is behaving, reflect about what’s going on for you. A Boomer who thinks a Millennial is lazy might really be feeling resentful because their young colleague seems to have a healthier work-life balance and personal boundaries. If that Boomer can identify and deal with such feelings, they’ll have the potential to improve their own self-care.

5. Validate differences with respect.  

Millennial nurses may find themselves surrounded by Boomer nurses who have much valuable knowledge and skills coupled with very bad habits in terms of bullying and incivility. If younger nurses can express respect for seasoned nurses’ experience while clearly stating that inappropriate behavior is not OK, a whole world of relationships and learning opens up.

6. Ask for what you need from each other.  

Do you need help with a decision to call a physician? How about help with the new EMR? In a healthy team of Millennials and Boomers, there’s a dynamic exchange of expertise — and if there isn’t, this is one way to get that ball rolling.

7. Show gratitude for what your colleagues bring to the table! 

Millennial to Boomer:  “Thank you so much for your support when Mr. Jones passed away. He was my first patient death.”  

Boomer to Millennial: “Thank you so much for helping me figure out how to program that new IV pump. I couldn’t get it to work right.”

Conclusion

Yes, Millennials and Boomers are different, and sometimes differences create tensions that interfere with learning, communication, patient care, and mutual appreciation. Can you envision trying out any of these tips on younger or older colleagues? If you can, let us know how it turns out!

Beth’s Bio

Beth Boynton, RN, MS specializes in workshops that promote emotional intelligence and respectful communication, collaboration, and workplace cultures.  She is a Medical Improv Practitioner and author of Medical Improv:  A New Way to Improve Communication (CreateSpace 2017), Successful Nurse Communication: Safe Care, Healthy Workplaces, & Rewarding Careers (F.A. Davis 2015) and Confident Voices: The Nurses’ Guide to Improving Communication & Creating Positive Workplaces (CreateSpace 2009).  She can be reached at beth@bethboynton.com, Twitter @bethboynton, or through her “Confident Voices in Healthcare” Blog.

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