TONE Monthly
April 2018

Generation Z – Joining Nursing’s Workforce

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The past decade has seen a flurry of research and advisement on how to recruit, retain, and train a Millennial. It seems just when there is a working plan with one generation, it is time for the next generation to emerge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (Jenkins, 2017), Generation Z, individuals born between 1995 - 2012, make up 25 percent of the population. At 72.8 million strong, it is a generation not to be ignored (Stillman & Stillman, 2017). Failure to recognize the uniqueness of this generation or treat them as Millennials will poses a huge risk to organizations. The time to know and understand Generation Z is now.

Questions to be asked are numerous. How is Generation Z different from other generations? What are their capabilities, their skills, their strengths, their gifts, and talents? Are there deficits to address? From a Z'ers perspective, what is essential for well-being? Finally, the management thought question for the day is: How do nursing leaders and managers, responsible for human and fiscal outcomes, recognize the differences in the upcoming generation? How do they capitalize on their assets while bridging the gap for what may be needed and is missing?     

"Z" Characteristics

Generation Z's traits are still emerging. It is clear, however, that where Millennials were "digital pioneers,"  Z'ers are "digital natives." Born into a world of technology, they have grown up in a digitally connected world (Alton, 2017). The virtual world is their reality (Stillman & Stillman, 2017). Of all generations living today, Gen Z'ers exceed all others in multi-tasking and the use of technology. 

For a variety reasons exclusive to their generation, Forbes reports that Generation Z'ers will seek more job security, operate more independently, and become more entrepreneurial (Alton, 2017). Current research from other venues validates the characteristics identified by Forbes (Beall, 2017).

Advances in technology have created an environment in which both Millennial and Z generations have become global citizens, sharing characteristics values across borders. Because of generational advantages, it is predicted that Generation Z will surpass Millennials as a "global" generation (Jenkins, 2017).

As a result of constant Internet experience, Generation Z'ers process information faster than other generations; conversely, their attention span is significantly lower (Beall, 2017). Z'ers have multi-tasked their way through the learning system – texting and surfing the Net while studying online. Distractions are inherent. While a wide variety of activities are accomplished, "thought" is affected. Internet-thinking relies on short-term memory. Mental pathways for critical thought and problem-solving are often bypassed and undeveloped (Plonien, 2017). This issue can be exemplified by observation. In referring to Gen Z'ers, one nurse manager with three decades of experience stated, "What they never seem to do is just stop and think." They just do not think on their feet. They know a lot, but if they are unsure of something, they go right to their device. They can often find the right answer, but they do not understand what they found (Tulgan, 2016, p.1). The obvious reason for this behavior is that there has not been a need to stop and think, to reflect, to discuss, or to dig deeper. Information has always been at their fingertips.


As nurse leaders and managers move forward into supporting and managing Generation Z, it is vital to understand and value the differences with a goal of maximizing potential. As seasoned members of the generational team, it is a responsibility as well as an honor for leaders and managers to care for newer generations. In doing so, it is important to see challenges as opportunity, and assist them in developing talent and skills toward proficiency in professional practice.

Generation Z's understanding of technology is absolutely innate, as well as intuitive. In the work place, the potential of advancing communications and telemedicine from the point of care could be astounding. Consider, for instance, the skills related to multi-tasking. A Gen Z'er can create documents while researching on a phone or a tablet in the midst of a myriad of other activity. Skills of a surgeon may be extremely enhanced from game play (Plonien, 2017). Changes that may be initiated related to the flow of activity might reshape the delivery of patient care or retrieval of revenue. The global nature of this generation alone may open interaction with international markets, bringing prosperity where none currently exists.

The concern in managing a Generation Z'er is their ability and experience with critical thought. It is a known fact of neuroscience that the human brain is plastic, changing and adapting based on how it is used.  Constant interruption in thought – whether distraction on the Internet or from multi-tasking, results in a mind that has less neuro-pathways that support the movement of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, where it can be retrieved for problem-solving (Plonien, 2017). Teaching critical thought and problem solving will be a management skill necessary for coaching, teaching, and mentoring Generation Z.

Management Wisdom

It takes astuteness in leadership and management to view the differences of generations as strengths. Identifying the needs and expectations of a generation, then developing a strategy to address those needs, will facilitate best results in human resources for any organization. The first step is to learn about the cohort, and then assess and analyze their philosophies, needs, and approaches. The next step is to proceed with a strategic plan, addressing priorities. The goal of generational management is to meet the needs of the people involved, while supporting and meeting the needs of the organization.  

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), known for a humanistic approach to leadership, is identified as "The Mother of Modern Management."  She defined management as the "art" of getting things done through people (Graybell, 2017). While management is both an art and a science, the "art" of management is crucial, as leaders and managers blend generations into teams pursuing excellence in caring as well as in quality, propelling organizations to higher heights.


Alton, L. (2017) Should Millennials Prepare for Generation Z In the Workplace? Retrieved from:

Arsenault, P. (2004) Validating generational differences: a legitimate diversity and leadership issue. Leadership and Organization Development Journal; 25: 2, 124-141.

Beall, G. (2017) 8 Key Differences between Gen Z and Millennials. Retrieved from:

Graybeal, L. (2017) Management Theory of Mary Parker Follett. Retrieved from:

Jenkins, R. (2017) Generation Z vs Millennials: The 8 Differences You Need to Know. Retrieved from:

Plonien, C. (2017) Leading Learning in the Internet Age. Retrieved from:

Smith-Trudeau, P. (2016) Generation Z Nurses Have Arrived. Are you ready? Retrieved from:

Stillman, D & Stillman, J. (2017) Gen Z @ Work. New York: Harper Business

Tulgan, B. (2016) Why do so many Gen Z'ers Seem to Lack that Old-Fashioned 'Critical Thinking? Retrieved from:


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