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12 things to never say to older and younger coworkers

older and younger nurse

Image: Claran Griffin | Stockbyte | Getty Images

As people are staying healthier longer, many workers are choosing to remain in the workplace well into their 50s, 60s and 70s. What does this mean? That more and more, seasoned workers are working alongside fresh-faced college grads. This is equally true in our field, where each year tens of thousands of new nurses join seasoned nurses who have been in their careers for decades.

With this generational gap among health care workers widening, there’s a lot of potential for miscommunication or differing perspectives. Though you may absolutely deny that you have any preconceived notions about certain people, let’s face it — stereotypes are a reality in our culture whether we like it or not.

To ease relations between older and younger nurses, here are six things never to say to an older coworker and six things to never say to a younger coworker. Some of these may seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised to hear how many people have actually been asked these types of questions. So whatever you do, don’t say these 12 things!

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20 Responses to 12 things to never say to older and younger coworkers

  1. Diane

    I had a new grad tell me they didnt teach physiology back when I was in school, so she already knew more than I did. Please!

  2. Linda

    I have one younger nurse who constantly refers to me at a “veteran”. I believe she thinks she’s complimenting my experience but for some reason it just irritates me. She continues in spite of being asked to please not call me that.

  3. JMKC

    During job interviews and physicals I always get asked “Do you think you can keep up with the 20 yr olds?”, even though I’m taking NO medications, have NO health issues, am at target weight for my height (unlike a LOT of younger nurses) and run marathons.
    I always respond, 20 somethings don’t even try to keep up with me. They don’t seem to have the same work ethic I have.

    • traumaguy

      let me just say i’m older and with a limp, have worked with my fellow group of nurses for years and they all say they would rather work with an older nurse in most cases,because we are able the think on the run, over the years we learn to take fewer steps to get to the same place. i may not be able to run with the twenty year olds, but i have their respect having been there done that i can skip a few steps every now and then.that is why on my unit we are a team, and each member has a part to play. I love being a nurse

  4. the new graduates i have worked with seem to job hop from place to place,wherever the most money is. several even go online at the clinic and surf the web for another job during work hours. I have worked with 2 out of about 15 that actually were in it to help people.

  5. flom

    I wish schools could emphasize skills more than the career to the young people.

  6. Marie

    I’ve been an RN for a little over 30 yrs, and yes, I’d retire if I could, but I can’t. I’ve had many (more each year) tactless and rude comments–when will you retire, can you retire, let me show you how to work this (IV pump). “Oh, OK Grandma”……. This is annoying, BUT all RN’s should be aware that if these sorts of questions are coming from HRO, from your supervisor, etc, you can and should go to EEO. ANYONE over 40 who is asked questions of the type mentioned by the person who runs marathons and so on, are completely out of line and actually illegal. You won’t lose your job over going to EEO either.

    For younger women in any profession, an illegal and inapproapriate question is: do you plan to have kids/ do you have kids. I knew a very nice MD whose office manager in interviewing people for him routinely asked these questions. I don’t know if she didn’t know any better, and I imagine he had no idea but it is NOT allowed to be asked at all.

    Don’t come back “early” from Maternity leave because they “need you so badly”….no one is indispensible. Enjoy your time, which will never come again.

    • traumaguy

      let me just say on my unit the average nurse has been there 10+ years, they call me gramps and i don’t mind, because when they have problems at work and in their life they come ask gramps for advise, and when the going gets tough out of 45 nurse’s on my unit i guarantee at least 40 will say they want to be with gramps, keep up the good work Marie

  7. Sally RN

    I have been an associat degree RN for 40 years and still working. My biggest complaint is the dress code of todays nurses. I resent seeing long colored nails and long hair and they all look like everyone else and the patients dont know who is who taking care of them and this leads to no respect in our field. Also all the younger nurses are resentful to work on holidays, weekends and overtime. They work in a hospital for about 1 year and then they want to take less money and go to clinics. What are they teaching these days?

    • RNtoBe Student

      Please don’t lump all of us younger nurses-to-be and new nurses in the same generalization. When I finally graduate and enter the workforce, the latter of which I’m sure will be more difficult than the former given the current job market, I’ll gladly work holidays, weekends, and overtime. Whatever it takes. After all, a day is a day is a day; it’s what you make of it that gives any certain day its importance.

