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Journal of Nursing Administration:
Departments: Staff Issues

Nurse Work Satisfaction and Generational Differences

Apostolidis, Beka M. MS, RN; Polifroni, E. Carol EdD, CNAA, RN

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Author's affiliations: Cardiac Program Manager (Ms Apostolidis), VNA Healthcare, Hartford, Conn; Associate Professor, Graduate Program Coordinator, Track Coordinator, Patient Care Services and Systems Administration (Dr Polifroni), University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.

Corresponding author: Ms Apostolidis, VNA Healthcare 103 Woodland St Hartford, CT 06105 (

Healthcare agencies face not only a shortage of nurses but also a new generation of employees possessing varying expectations:1 Baby Boomers and Generation X. This generational integration will increase in the coming years, where it is estimated that between 40% and 60% of registered nurses older than of 40 years will retire within the next 15 years.2 If there is not an understanding among each generation regarding their unique job satisfiers, both productivity and job satisfaction will be negatively affected.

Each generation possesses unique characteristics, values, and traits. These differences also apply to each generation's desires and expectations related to work. Their varying values and ethics create differences in terms of work satisfaction. For instance, Baby Boomers are committed to their place of employment and enjoy meaningful work. Generation Xers, on the other hand, view work as 'a job' and believe that it is a necessity to balance work and leisure. Strauss and Howe3 identify that throughout history, the nastiest 1-part generational feuds have been between Baby Boomers and Generation X. Baby Boomers view Generation X as a wild generation without a soul, whereas Generation Xers believe Baby Boomers to be authoritative and overbearing.

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Baby Boomers

Various dates define the Baby Boomer generation, but the range is 1941-1964.2-6 During that time, the nation's economy was prosperous and people were optimistic.2,6 As children, this generation saw a man land on the moon, JFK was president, and television sets were in almost every household.6 Most Baby Boomers were raised in traditional nuclear families and expected the best things life had to offer. They are characterized as dedicated and driven, often working 12 to 14 hour a day. Baby Boomers are workaholics who commit to the institution they work for, valuing promotions, titles, and recognition in their workplace.

However, this generation has experienced downsizing, reorganizing, and layoffs, often causing them to work more than one job. In turn, this has affected the amount of time they spent at home.5 They also have the task of raising a family while taking care of their elderly parents, which makes them often referred to as the Sandwich Generation. They opt for simplicity in their life and view technology as a means to achieve this goal.5-7

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Generation Xers

Generation Xers were born between 1960 and 1981.2,3,5,6,8,9 Generation X has been described as lazy, demanding, cynical, and detached.7,8 Generation X experienced changes in every realm of their lives, including family, childhood and gender roles, economic conditions, public policy, and technology.7 Although half of Generation X experienced the wealth of 2-income households, more than 40% had parents who divorced.8 Generation X is the first latchkey generation. Many times, Generation X turns to their friends for support, thus creating an extended family.2,5,8,9

Advanced technology and the media play a pivotal role in the lives of Generation X. News events during this time included the space shuttle Challenger explosion, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome epidemic, Wall Street scandals, and corporate layoffs. Music Television depicted videos with violence and adult sexual themes. It was no longer considered a necessity to protect children from the realities of the world and adult matters.8,9 Computers, cellular phones, automated-teller machine, and the Internet were all part of their everyday life, thus creating a generation expecting instant gratification.6

These societal backgrounds created different views on values, work ethics, and authority, among other things. Generation X does not feel loyal to the institution for which they work. Generation Xers view jobs as temporary; they are motivated by continued education, training, and income instead of loyalty and pension plans.8 For example, 31% of nurses younger than 24 years will change jobs within the first 2 years of employment.10 However, despite their frequent movement from job to job, Generation Xers can be energetic and innovative, with the right type of leadership. Generation X prefers a casual and fun working environment. Direct supervision is not the managerial style they relate to. Instead, they prefer to be coached and mentored.6,8

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Various studies have examined variables such as pay, benefits, schedule, professional status, autonomy, workload, group cohesion, professionalism, and cultural background in relation to work satisfaction. However, few research studies have focused on nurses from Generation X. The studies conducted showed that Generation X valued economic factors, variety, flexible schedules, and opportunities for career development.10,11 Conversely, studies have shown that Baby Boomers reported high levels of commitment and satisfaction.11,12

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This study aimed to examine the differences in work satisfaction between the 2 generations. A correlation methodology was used, with a snowballing technique for gathering data. Ten nurses were trained and recruited to distribute the questionnaire to staff nurses working on medical-surgical units. The 98 nurses who completed the questionnaire were selected based on age. Group 1 (51%) are the Baby Boomer nurses who are 41 years or older. Group 2 (49%) are Generation Xers who are nurses younger than 41 years. The instrument, the Index of Work Satisfaction,13 examines various components related to work satisfaction and is divided into 2 parts. Part A consists of 15 paired choices and measures the importance of each component, whereas part B measures current satisfaction. Internal reliability for this instrument measured via α coefficient is 0.82.

