Many Voices With a Common Goal

... Creating Successful Multigenerational Teams ...

"One day, I looked around and thought, ‘Where did everyone go? We're losing our profession,'" says Debra Stevens, a nurse Marsha and Debrawho has been with Emory Healthcare for 31 years, as she recounts the day she noticed many co-workers had gone missing. Debra realized it wasn't all of her co-workers who had left bedside nursing, though; it was the Generation Xers (born in the mid-60s to mid-70s). Realizing this, Debra became interested in managing multigenerational work forces and also started witnessing a workplace transformation that is bringing them and other missing co-workers back.

"We have four generations in the workplace now," Debra explains. "This has never happened. We speak different languages and have different motivations, but we have one common goal: excellent patient care."

Marsha Nowakowski, a reentry nurse who has been with Emory Healthcare for six years, concurs. "Researching multigenerational teams helps us understand generational motivations and effective communication strategies. We're talking about people born in decades reaching back to the thirties. Imagine everyone trying to communicate. It takes getting on the same page."

In particular, Debra sites the proactive listening taking place at Emory Healthcare, especially with its focus on shared decision making. Since each generation has a voice in organizational decisions, programs are designed with everyone's input.

"We create an inclusive environment," comments Debra. "Each generation brings something to the table, and by including everyone, you achieve a maturity in care. I like to say, ‘Each one ... reach one ... teach one.' This means that everyone brings something of value and when you honor that, it is magical."

An Empowered Team

4G TeamThe team members in 4G Medical Cardiology at Emory University Hospital are well aware of the benefits achieved when a multigenerational team successfully partners on patient care. Just take Jane Thomas (39 years as a nurse, 25 with Emory Healthcare), Allison Gaines (one year as a nurse and with Emory Healthcare), Ronnie Gladden (25 years as a nurse, 16 with Emory Healthcare) and Marsha Chin (11 years as a nurse, five with Emory Healthcare). They are proof positive of multigenerational kismet and know the reasons behind their unit's success.

"Your voice counts here, regardless of your age," explains Marsha C. "We all take on the attitude that everyone can teach you something. The entire team counts."

"I graduated in 1970," says Jane. "A lot of our staff members weren't even born. However, we all have high standards and mutual respect. There is a culture of excellence here that makes all the difference."

Ronnie agrees. "Here, you must think critically," he says. "We are empowered on this unit and have a real sense of camaraderie. People who stay here enjoy challenges and educational opportunities. In fact, I really enjoy teaching, because the newer staff question me on what I know and help me stretch in my knowledge."

"I never want to stop learning," says Allison. "And because of the academic focus here, I am learning all the time. Additionally, it is great to have that ratio of experiences that comes in an academic setting where you get a more diverse mix of ages."

Mindful Leadership

Marsha N., who is also a member of the Cardiology team, references the important role leaders play in successfully guiding a multigenerational team. "Leadership is very important," she says. "In particular, our leaders, Carolyn Brown, Janice Gentry, AnnLynn Harris and Tammy Jones, have established an environment of mutual respect and excellence."

According to one of those leaders, AnnLynn, the keys to leading her team are communication and awareness. She says, Tammy and AnnLynn"When I am working with our team, their motivations for working and their work styles are very diverse. My focus is on communicating clearly what needs to be done, while I respect that the ‘why' and ‘how' someone works may be very different. I embrace whatever leads to the best practice as professionals. All we have to do on our unit is look at our co-workers to be aware of people struggling or thriving with the challenges of their life stages and then help them along together."

And as each member of Cardiology and Emory Healthcare as a whole works to follow Debra's guidance of reaching and teaching each other, a synergy of care will continue to take place. With the combined force of many generations, teams become timeless symbols of success.


(top, l-r)
Emory Healthcare's Marsha Nowakowski and Debra Stevens

(middle, l-r)
Emory Healthcare's Allison Gaines, Jane Thomas, Ronnie Gladden and Marsha Chin

(bottom, l-r)
Emory Healthcare's Tammy Jones and AnnLynn Harris