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Generational Differences in Work Ethic Among 3 Generations of Registered Nurses Laura L. Jobe, PhD, BSN, RN OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to understand if differences in dimensions of work ethic exist among 3 generations of nurses working in an inpatient setting at an acute care facility. BACKGROUND: Generational differences are linked with increased turnover, with work ethic frequently cited as an important difference. METHODS: The quantitative, quasi-experimental cross-sectional study recruited inpatient registered nurses from 2 teaching hospitals in a southern US metropolitan area to complete the Multidimensional Work Ethic Profile online. RESULTS: The 285 completed surveys indicated that similarities exist among the 3 generations, with statistically significant differences only in leisure, hard work, and delay of gratification dimensions. CONCLUSIONS: Understanding differences in work ethic dimensions could lead to strategies for improving the generational conflict. These results also lead to the conclusion that work ethic differences may not be the cause of the generational conflict among nurses. The US nursing workforce has 4 generations working together, with 8% veterans (born G1946), 44% Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), 29% Generation X (born 1965-1979), and 18% Millennials (born 1980-2000).1-4 Differences in generations could lead to generational conflict in the workplace,5 yet current generational Author Affiliation: RN III, Special Staffing Team, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Little Rock. The author declares no conflicts of interest. Correspondence: Dr Jobe, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, 1 Children’s Way, Little Rock, AR 72202 ([email protected]). Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site ( DOI: 10.1097/NNA.0000000000000071

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profiles are based on anecdotal commentary or examples.2,5-7 Literature frequently cites generational differences in work ethic as a cause of conflict,2,8-15 but work ethic is rarely defined or defined objectively.2,8-13,15 Although the concept of work ethic dates to the 1940s, currently, it is defined as a learned, religious-free, multidimensional concept reflected in behavior, comprising of attitudes and beliefs related to work but not a job.16-18 Miller et al18 developed a tool called the Multidimensional Work Ethic Profile (MWEP), defining 7 measurable dimensions of work ethic: self-reliance, morality/ethics, hard work, leisure, centrality of work, delay in gratification, and wasted time. The purpose of this study was to understand if differences in dimensions of work ethic exist among 3 generations of nurses working in an inpatient setting in an acute care facility. Specific aims were as follows: 1. To develop a work ethic profile for each nursing generation working in acute care. 2. To identify differences in the dimensions of work ethic between generations of nurses working in acute care. The different generations are defined as follows: 1. Baby Boomer: person born between 1946 and 19644 2. Generation X: person born between 1965 and 19794 3. Millennials: person born between 1980 and 20004

Background Baby Boomers were raised after the war in nuclear families during economic growth and educational opportunities.6,19,20 They are committed,19,21 motivated, and driven.22 Generation X was the 1st latch


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key generation who became resourceful and independent.6,19,20 Their mindset is ‘‘a job is a job’’ and may change employment based on enjoyment.22 Millennials grew up without the expectation of a nuclear family, seek supervision, crave structure, and are technologically savvy.20-22 The sharing of life events and common experiences, as with a generation, has been linked with cohesion of attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions.23,24 A multigenerational workforce, who has not shared common experiences, could result in conflict,25 and generational differences have been identified as possible threats to group cohesion.25,26 Cohesion is imperative because higher group cohesion has been linked with increased job satisfaction27 and intention to stay at a job.28-30 However, research about generational differences is limited and focuses on descriptions, perceptions, and recruitment/retention issues. Work ethic appears in generational literature without support of research or consistent definitions.22,31-35 One study investigated generational differences in work ethic using the MWEP.36 When comparing the 7 dimensions of work ethic as stated above, this study found that Baby Boomers valued all dimensions more than Generation X and Millennials did except in the dimension of leisure.36 Millennials valued morality/ ethics, hard work, and delay of gratification more than Generation X did.36 With limited research supporting generational differences in work ethic among nurses and knowing that generational differences could impact turnover, specific research is needed regarding generational differences in work ethic.

