The rise and fall of two very different generations.

Over the past few years, there has been talk of what will become of the healthcare industry when the baby-boomers begin to retire. Baby boomers represent more than 75 million people, or one third of the US population (nurse zone). The first wave of baby boomers turned 60 in 2006, and each year, more and more baby boomers will retire.

How will this effect nursing specifically?

This growing population of retirees leaves a big gap to be filled. This gap may cause nursing shortages, and the demand for nurses is already elevated. According to the AACN,

“Registered Nursing (RN) is listed among the top occupations in terms of job growth through 2022. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 2.71 million in 2012 to 3.24 million in 2022, an increase of 526,800 or 19%. The Bureau also projects the need for 525,000 replacements nurses in the workforce bringing the total number of job openings for nurses due to growth and replacements to 1.05 million by 2022.”

So who will fill this gap?

There is a group of around 80 million people in the United States, according to CBS, who are available to step up to the plate. They are confident, self-expressive and open-minded. They are liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living. You will likely see them quickly completing one task and moving on to the next, with some tech gadget attached to their forearm. I am talking about millennials. Generation Y. Whatever you want to call them, whether you love them or hate them, they are the future. This demand for nursing jobs is good news for millennials, who have struggled to find dependable careers after the economic recession in 2008–2009. These millennials are searching for reliable professions that will give them the job security and confidence to start raising a family.

So what are major setbacks of this demographic change?

Baby boomers and millennials are two very different cohorts. Baby boomers practically raised themselves in the growing economy of the post World War II era. They lived to work and clocked in 60–70 hours a week or more, just to make sure their family’s immediate needs were met. However, this extra time at work would often lead to more stress at home.

Millennials were raised in a very different era. They were coddled through childhood and raised by affluent parents. They come pre-packaged with technological know-how and social media proficiency. They work 40 hours a week, something the baby boomers often resent.

These differences in age and upbringing can be a challenge between coworkers of any profession, and nursing is no exception.

One issue that is being seen in nursing is a result of staffing. Staffing is raising the stress level of nurses, impacting job satisfaction, and driving many nurses to leave the profession (AACN). This could be a result of the changing workplace culture among millennial and baby boomer nurses.

“The workplace has become a psychological battlefield and the millennials have the upper hand, because they are tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.”

Contrary to some beliefs that millennials are lazy, uninterested, and fixated on social media, Maria Salesman, an ad agency executive, stated that

“Some of them are the greatest generation. They’re more hardworking. They have these tools to get things done.”

Now, there are two sides to every story, or every generation, and I agree with the latter statement. Technology and information systems were created to make our lives easier. If a young nurse can utilize cutting-edge technology and communication programs to finish a 12-hour job in less than 8 hours, shouldn’t they be commended for that? Yet, many do not understand this perspective, and rather deem millennials as lazy and selfish. However, it is simply a misunderstanding in perception.

Millennials want to have their cake and eat it too. They don’t want their work life to interfere too much with their personal life. Aren’t they being more efficient? Aren’t they working smarter instead of harder? As we witness the wave of millennials coming in and the Baby boomers going out, these “lazy” skills will become understood. Their aptitude for technology will become invaluable in the healthcare industry.

There is a real opportunity to do some good here. Just as many jobs are being outsourced to save costs, nurse executives should challenge millennials to apply their e-literacy and reduce inefficiencies. They should rely on technology to reinforce structure in the workplace. Give them an online schedule with daily alerts and deadlines. Use webinars and online courses to continue their education. Give them regular feedback whether it is in person, or via emails and chat messages (millennials love feedback). Find creative ways to tap into their comfort with technology and teamwork. Millennials are well accustomed to a constantly changing environment and enjoy a good challenge. They have a mastery of electronics and that should be leveraged for multi-tasking. That’s how they will get more work done quicker.

These changing tides will undoubtedly lead to cultural and physical changes in healthcare, and in nursing. As the baby boomers age, the millennials will step in to take care of them. What are your experiences with baby boomers and millennials? How do you see the industry changing as a result of changing generations? Leave a comment or question below.