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Exploring the Generational Culture Concept

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 18, 2015

By Wanda Lane, RN, MaED, Clinical Value Analysis Manager, Regional One Health


Birth Years

Generational Characteristics

Political\Social Influencers



  • Loyal
  • Risk Adverse
  • Team Players
  • Strong respect for authority
  • Struggle with communication technology
  • Great Depression
  • World War II

Baby Boomers


  • Higher priority given to work over family
  • Optimistic
  • Risk Takers
  • Distrust authority
  • Generally resist communication technology
  • Civil Rights movement
  • Vietnam
  • Great Recession\ Hyperinflation economy

Generation X


  • Higher priority given to family over work
  • Adaptive
  • Independent
  • Openly question authority
  • Adapt to traditional or electronic communication
  • Technology explosion
  • Latchkey syndrome*
  • Economic Boom or “Wall Street” economy



  • Higher priority given to friends over work
  • Optimistic
  • Strong team influence
  • Require ample feedback from authority
  • Entitled
  • Prefer communication technology
  • Technology immersion
  • Helicopter parents
  • Everyone gets a trophy syndrome*
  • Dotcom economy
  • Pre & post 911 cohorts





After 1996

  • Highly networked
  • Problem solvers
  • Fiercely Independent
  • Tech intuitive
  • Creative
  • Altruistic
  • Post 911 culture
  • Terrorism
  • Poor economy
  • Bitter political divisiveness
  • Social Networking

Diversity has been a business buzzword for the past couple of decades regarding race, ethnicity, and gender; however, a relatively new concept is moving to the forefront.  Generational culture is a concept that is beginning to seep into the diversity conversation. Webster defines culture as-

  • the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
  • the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also:  the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time

Applying this definition to the behaviors of the five generations sharing work space, it becomes clear that generational culture must be accepted as a diversity element and addressed by leadership.

The four primary workplace generations have been Traditionalists (born 1925-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X’ers (1965- 1980), and Millennials (1981- 1995). They have established traits and stereotypical behaviors that are readily accepted and “managed” in the workplace; however, the conversation typically focuses on differences and conflict opportunity. The newest generation entering the workplace is the NetGen generation. They are the youngest of the group, and in some ways the best prepared for the dynamic political and technological future.

The key to understanding generational diversity is to change the conversation to one of generational culture.  The definition of culture assigns groups of people beliefs, customs, social behaviors, and acceptable norms. Each generation has been shaped by the political and economic events of the times. Traditionalists were raised by survivors of the great depression and many remember the events leading to World War II. Their culture tends to be very self-sufficient and risk adverse.  Baby Boomers grew up during a time of optimism and re-building following the war. They are hard-working, dedicated to a fault, and place great value on stability. However, they also vividly remember civil rights movements and equality marches of the 60’s. Generation X’ers are the middle generation, sometimes called forgotten because they were the first generation of latchkey kids. They tend to be fiercely protective of personal time and work\life balance. They also became very self-sufficient at a very young age; therefore, they do not deal well with micro-managing or overly needy employees. Millennials are the first generation to be raised by parents who gave them a voice in the family decision-making process. This spills over into the workplace with young employees expecting to be treated as equals from the beginning. They were also the first generation raised in the “everyone gets a trophy” culture; therefore, they expect praise for simply showing up to work. This creates some tension in the workplace if the origin is not readily apparent.

Understanding the cultural aspect to approaching generational diversity deepens the conversation, promotes understanding, and narrows communication gaps in the workplace. To complicate matters further, Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers, and Millennials each have defining moments that led to cohorts of people born before and after the event. For example, and older Baby Boomer who was a young adult during the 1960’s has a much different perception of the civil rights movement than a Boomer born in 1963. An older Gen Xer vividly remembers life before cellphones, computers, and other technologies. Millennials’ dividing event is 9-11. Older Millennials remember the attacks and the fear that swept our nation, younger Millennials have little concept of life before the economic downfall following that day. They have only known life after terrorism preparedness, sluggish economy, and political distrust.

Changing the conversation from one of discussing behaviors to one of cultural differences allows a shift in perspective. Moving focus from annoying behaviors to cultural awareness encourages respect and enhances communication. This change in perspective opens doors to a change in perception and that lays the foundation of respect and teamwork.

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Tags:  AHVAP  Clinical Value Analysis Manager  Exploring the Generational Culture Concept  Wanda Lane 

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Comments on this post...

Lora L. Johnson, Grady Health System says...
Posted Thursday, August 20, 2015
Great article!
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