What Nurses Need for Job Satisfaction May Depend on Their Generation

Generational differences in the workplace can be a tough challenge for nurse managers and recruiters trying to meet the expectations of each age group.

Although variations exist in terms of job satisfaction in a multi-generational nursing workforce, there also are some common themes across each generation, experts say.

A recent Nurse.com salary survey showed that among the 4,520 RNs who responded, a surprising 65% of them said they are open to changing employers.

Although having a large pool of possible job candidates to choose from is good news for nurse recruiters, this number also could indicate dissatisfaction with one’s work or organization, said Mattia Gilmartin, PhD, RN, executive director at Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing at New York University.

“When a nurse’s job satisfaction is low, one likely cause is that something within their organization is problematic for them,” she said.

Gilmartin said many factors contribute to job dissatisfaction for nurses, such as a lack of social support at work, not feeling they’re being mentored and not sensing a connection to the organization, their managers and peers.

“Poor leadership and management also negatively affects job satisfaction for nurses of all ages,” she said. “Leaders and managers need to know what makes their nurses tick and know their team.”

How millennial generation needs differ

For millennials, technology ranks high when it comes to job satisfaction. “If a millennial believes their organization is lacking in good systems and technology, some will get frustrated to the point of leaving their jobs,” said Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA, professional speaker, executive coach and author.

“While some millennials are flexible and everyone is different, the consensus is that millennials are currently driving change in the workplace, including the healthcare environment. Some say the millennials are a bit too entitled and want everything their way; a high salary, quality communications and engagement, ample vacation time, and having the ability to make their own schedules,” Sue said.

The idea that some millennials may relate job satisfaction to having it all is reflected in the Nurse.com salary survey showing 15% of the millennial respondents said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, 42% felt neutral, and 31% felt “satisfied” with their jobs.

These views can pose a challenge for nurse recruiters with hiring and retention efforts, as millennials comprise a large portion of the current U.S. workforce – about one in three employees are millennials, according to the Pew Research Center report “Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force.”

“The theme I hear that millennials want more freedom and autonomy over other generations is somewhat surprising, as it’s been my professional experience that nurses of all generations value these characteristics in the workplace along with a healthy, creative work environment,” said Bob Dent, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, CENP, FACHE, FAAN, president of the American Organization of Nurse Executives and senior vice president, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Midland Memorial Hospital in Midland, Texas.

“Baby boomers and Generation Xers also want engagement with their employers, desire recognition for good work, wish to participate in professional shared governance, and have control over their work schedules,” Dent said.

How to improve job satisfaction in each generation

When Nurse.com survey respondents were asked if they were considering leaving the nursing profession altogether, 17% of baby boomers said yes, with Gen Xers and Millennials tied at 13%. Increasing job satisfaction is one way to reduce the number of nurses wanting to leave the profession and change jobs, Gilmartin said.

“Improving job satisfaction for nurses is very doable and managers can control many of the things that can increase staff happiness and help nurses feel less frustrated,” she said.

There are two essential elements to increasing nursing job satisfaction, Dent said. Having great leaders and managers and creating a respectful work environment that promotes a zero tolerance for bullies and other toxic behaviors.

“Leaders and managers need to forget the command-and-control approach and focus on building professional relationships with their staff, being accessible, building their teams, providing recognition to good employees and work and finding ways to continue growth with good leadership skills by taking courses, and utilizing the tools available by professional associations like AONE,” Dent said.

With research indicating that 68% to 72% of nurses who’ve been bullied or have witnessed bullying will change jobs and up to 33% will leave the nursing profession entirely, it’s important to mitigate toxic work environments, Dent said.

“The way to reduce overt and covert toxic behaviors in the workplace is for leaders and managers to commit to confronting these behaviors right away, in real time, every time they act out,” Dent said.

Sue recommends boosting recruitment and retention efforts by providing nurses with opportunities for career growth and creating an entrepreneurial environment, which can increase their job satisfaction.

“Offering bonuses for finding ways to save money for a department or practice, is one example of an entrepreneurial approach to increase nurse engagement with an organization and make nurses feel their knowledge is useful,” she said.

Cost-effective strategies to increase job satisfaction

Some affordable strategies Gilmartin said can increase job satisfaction include:

    • Ensure ample supplies and meds are on the unit so nurses don’t need to spend time chasing down items
    • Provide nurses with more autonomy whenever possible
    • Allow self-scheduling
    • Empower nurses to be in charge of their work, not non-nursing staff
    • Recognize good work and achievements
    • Choose an RN of the month and post his or her photo in the workplace
    • Find ways to help nurses connect with the organization, their peers and managers
    • Recognize the subtle differences between the generations, such as the desire for more work-life balance brought to the forefront by the millennials

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