Methods This was a quantitative, quasi-experimental crosssectional study. The setting was 2 teaching hospitals in a southern US metropolitan area. Demographics for each facility can be seen in Table 1. Hospital A had approximately 1,220 registered nurses (RNs), with 29% aged 20 to 29 years, 31% aged 30 to 39 years, 22% aged 40 to 49 years, 15% aged 50 to 59 years, and 3% aged 60 to 69 years. Hospital B had 943 RNs, with 25% aged 20 to 29 years, 27% aged 30 to 39 years, 24% aged 40 to 49 years, 20% aged 50 to 59 years, and 4% aged 60 to 69 years. Both facilities had more women than men, and hospital B had a more diverse population. Historically, both facilities had used e-mail for staff communication and survey completion. Permission to recruit was obtained from each facility, and study approval was obtained from the university institutional review board. The sample of RNs was recruited from each facility’s inpatient medical surgical units, intensive care units, emergency department, and float pool. Regis-


Table 1. Facility Demographics Hospital A (n = 1,220)

Hospital B (n = 953)

Age, y 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69

29% 31% 22% 15% 3%

25% 27% 24% 20% 4%

Gender Female Male

92% 8%

86% 14%

Race White African American Asian Other

91% 7% 1% 1%

80% 13% 4% 3%

tered nurses were included if they worked in the mentioned areas, were born after 1946, worked at least 24 hours weekly, and worked at only 1 of the 2 facilities. Registered nurses from 3 different generations were recruited for this study. A power analysis for an analysis of variance (ANOVA) design was conducted with an ! level of .05 and a medium Cohen f 2 effect size of 0.2, with 3 between levels of generations. A predicted sample size of 246 (82 in each generation; 123 from each hospital) was estimated to yield a power of 0.80. For this study, an equal recruitment between the 2 hospitals was sought, so each hospital was recruited for 41 RNs in each generation being studied. Multidimensional Work Ethic Profile The MWEP is a 65-item inventory designed to measure the 7 dimensions of the concept of work ethic: self-reliance, morality/ethics, leisure, hard work, centrality of work, wasted time, and delay of gratification.18 Permission was obtained from Miller to use the tool. Statements are Likert-type with a 5-point scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. Dimension definitions and examples of statements for each dimension can be found in Table 2. When using this tool, higher scores for individual dimensions indicated a stronger agreement with that dimension.18 Internal consistency ranges from 0.72 to 0.90 across all 7 dimensions.18,37,38 Procedure Two online survey sites were used to collect demographic information (birth year, race, employer, weekly hours worked, and education) and complete the tool. The researcher had no direct contact with participants, and names were never collected, so anonymity was

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Table 2. Dimensions, Dimension Definitions, and Example Statements Dimensions

Dimension Definitions

Examples of Statements for Each Dimension


‘‘Striving of independence in one’s daily work’’18(p14)

‘‘To be truly successful, a person should be self-reliant’’18(p483)


‘‘Believing in a just and moral existence’’18(p14)

‘‘One should always take responsibility for one’s actions’’18(p483)


‘‘Proleisure attitudes and the beliefs in the importance of non work activities’’18(p14)

‘‘Life would be more meaningful if we had more leisure time’’18(p483)

Hard work

‘‘Belief in the virtues of hard work’’18(p14)

‘‘Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough’’18(p483)

Centrality of work

‘‘Belief in work for work’s sake and the importance of work’’18(p14)

‘‘I feel uneasy when there is little work for me to do’’18(p483)

Wasted time

‘‘Attitudes and beliefs reflecting active and productive use of time’’18(p14)

‘‘It is important to stay busy at work and not waste time’’18(p483)

Delay of gratification

‘‘Orientation toward the future; the postponement of rewards’’18(p14)

‘‘If I want to buy something, I always wait until I can afford it’’18(p483)

protected. Inpatient RNs from both hospitals received an e-mail via work inviting them to participate. Consent was obtained online before data collection. If a participant did not consent to the study or did not meet the inclusion criteria during demographic data collection, the participant was not allowed to complete the study.

