Understanding the Four Generations

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, September 11th, 2012

It’s important to be educated about each generation since nurses cover the span of all 4. More and more nurses are waiting to retire, so it’s not rare to have a Traditionalist and Gen Y-er sharing the floor.  Knowing what makes each generation “tick” will better help your nurse recruitment and retention. 

Traditionalists, born between 1902- 1946, are 102 million in number, 17% of our population.

This gutsy group grew up with adversity during WWII and the Great Depression. Survival was way of life. There were shortages of sugar, gasoline, tires and much more. They did without. Mottos firmly set their approach to life: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” “Put your nose to the grindstone.”

It was a man’s economy. The few women in the workplace had limited positions, usually as teachers and secretaries. During the war they went to work in the ammunitions and other factories, but when the war was over, they went home. “A woman’s place was in the home.”

People worked hard, and overtime if needed, to get work done. Because of the manufacturing economy, working harder and faster and longer made more widgets which meant more money which meant more security. And security was everything to them. That’s why layoffs in the 70s distressed them so. They never dreamed the company for whom they’d worked for so many years would release them with little notice.

Baby Boomers were born between1946-1964. These 77 million constitute the largest part of our working population at 23%.

While traditionalists grew up with adversity, Baby Boomers entered a thriving new economy after the war. New cars, appliances, and homes were being built at a record pace. The population boomed and millions moved from the farms and cities to create “suburbia.” The proliferation of TV forever changed the way they and future generations would view the world. No longer did only stories from relatives tell them what to think and believe. They began to question rules and policies that had been in place for years. Civil rights movements and war protests emerged. Boomers were told to make love not war and, according to activist Abbie Hoffman, not to trust anyone over 30.

Because of their numbers, they got the attention of politicians, product developers, and the music world. As a result, they grew up thinking the world was theirs for the taking. Instead of working harder and faster like the Traditionalists, Boomers focused on teamwork, efficiency, quality and service.

Boomers still rule and have the biggest impact on society, business, and politics. Every town in the US still has an “oldies” station.

Gen Xers, born from 1965 to 1980, is the smallest generation, totaling 50 million, just 15%.  While Boomers entered a world filled with optimism and prosperity, Gen Xers entered with social upheaval.

Their parents were the first generation of dual careers. Many Boomer moms wore business suits like men and wanted to have it all. Parents avoided having children and if they did, had them late in life. Many were called “latchkey kids” because they came home to an empty house. This required them to learn a lot on their own so they became resourceful and independent at an early age.

Xers were a product of technology. Preschoolers were “glued to the set” and were expected to learn ABCs and numbers, not from Mom and Dad, but from a Big Bird on Sesame St.

They became skeptics when what they were taught and what they witnessed were two different things. The institutions they were told to believe in betrayed them. They heard, “Marriage is forever,” yet 40% of their parents divorced. “Work hard and you’ll always have a job.” But they watched corporate layoffs wreak havoc. They are skeptical about institutions and now are working in one. While Boomers are about team, Xers are about themselves.

Gen Y is often called Generation Why?  Born from 1981 to 1999, these 81 million will soon top the Boomers in the workforce as 27% of population.

Their parents, who felt they didn’t get enough attention from their own parents, smothered these children with attention. They are sometimes called the “Trophy Generation” because they got ribbons for everything, even “Participant” because everyone is a winner whether they sit on the bench or are the MVP. Every step of the way, their parents guided, directed, supported, coached and protected them. They had graduation ceremonies for preschool and kindergarten and by first grade, felt like the center of the universe.

This group has an intense focus on school grades and test scores, in part because federal and state agencies require annual achievement test from elementary school through high school. Young men and women in this group are accustomed to getting regular assessments of how they stack up against others. Concern about getting superlative GPAs to get into college make them obsess and track progress weekly, sometimes daily.

They never knew life without computers and technology and they are expert at multitasking. They can perform their job, listen to an I-pod, text message a friend and talk on the cell phone all at the same time.

It’s important to be educated about each generation in order to properly recruit and retain nurses. Knowing what makes them “tick” will make your life much easier.

As a nurse speaker, I specialize in nurse recruitment, nurse retention, and work life balance and can help improve morale, retention and recruitment. CONTACT ME TODAY to talk about my powerful keynotes, workshops and programs. I look forward to helping your organization achieve its goals.

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