The impact of generation on the intentions of nurses to continue working was the topic of a 15 October seminar delivered by Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing (WOW) researcher, Associate Professor Kate Shacklock. Speaking about research she has undertaken in the overall area of generations , Katefocused on one study that particularly examined 900 full time and part time registered nurses’ intentions to remain working in Australia’s private-sector hospitals.

In an attempt to identify that which is influencing the intentions of these highly qualified and sought after health care professionals to remain in or leave the profession, Kate and co-researcher, Professor Yvonne Brunetto (Southern Cross University), used the findings of a 2008 self-reported survey to consider if generational factors come into play. By analysing the potential for generational tensions and its subsequent impact as the catalyst for staff turnover, the team also held a microscope to the symptomatic links between worker values and generation.

Associate Professor Shacklock comments that “while there is lots of research on why older workers might stay, and a little on why they might leave,…that…potentially five generations [are] at work” begs the question of “whether [a] multi-generational workforce really makes a difference…to retention.”

“Generation”, says Kate “is the name given to a group of people who share the values attributed to it. One should also ask, what are the critical events that shape a generation?”

Publishing their findings in the January 2012 issue of Journal of Advanced Nursing (vol. 68, no. 1), Kate and Yvonne tested nurses’ responses for six variables against three Australian generational timelines — the competitive yet loyal Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964); the informal, fun loving, independent Generation X (1965-1979) who seek work-life balance; and the socially sensitive, optimistic, ambitious, technologically-adept, yet easily-bored Generation Y (1980-2000). The variables included: work-family conflict; perceptions of autonomy; attachment to work; importance to the individual of working itself; the supervisor-subordinate relationship (or leader-member exchange); and interpersonal relationships at work.

“Attachment to work – or the love of what [you’re] doing – was the only common variable across all generations, and [it] affected Generation Y’ers the most as a major driver to stay”, says Kate. “While there are differences in each generation’s intentions to remain working [as a registered nurse], acknowledging and understanding the[se] differences” is also an important factor.

And what of predicting behaviour based on generation? Kate and her colleagues are yet to find a conclusive answer!