Towards inspirational leadership

NSWNA Professional Issues Conference

This year’s Professional Issues Conference on 8 August offered delegates a dynamic day of presentations and debate, exploring inter-generational issues and how we can enhance our understanding of different generations and work towards inspirational leadership.

Inspiring young workers
To find solutions to skills shortages – and nowhere are they more acute than in nursing – we need to understand different generations at work and to effectively manage their differences, one of Australia’s most respected commentators on generational differences and leadership told the Conference.

Avril Henry is author of Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today: Breaking Down Generational Barriers At Work.

She has explored the challenges involved in managing different generations in the workplace in order for organisations to effectively recruit and retain employees.

Avril said the biggest obstacles to retention in the health system are command and control management systems and inflexible rosters.

‘We wonder why people are not coming and not staying,’ she said.

Avril said there is also a deficit in ‘soft skills’ training. ‘We don’t invest enough money in management development skills.’

It is important to understand there are three different generations now in the workforce with different worldviews arising from different economic and social experiences, said Avril. The biggest mistake made by managers – usually baby boomers – is to lump the younger Generation X and Generation Y together.

Gen X (born around 1965 to 1980) is the pessimistic generation. ‘They are hard to get to know. They play their cards close to their chests.’

Gen Ys (born around 1980 to 1994) will have five careers and 29 different employers during their lives. ‘If they like their jobs they will stay two to three years. If they don’t they will stay days to weeks,’ said Avril.

‘This is scary for baby boomers who are driven by economic insecurity and job insecurity.

Avril said Generation Y have witnessed the impact of recession on their parents’ generation so are not loyal to organisations.

‘They say organisations shaft people. They say organisations don’t care about people as human beings. But they are loyal to the team.

They are looking for a sense of connectedness. They don’t have extended families. Their extended families are the team at work and their friends.’

All this presents challenges for managers to hold on to these young workers in a tight labour market.

‘They will follow a good manager. Their number one motivator is inspired leadership. They want to be respected for creativity and their technical skills. When they are connected they have a sense of belonging. That is when they will stay.’

Healthy work cultures help retain nurses

Peter Sheahan, a leading expert in workforce trends and generational change, delivered a dynamic presentation to Conference exploring the culture of health care and how this impacts on the retention and attraction of younger nurses.

‘For Gen Yers to stay, they need to be inspired, they need to like their job, they need to feel respect, recognition and reward, they want some control over their work and career,’ said Peter.

He said the culture of health care does not help encourage young people to stay. ‘It tends to be very centralised and managers are not particularly collaborative.

‘If young people are not getting what they want, they’ll move on. Gen Yers move around 20 times in their career. Retention of younger nurses is more of a problem than attraction.

Peter said workplace culture determines how you feel about your job. ‘People tend to blame the system for bad workplace culture but culture starts within. Culture is made up of people. If culture is toxic that’s not the fault of the system but the people working within it.’

Peter challenged delegates to take responsibility for changing the culture at their workplaces.
‘Have courage. Be an early adopter of change,’ he said.

SA Secretary’s tips for inspirational leadership

At 28, Elizabeth Dabars, Secretary of the SA Branch of the ANF, has achieved extraordinary success in her careers in nursing and the union movement at a young age. She shared with delegates her thoughts on inspirational leadership.

Elizabeth started nursing as a personal care assistant in aged care. ‘It taught me the importance of listening,’ she said.

‘Early in my career I got involved in the union. Someone said, you should join, I reckon you’d be a good workplace rep. That was it – I was hooked.

‘I realised what a powerful structure the union is through which the community can achieve things by working together.’

Elizabeth soon became an RN and gained legal qualifications. She worked at the SA Branch of the ANF as an industrial officer, then legal officer before being appointed General Secretary earlier this year.

Elizabeth said she has been immensely inspired by her predecessor at the SA Branch of the ANF Lee Thomas, as well as NSWNA and ANF National President Coral Levett and NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes.

‘I notice that good leaders keep engaging with the people – especially the young people – in their organisation, and they create and allow opportunities for people to grow,’ she said.

‘They respect their colleagues, recognise the achievements of others and demonstrate the courage to allow change. Importantly, they don’t take themselves too seriously,’ said Elizabeth.

Vox pops:
‘We all need greater understanding of the issues working across three generations. We’re operating with big ‘L’s on our heads. The Conference has given me greater understanding of Gen Yers.’
Beverly Brady, CNC, Manly Hospital

‘We don’t include young people in “big picture” thinking and we don’t put enough into inspiring them as our future leaders. This problem is indicated by the fact we had so few younger nurses at the Conference. They are flat out working the floor. They are only given time off to improve their clinical skills development.’
Lyn Hopper, NUM and NSWNA Councillor, Manly District Hospital

‘The Conference has helped me better understand that different generations have different values. It will help me prepare for my clinical placement. Being a nurse is not just about clinical work. It’s also about building relationships with your colleagues.’
Josefina Villanueva, nursing student and NSWNA Associate Member

‘I thought the Professional Day was fantastic and the speakers were really good, particularly their ideas about bridging the generation gap and the retention of nurses. They offered some great insights.’
Claire Waite, RN, RPA