Understanding Differences: Bridging the gap from Generation X to Millenials to Generation Z in Healthcare


Understanding Differences to Work Together Successfully

My son is five years old.  This year he started kindergarten.  Every Friday, his class takes a class called “social skills” where they learn life skills like making friends and navigating these friendships – saying sorry, being kind, and helping others.  The “golden rule”, you might say.

As healthcare professionals, it is my personal belief that most of us went into this field because we have a want to help people.  We are kind, compassionate, intelligent, and empathetic towards our patients. However, our field is mixed with people of all ages.  While we all have our place in this industry, we don’t always work together as best we should.

Perhaps we should all take a “social skills” class too.  All joking aside, it is helpful to remember the differences – and similarities – in the generations; this can allow us to work better.

Characteristics of Generation X

Generation X healthcare workers were born between 1961 and 1981.  These workers were raised by baby boomers who were workaholics and became independent early in their lives.  They also have lived through economic downturns, thus are less likely to be loyal to one employer. 

Generation X workers value work-life balance as opposed to a high salary.  Hard workers, these healthcare workers also try to have fun while working and enjoy their time away from work.

These healthcare workers are fiercely independent and often eschew authority figures; as such, they crave autonomy and dislike being micromanaged.

Most Gen X’ers are not afraid of technology; they were the first generation to grow up with computers, and as such, are able to navigate EMRs, pagers, smartphones, and other technologies that may be required at their place of employment.

Characteristics of Millennials

Millennial healthcare workers were born between 1982 and 1994.  These workers were typically born to Gen X’ers. This generation regularly received high recognition and praise from their parents for even minor accomplishments.  However, because they were raised to believe that they are valued, they are strong collaborators of a healthcare team.

Because millennials are strong collaborators, many millennials enjoy working on new projects.  Like the previous generation, millennials tend to job-hop. However, whereas Gen X’ers are looking for work-life balance, millennials are looking for fulfillment and growth.

While Gen X’ers tend to have strong computer skills, millennials also grew up with text messaging and social media.  As such, many millennials lack interpersonal skills. They also prefer to communicate via technology.

Like Gen X’ers, millennials also want a better work-life balance.  They also seek flexible schedules because they prioritize their families over work.

Characteristics of Generation Z

Generation Z healthcare workers were born 1995 and 2015.  These workers are now starting to enter the healthcare workforce and will be entering much more rapidly over the next few years – and the changes that they will bring to the workforce will be large.

Much like Millennials, Gen Z’ers enjoy working technology.  In fact, most people born into Generation Z have not experienced a time without technology.  As such, healthcare workers who are Gen Z will expect the latest and greatest technology; however, they also value the human element and face-to-face communication.

While Gen X’ers and millennials may have been educated in a more traditional setting, Gen Z’ers tend to prefer self-directed learning and are independent.

Unlike Gen X workers, who tend to eschew authority, Gen Z’ers appreciate check-ins with management several times during the week – or even daily.  

Much like their counterparts, Gen Z’ers crave work-life balance.  This group is more likely to feel burned out at work than any other generation.

Coming Together

Notice any similarities?  Unlike the Baby Boomers that came before, all the generations that are most likely to work together crave work-life balance.  Most are technologically savvy, though some generations undoubtedly use devices more than others.

So why is it so hard to work together?  

Often it comes down to values and differences in work ethic; though each generation has feelings about who is a harder worker, we’re all working hard to take care of our patients but think differently and have different tools at our disposal because of when we were born, how we were raised, and various life experiences.

What it comes down to is understanding our differences.  

As a millennial who works as an inpatient diabetes educator, I use my iPhone quite a bit to correspond with providers.  Many of the providers are also millennials – we often communicate via text. Recently, another nurse noted, “You’re always so busy on your phone!”

Yes, I am – and the job always gets done.


Jenkins, R. (n.d.). How generation Z will transform the future workplace. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.inc.com/ryan-jenkins/the-2019-workplace-7-ways-generation-z-will-shape-it.html

Kane, S. (2019, April 17). Common characteristics of generation X professionals. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/common-characteristics-of-generation-x-professionals-2164682

Kane, S. (2019b, May 28). Common characteristics of millennial professionals. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/common-characteristics-of-generation-y-professionals-2164683

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