Results Two hospitals were recruited until at least 82 useable surveys from each generation had been received. A total of 452 participants replied to the survey invitation, with a total of 285 useable surveys completed. Completed demographics for the useable forms are reflected in Table, Supplemental Digital Content 1, Data Analysis Because data did not meet multivariate ANOVA assumption of linearity, individual ANOVAs were used for data analysis. Eight ANOVAs analyzed each of the 7 dimensions and the overall scores of work ethic among the 3 generations. As each dimension was analyzed, the data were screened to ensure that the assumptions of the 1-way ANOVA were met. Self-reliance, leisure, hard work, delay of gratification, and overall score met the assumptions for a 1-way ANOVA. The mean overall scores and the mean scores in the self-reliance dimension did not have statistical significance. The dimensions of leisure, hard work, and delay of gratification all indicated significant differences among the mean scores for the generations. Tukey post hoc was completed on these dimensions to examine where the differences existed. It should be noted that it is likely the statistical significance was

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partially driven by the sample size given the minimal differences in the means. The dimensions morality/ethics, centrality of work, and wasted time each violated 1 assumption of ANOVA, so nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis tests were run. The Kruskal-Wallis test did not indicate any significant differences among the generations in these dimensions. Results of the 1-way ANOVAs and the Kruskal-Wallis test are found in Table 3.

Discussion More similarities than differences in dimensions of work ethic existed among the 3 generations. In the dimensions of self-reliance, morality/ethics, centrality of work, and wasted time, the mean scores did not differ significantly. Generation X had the highest mean scores in self-reliance and morality/ethics, whereas Baby Boomers had the highest mean scores in centrality of work and wasted time. Millennials had the highest mean scores in overall score. The dimensions with significant differences were leisure, hard work, and delay of gratification. Generation X and Millennials placed more importance on leisure activities and hard work than Baby Boomers did. This varies from the traditional view that younger generations are lazy.6,7,35 Many of the hard work statements equated working hard with eventual success and a good life, so younger generations may believe this, whereas the older generations do not. In the delay of gratification dimension, Millennials and Generation X placed more importance in future plans and delay of rewards than Baby Boomers did. This may be explainable because Baby Boomers are approaching retirement, and delaying rewards is no longer needed to achieve their goals.


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2.77 0.37 0.96 133.04 142.32 143.92 152.25 139.45 136.11 145.49 146.80 14797 Morality/ethics Centrality of work Wasted time

Baby Boomers, Mean Rank Dimension

Kruskal-Wallis Tests


.25 .83 .62

P Millennials, Mean Rank Generation X, Mean Rank


0.034 0.053 0.16 0.013 0.028 0.055 0.023 0.032 .15 G.05 G.05 G.05 .47 1.89 4.04 8.16 3.3 0.75 7.21 6.50 5.39 5.91 3.4 36.14 32.02 39.99 35.47 37.47 6.99 6.56 6.42 6.63 3.81 36.32 32.24 38.76 35.00 37.17 6.38 6.09 5.12 6.04 3.22 34.56 29.86 36.81 33.32 36.87 Self-reliance Leisureb Hard workb Delay of gratificationb Overall score

BX, Baby Boomers to Generation X Tukey post hoc comparison; BM, Baby Boomers to Millennials Tukey post hoc comparison; XM, Generation X to Millennials Tukey post hoc comparison. Dimensions with significant differences P G .05.