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In comparing the 2 groups, significance was found in components of importance (part A), with Baby Boomers preferring autonomy over professional status [χ2(1, N = 97) = 6.45, p <. 05]. In measuring current satisfaction (part B), Baby boomers ranked professional status first, followed by interaction, autonomy, pay, and task requirements as the same, and organizational policies were the least satisfier for them. Generation Xers were most satisfied with professional status, followed by interaction, autonomy, organization policies, and task requirements, with the same score. Generation Xers were least satisfied with the pay that they receive. Both importance and satisfaction are reflected when scores from both parts A and B are combined. Autonomy was first for Baby Boomers, followed by professional status, interaction, pay, task requirements, and organizational policies. Generation X found professional status as the most important factor and satisfier, followed by interaction, autonomy, pay, task requirements, and organizational policies (Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1
Table 1
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Table 2
Table 2
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The current literature would lead one to be surprised by these findings. Generation Xers are defined as free spirited, casual, and self-reliant. They do not feel committed to their job and have a tendency to move from job to job. Generation Xers value relationships with others and, many times, view their coworkers as close friends, thereby placing a strong emphasis on interacting with others. They are also motivated by continued education and income. Therefore, significant differences were expected in their views of pay, professional status, and interaction. Although Generation X ranked pay as the most important component to satisfaction, interaction was ranked fourth.

On the other hand, Baby Boomers value promotions, titles, and recognition in their workplace. Baby Boomers ranked pay, autonomy, and professional status as the 3 most important components of job satisfaction, followed by task requirements, interaction, and organizational. It was noted that Baby Boomers prefer autonomy over professional status. This group has experienced different types of nursing and more than likely have found their niche. Because of their dedication, many of these nurses can be considered experts in their field. As a result, they see autonomy as a necessary practice in their work environment.

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The present workforce consists of varying age groups, each with different value and belief systems. Effective managers will identify the needs of each individual employee to promote individual growth, retention, and work satisfaction. An essential element for nurse leaders is to create an environment with open communication because assumptions and criticism are often the cause of distention between the 2 generations.3

The results of this study showed a significant difference between Baby Boomers and Generation X in that Baby Boomers prefer autonomy over professional status. Given this, nursing managers can provide opportunities involving independent decision making and increased responsibility for nurses in that age group. Conversely, Generation X needs an environment that promotes professional growth and fosters communication and interaction with colleagues.

In addition, nursing educators and hospital leaders need to be aware of the different values and beliefs of Baby Boomers and Generation X. To better understand the differences, diversity training should encompass generational information.

Although Generation Xers are known to change jobs frequently, they do develop a loyalty to organizations that possess similar values and provide various learning opportunities.9

Analysis of various generational satisfiers gives nursing administrators data on which to build programs to better retain and create a positive and satisfied staff. This, in turn, has the potential to improve patient care and outcomes and decrease financial costs associated with turnover.

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1. Shader K, Broome ME, Broome CD, West ME, Nash M. Factors influencing satisfaction and anticipated turnover for nurses in an academic medical center. J Nurs Adm. 2001;31:210-216.

2. Cordeniz JA. Recruitment, retention, and management of generation X: a focus on nursing professionals. J Healthc Manag. 2002;47:237-249.

3. Strauss W, Howe N. Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow & Co; 1991.

4. Santos RS, Cox K. Workplace adjustment and intergenerational differences between matures, boomers, and Xers. Nurs Econ. 2000;18(1):7-13.

5. Watson DS. Wanted: a few good nurses. AORN J. 2002;7(6):8-11.

6. Weston M. Coaching generations in the workplace. Nurs Adm Q. 2001;25:11-21.

7. Kupperschmidt BR. Multigenerational employees: strategies for effective management. Health Care Manag. 2000;19(1):65-76.

8. Corbo SA. The Xers files. Hosp Health Netw. 1997;71:58-59.

9. Kupperschmidt BR. Understanding generation X employees. J Nurs Adm. 1998;29:36-43.

10. Casey K, Fink R, Krugman M, Propst J. The graduate nurse experience. J Nurs Adm. 2004;34:303-311.

11. McNeese-Smith DK, Crook M. Nursing values and changing nurses workforce: values, age, and job stages. J Nurs Adm. 2003;33:260-270.

12. Belgen MA. Nurses' job satisfaction: A meta analysis of related variables. Nurs Res. 1993;42(1):36-41.

13. Stamps PL, Piedmonte EB. Nurses and Work Satisfaction: An Index for Measurement. Ann Arbor: Health Administration Press Perspectives; 1986.

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