Beyond baby boomers: Managing various ages

Varying factors require creative management

We all know that people of different ages react differently in the same situations, but when you have to take people of varying ages and create a positive work environment that results in high productivity and happy patients, you have to look at why each age group acts differently.

Although each employee has his or her own personality and value system, it helps to understand the four distinct generations that are represented by your employees and patients, says Sue Romero, owner of Susan Romero Consulting, an Englewood, CO-based human resources consulting firm.

Each group — the veterans, the baby boomers, Generation X, and the nexters — has a different value system and is motivated by different factors, Romero says. "No one group’s value system is better than another; they are just different," she points out. 

While most of the veterans (born between 1922 and 1943) that your agency sees on a regular basis may be patients, it is possible that some veterans have re-entered the work force on a part-time basis, Romero says.

"Not only do these folks want extra insurance coverage or other benefits, but they also are living longer and want to do something that makes them feel as if they are contributing to the community," she explains.

The majority of employees are baby boomers (born between 1943 and 1960), and the next largest group is Generation X (born between 1960 and 1980), Romero says.

The youngest group of employees that home health managers may have is the nexters (born after 1980), she says.

Different ages = different work styles

Each employee group approaches work in a different way, and it is important to make sure that managers and other staff members understand that just because someone works differently, it doesn’t mean that person has a lesser work ethic than you, Romero says.

The biggest differences that home health managers notice among employees are between baby boomers and Generation X-ers, says Beckie Hinze, RN, BSN, CHCE, vice president of operations for Foundation Management Services, a Denton, TX-based company that manages several home health agencies.

Baby boomers share some values with veterans: They want to be loyal to their employer and to contribute to success of their employer, Romero says.

They also have a respect for authority, but unlike veterans, baby boomers are comfortable acting as "change agents," she says.

"This means that they thrive on collaborative, team-oriented projects that have specific goals to change processes," she adds.

Baby boomers also are more willing to share their knowledge and teach others, Hinze points out.

Gen X-ers like independence

Generation X-ers are skeptical of authority and don’t want to be closely managed, Romero says.

"This generation is also referred to as the latchkey generation, and the members of this generation grew up very self-reliant," she says.

Because they value their time, they look for ways to work efficiently, even if it means not doing a job the same way everyone else does, Romero adds.

"Generation X-ers are more flexible, vocal, and outgoing," says Judith P. Walden, BSN, MHA, director of Castle Home Care in Kaneohe, HI. Walden’s staff is 68% baby boomers and 32% Gen X-ers.

"With few exceptions, employees in the Gen X category tend to be more flexible and more motivated to take on additional responsibility," she says.

"On the other hand, since these also are the employees that have small children, they are less likely to work nontraditional hours or shifts," Walden adds.

Because Gen X-ers raised themselves, they value family time and personal time, Romero says. "They want balance in their lives and they are more loyal to their families than to their employers," she says. For this reason, it is important to keep looking for ways to challenge Gen X-ers to keep them interested in their jobs, she adds.

Gen X-ers dislike team-building activities as much as most baby boomers like them, Romero says. "Don’t force your Gen X-er to participate in teams but do ask for their expert help in technology-related issues," she suggests.

Because many home health patients are members of the veterans or baby boomer generation, you may have to address different approaches with your Gen X-ers, Hinze says. "Gen X-ers are vocal and speak their mind," she says. "While they don’t mean to be disrespectful, older staff members and patients sometimes see this plain talk as disrespectful," she says.

Be careful how you correct a Gen X-er, Hinze warns. "It’s easier to change the Gen X-ers’ behavior if you remember that they want to succeed and want to improve their skills," she points out.

"Remember, too, that Gen X-ers tend to focus on themselves, and they don’t always see themselves as others see them," she adds.

In the case of the employee who offended patients or other employees by speaking her mind, Hinze suggests that you point out that she’s doing her job properly but because other people value different behaviors, they perceive the employee as disrespectful. "You might also suggest specific ways to correct this perception," she adds.

While baby boomers are comfortable with authority, Gen X-ers are not, Romero says.

"Manage for results, and you’ll get the most out of all your employees," she suggests.

"Let each generational group meet their goals in the way that fits their personalities and provides good care, rather than dictating that each job activity must be done a specific way," Romero says.

"Gen X-ers are wonderful field nurses and therapists," Hinze says. "They never get bored; they enjoy the independence; and they excel in dealing with change," she explains.

Understand differences when recruiting

When recruiting nurses, be sure you have things in place that appeal to experienced baby boomers, Romero says. "Baby boomers believe they’ve paid their dues, and they want a chance to be recognized for their contributions," she says.

"They will be looking for opportunities to supervise, to participate on committees, and to have a good benefits package that allows them time to spend with their families," Romero adds.

"Gen X-ers are going to work for agencies that don’t force them to do their job in one way only," Romero says.

"They are also going to look for agencies that have up-to-date technology, offer educational support so they can continue to learn, and give them a chance to advance as quickly as their skills and ability allow," she says.

Salary and benefits are more important to baby boomers, Romero says. Gen X-ers and nexters are less concerned with salary and benefits when choosing a place to work, she adds.

Although not many nexters (born between 1980 and present) are working in home health at this time, they may be the best work force we’ve seen, Romero says.

"They represent a combination of Gen X-ers and baby boomers, and they’ve also been influenced by grandparents from the veteran generation," she says. "They are technologically savvy, have good social skills, and are, in general, very high achievers," she says.

"Of all the generations, the nexters seem most able to accept and respect diversity of cultures and ages in the workplace," she adds.

Romero says the best way to get the most out of all generations is to include all employees in setting goals for themselves and for the agency.

After goals are set, be sure to evaluate performance on results, not on how the results were achieved, she adds.

While understanding the differences in each generation is helpful, be careful not to think that all employees will follow their generational description to a tee, Walden says.

"Each employee has unique needs, expectations, and personalities," she says.

"I was recently amazed when I expected an older nurse to balk at learning a new computer program," she explains. "She readily accepted this new challenge, almost eagerly, while some of the younger nurses complained about having to spend more time on a program that wasn’t windows-friendly.’"

[For more information about managing different generations, contact:

  • Sue Romero, Owner, Susan Romero Consulting, 5891 E. Geddes Circle, Englewood, CO 80112. Telephone: (303) 741-9275. Fax: (303) 694-1178. E-mail: sue@romeroconsulting.com.
  • Beckie Hinze, RN, BSN, CHCE, Vice President of Operations, Foundation Management Services, P.O. Box 50006, Denton, TX 76206. Telephone: (940) 243-5858, ext. 232. E-mail: hinzeb@fms-regional.com.
  • Judith P. Walden, Director, Castle Home Care, 46-001 Kamehameha Highway, Suite 201, Kaneohe, HI 96744. Telephone: (808) 247-2828. Fax: (808) 236-1337. E-mail: waldenjp@castlep.ah.org.]