0.006 0.002 0.004


0.97 0.29 0.86 0.045 0.00 0.038


(p2 P F (2,282) SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean Dimension

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomer 1-Way ANOVA

Table 3. 1-Way ANOVAs and Kruskal-Wallis Tests 306

Generational Profiles A tentative profile of work ethic for each generation can be made using the mean scores. Baby Boomers believe strongly in a just and moral existence (morality/ ethics: mean, 46.82) and time at work should not be wasted (wasted time: mean, 38.82). Boomers have strong beliefs in work for work’s sake (centrality of work: mean, 37.64) and the virtues of hard work (hard work: mean, 36.81). They do not strive for independence in daily work (self-reliance: mean, 34.56), nor do they believe in postponing rewards (delay of gratification: mean, 33.32), and leisure activities are not very important to them (leisure: mean, 29.86). Generation X also believe in a just and moral existence (morality/ethics: mean, 47.28) and the virtues of hard work (hard work: mean, 38.76). They do not want to waste time at work (wasted time: mean, 38.01) but do not believe as strongly in work for work’s sake (centrality of work: mean, 37.05). They are the generation most interested in independence in daily work (self-reliance: mean, 36.32) and the importance of leisure time (leisure: mean, 32.24). They are slightly oriented to the future (delay of gratification: mean, 35.00). Millennials believe in a moral and just world (morality/ethics: mean, 46.59). This generation had the strongest belief in the virtues of work (hard work: mean, 39.99) and postponement of rewards for the future (delay of gratification: mean, 35.47) than the other 2 generations do. They do not want to waste time at work (wasted time: mean, 38.62) and have strong beliefs in work for work’s sake (centrality of work: mean, 37.51). This generation is only slight less interested in striving for independence at work than Generation X are (self-reliance: mean, 36.14) and also has only a slightly lower belief in leisure time than Generation X do (leisure: mean, 32.02). Limitations Limitations include the small number of hospitals from only 1 metro area of the country. Additional replication studies are needed to determine if these results are consistent across the nation. All of the effects are small which could lead to caution when interpreting these findings and indicate that further research is needed to confirm these findings. Implications for Nurse Executives By understanding how much importance each generation places on the dimensions of work ethic, hospitals and nurse executives may develop generationally specific recruitment and retention strategies. Self-reliance and not wasting time at work (wasted time) were important to all generations. A retention strategy appealing to these dimensions may be providing training

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and education needed become self-reliant and improving areas where RNs feel time is wasted. Because fairness and a moral world (morality/ethics) are valued transgenerationally, ensuring fairness in scheduling and assignments and allowing mistakes to be admitted with nonpunitive action may retain staff. All 3 generations value working and being able to work (centrality of work), so flexible scheduling and variable length shifts may help recruit and retain RNs across all generations. Dimensions where generation’s values differed should also be considered when developing recruitment and retention strategies. Leisure was more valued by Generation X and Millennial RNs, so offering more time off related to overtime worked or paid sabbaticals after a length of employment was met may appeal to them. Because Generation X and Milennial RNs were future focused, hospitals may consider starting employer-assisted housing programs and offering scholarships to employee dependents. Baby Boomer RNs were not focused on long-term rewards, so hospitals could offer short-term high-yield options on retirement investments and same-day pay on overtime shifts worked. Hard work was more valued by younger generations, so recognition of achievement and allowing career progress to be merit and not seniority based may recruit and retain staff. Additional research is needed to discover if work ethic scores are consistent for each generation across

the nation or if scores are more regionally specific. Research is also needed to discover if generational conflict is rooted in another unidentified concept. Eventually, understanding the generational differences and similarities in work ethic could lead to intervention studies to motivate and appeal to the individual generations.

Conclusions This study found that generational differences in work ethic are more fiction than fact. Similarities in work ethic dimensions were more prevalent than differences. Although generational conflict may be occurring in the workforce, it is possible that work ethic is not the cause. Nurses and nurses in management and executive positions need to acknowledge the similarities the generations share rather than fixating on the differences. Perhaps by focusing more on our similarities than differences, we can begin to improve group cohesion and limit generational conflict. With the population continuing to grow and retirement age increasing, it should be expected that a multigenerational workplace is here to stay. By choosing to adapt to this changing workforce and celebrating both similarities and differences of each generation, we may be able to improve recruitment and retention of nurses in all generations today and in generations to come.

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Generational differences in work ethic among 3 generations of registered nurses.

The purpose of this study was to understand if differences in dimensions of work ethic exist among 3 generations of nurses working in an inpatient set...
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