      For all the new nurses who DON’T want to work the aforementioned, there are those, such as myself, who are eager to. And yet, at least when /I/ have shown my enthusiasm for putting in the extra elbow grease, I’ve been scorned for my enthusiasm for work, or told that I am greedy and that I am taking away the extra money of shift differential from “those who deserve it”.

      I’m not trying to point fingers at any one nursing population. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree that many new graduate nurses seem to have gone into nursing for entirely the wrong reason. But, please, do NOT lump us all together.

    • CriticalCareRN

      As a new RN, I agree with RNtobe. I gladly work holidays – I like the pay, and I also would rather let nurses with kids at home have the day off. I can be flexible when I celebrate! Same for overtime, and I love nights and weekends. I do NOT want to work in a clinic – in fact a took a job in PCU, which is probably the busiest floor in our hospital… And I love it.

  8. DJ

    I am a new graduate male nurse, slightly silver hair 57yr old, with two 30 yr careers behind me (non medical) and when I come to the floor,,,immediatly I am the “DOCTOR”..no matter which patient I receive I spend each sentence correcting the pt and the family that I am NOT their new doctor…but do they listen? I am always being called to the pt’s respective doc wanting to know why They are being replaced with the “new” male doctor that is always looking in on them like a nurse..
    HELP>….I am getting so tired of this..I think I am wearing a sign saying I AM NOT A MD!

    Regards DJ

  9. Erin

    I am a grad nurse as well as the holder of 3 university degrees. I was asked if I was a new care aid by a nurse who was due to retire 2 years ago. I think respect is 2 way street!

  10. Lyn

    Anyone looking for respect should first realize that one must earn it. Most of you could start by cleaning up your grammar and spelling!

  11. Sam

    A co-worker took an immediate dislike to me as she trained me on the unit, because I didn’t ask her enough questions. She thought I should kneel to her “obvious expertise.” Well, although I’d only been on the floor for a little while, I’d been a nurse at other facilities for much longer. I didn’t need help with charting, and if I needed assistance, I asked.

    Her latest dig at me was about my hair (it’s silver, I have vitiligo, and my hair has lost color since I was 12). She commented to another staff member that she would do such and such “when (her) hair is grey!). I about knocked her out, but I remembered I could allow her to manipulate me to anger, or I could smile and remind myself of her ignorance.

  12. Jeffrey Bodurka

    I had a supervisor that would always complain about every and anything that could possibly be wrong with her. While it’s nice to share and all, it gets old when all you do is whine every time you make an appearance. One minute it’s her weight then the next it’s her arthritis. While she had never revealed her age to anyone I knew just off appearance that she had to be well into her 40’s (not that I was a spring chicken at the time this occurred- 37) so one day while she started on her next complaint barrage I just couldn’t resist. She started off that she had a headache, was exhausted from not getting any sleep and that yet again her arthritis was acting up. I slowly turned in my chair to face her and replied “Well, those things do come with menopause”. The look on her face, priceless. She has stopped complaining.

  13. offroadnurse RN

    I rarely, if ever post comments in this type of venue, but I feel compelled to say I find this entire article ridiculous. Whoever thought to write about such trite information should realize there are much more important things to say and discuss to peers at work than this. I have never worked with professionals who would talk like this to another nurse. It almost makes me ashamed to subscribe to this magazine.

    • CriticalCareRN

      Offroadnurse, if you read the other comments, you can see that age discrimination IS an issue in nursing, and there ARE coworkers who, knowingly or not, hurt the feelings of others with age related statements. It is not acceptable workplace behavior (or in general) and some people may genuinely not realize the statements they make are harmful.

  14. mimiho7

    If they call you a veteran and you don’t like it, call them “rookie”

  15. CriticalCareRN

    I am 19 and a new graduate RN. I have been asked by almost every patient and coworker (but never my bosses) how old I am. I have had patients ask if I want to be a nurse when I grow up, if I am still in high school, how long I am going to do this before I become a nurse… And I have definitely been compared to senior workers kids (“my daughter is just like you! She is starting college next week!”). Even though my coworkers mean well and definitely respect me as a nurse, it really gets old after a while. I know I look young; I know I AM young, but I know just as much as any other new graduate. I just tell patients “well I’m old enough to be your nurse!” but they rarely actually believe that I AM their nurse… As I am pushing meds through their IV, etc

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