HealthJanuary 18, 2024

Nurses can thrive in a multigenerational workforce

With four generations working in Australian healthcare, it is crucial to understand their diverse needs and abilities.

Australia’s nursing workforce is made up of four generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z

The most experienced generations generally bring industry knowledge and experience, while novice nurses tend to contribute technological know-how. While it is important to acknowledge and work past stereotypes, understanding the mindsets and motivators of the different generational groups and how to best engage them and ensure they’re developing professionally is key to effective leadership.

Here is a snapshot of the generations currently working across Australia’s healthcare settings

Generation Z

Growing up in a digital-first world, Gen Z are looking to kickstart their careers and need support through transition-to-practice programs, mentorships, and further educational opportunities. These less experienced nurses place an emphasis on career development, with many seeking rapid promotions and advanced practice positions.


This generational group values flexible working and innovation and are keen to step up their responsibilities. They are critical to the successful adoption of technology and how to apply innovation in care settings. With the average age of registered nurses at 42.5 years old, this generational group is at the top end of this increasingly influential cohort.

Generation X

This more experienced generation of nurses is assuming higher-level nursing roles and getting ready for the Baby Boomers to pass on the baton since as the last of that generation will reach retirement age by 2032.

Baby boomers

Strategies to retain mature nurses, and their wealth of knowledge and experience, are even more vital in these times of a worsening staff shortage.

What can this multigenerational workforce learn from one another and how can all voices be heard as healthcare organisations build a strong foundation for high-quality care with improved patient outcomes and staff satisfaction?

Four generations of Australian nurses are working side-by-side – each shaped differently by historical events, cultural changes, medical and technological innovations, and life milestones.

The Australian nursing workforce is made up of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1965), Generation X (1966-1980), Millennials (1981-1995), and Generation Z (1996-2010). Each brings along their varying values, experience and knowledge, communication styles and preferences, and work habits and motivators.

This means that generational differences need to be considered across the spectrum of practice, including education and professional development, staff management, communications, technology, and retention. The aim is to build an organisational culture that empowers staff of all generations to provide high-quality, patient-centred care.

Invest in the tech-savvy squad

In Australia, there are about 4.6 million people in the Gen Z demographic, which has never known a world without the internet and are constantly connected to devices. Many in this cohort are flowing through into the early stages of their careers, looking to gain experience and build skills and placing an emphasis on career development, with many seeking rapid promotions and advanced practice positions.

When preparing this generation for the workforce, educators should be considering ways in which Gen Z nurses engage. Wolters Kluwer Nursing Education Research Manager Vicki Moran, PhD, RN, MPH, CNE, CDE, PHNA-BC, TNS, explains that because these digital natives are used to getting quick answers from online searches and crave positive feedback, she encourages learning institutions to use gaming and other active learning methods, and provide plenty of reinforcement.

This generation is also the most inclusive, which serves them well with patients from diverse backgrounds. However, because they can “lack the ability to engage in conversational small talk”, Moran says it’s important that educators strive to develop their social and communication skills so they are adequately prepared for practice.

Strategies to engage and support this age group as they enter practice include formalized onboarding and transition-to-practice programs; mentorship models; wellbeing programs to reinforce mental health; and use of their preferred modes of communication, such as video training modules.

Millennials as multi-taskers

The Millennials are likely the best group to promote the wider integration of technology into the healthcare environment – and assist more experienced staff in learning how to use it. Raised amid great technological change, they have evolved as confident multi-taskers who want their work to be interesting and varied; they value innovation and making a difference. They use electronic nursing charts with ease and have embraced the use of blogs, videos, and podcasts to share their experiences of what it’s like to be a nurse.

In the 2021 Census, this demographic caught up to the Baby Boomers as the largest generational group in Australia, each comprising 21.5% of population. These enterprising workers will be making a sizable contribution in shaping healthcare in the years to come.

Wolters Kluwer Chief Nurse Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, points out that Millennial nurses appreciate being able to work in different areas and having flexible schedules. They will benefit from feedback and mentoring, training for advanced practice, and having the opportunity to use cutting-edge technology.

Retain the expertise of experienced nurses

Gen X, also known as the sandwich generation for being caught between the demands of ageing parents and dependent children, are self-reliant and good problem solvers. They are adept at switching between the traditional learning preferences and communication styles of the Baby Boomers and the technology-centred ways of Millennials. Remembering life without screens, they value a more informal working environment that fosters social interactions.

Between 1984 to 1993, nurse education began transitioning from public hospitals into the university sector, so they are the first generation to be wholly trained as nurses at tertiary level. Having now moved into senior and managerial positions, they make work-life balance a priority, and relish having greater control and responsibility over their work.

Baby Boomers - hard-working with strong loyalty - are set to exit the workforce, with the Department of Health and Aged Care predicting a shortage of 123,000 nurses by 2030.

In the meantime, strategies to keep these experienced nurses on the job include avoiding long shifts and heavy workloads; considering job redesigns to lessen the physically demanding parts of the role; and providing mentoring opportunities for them to share their expertise.

Mentoring across the generations

Mentorship – both formal and informal - can bring immense benefits to a nursing workforce and forge ties between the generations. Senior staff members can pass on their expertise to less experienced nurses, answering questions, providing feedback, or demonstrating a procedure. Others can offer support to their colleagues around new technologies, serve as a sounding board over work stresses, or encourage them to get involved in a committee.

Nurse leaders should understand their staff come with diverse skills, strengths and generational differences, and adapt their leadership styles accordingly.


Gen Z prefers leaders who will listen to them and encourage them.


Millennials tend to look to connect with leaders who have the vision to inspire them.


Known for questioning authority, Gen X seeks collaborative relationships with bosses who are committed to team growth.


Baby Boomers expect management to provide rules, structure, and purpose.

Learning how to bridge the generational gap will help everyone work together as a team. Despite their differences, nurses across the generations share a common goal to deliver high-quality care to their patients.

Find out more about how Lippincott® Solutions can support Australian nurses.

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