The coming retirement of baby boomer nurses will include the majority of current nurse managers and lead to a significant knowledge and skills gap. Health care administrators and nursing leaders will look to younger nurses to fill this void—generation X (roughly 1965–1980), and millennials (roughly 1981–2000). A main reason hindering younger nurses from taking on nurse manager roles is the role's current design. Nurses associate the nurse manager role with increased stress related to the scope of responsibility and organizational politics. Without role redesign, it may prove challenging to recruit and retain nurse managers from younger generations.
Below are strategies, derived from the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE; www.aone.org) Guiding Principles for Nurse Leaders and from supporting literature, that leaders can implement to redesign the nurse manager role to attract qualified nurses.
Recognize potential and promote younger nurses. Administrators and nurse leaders may need to consider transitioning younger nurses who have less experience but a clear aspiration to lead into these roles. A desire for leadership is arguably among the most important prerequisites for developing into a great nurse manager, while the skills can be taught and learned.
Provide organization-specific manager training. Without clear organizational structure and support, nurses are unlikely to transition to the nurse manager role or remain in it if they do. The AONE Nurse Manager Competencies provide a framework for developing training programs. Training should be specific to an organization's culture, policies, and procedures and also include modules on payroll, scheduling, and manager dos and don'ts. Providing structure takes away any ambiguity and provides nurses with the how, why, when, and who for navigating the organization.
Allow for flexibility and work–life balance. Many staff nurses work 12-hour shifts, three days a week. Nurse managers, on the other hand, are expected to be on call 24/7 and work eight-plus hours per day, five days a week. Such a rigid schedule is not attractive to most nurses. Nurse leaders and organizations must offer flexible scheduling. Martin and Warshawsky (Journal of Nursing Administration, 2017) suggest that organizations offer nurse managers occasional work-from-home days or options for job sharing or blended roles (in which they continue to participate part time in direct patient care).
Offer professional development opportunities. Opportunities such as mentoring programs are essential for nurse manager development. In a qualitative study by Keys (Journal of Nursing Management, 2014), generation X nurse managers expressed a strong need for mentoring and opportunities to obtain advanced degrees in leadership. Martin and Kallmeyer (Journal of Nursing Administration, 2018) note that reimbursement for tuition, conference attendance, or professional certifications can also attract nurses to nurse manager roles.
Meaningful recognition and feedback. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments demonstrates that meaningful recognition can make the difference in the retention of nurses. Nursing leaders need to recognize this and be creative in how they provide recognition and feedback. Doing so does not mean micromanaging; rather, it may help younger nurse leaders know they are on the right track.
Being a nurse manager can be stressful, even for seasoned nurse managers. Generation X and millennial nurses are the future of nursing management. With structure, support, and flexibility, health care administrators and nursing leaders can inspire these younger nurses to step into nurse manager roles.