Do you understand people? (Part 1)

America is experiencing a truly unique moment in history in the workforce. In any given workplace is the potential that four distinct generations are represented. While this provides a rich opportunity for diversity of thought and learning from others, there is also the potential for a degree of conflict as often these diverse generations also have differing methods of approaching learning, work and life in general. Each generation has unique qualities, however it seems that the newest generation to enter the college classroom and workforce (referred to as Generation Y) can pose a greater challenge to managers and supervisors. This generation, more than any other, has been raised in an age of constant technological advancement and connectivity.

Four generations of women

We often face communication breakdown on various people we face today. It is very important to understand people for us to do our job the right way and at the same time, allow ourselves to get promoted and even find long lasting love of our lives. Our health, wealth and relationships are based on inter-relationship with other people/generation we face each day. Allied health field is filled with Gen-Y (millennial) who are unable to communicate with patients of other generations they face day-in day-out. If we understand each generation, it will help our abilities to communicate better and higher quality of service we can provide for them.


What defines a generational cohort? This is an important question to answer as too often we assume that people born approximately around the same time constitute a “generation.” While dates of birth are usually the first and broadest determiners of a generation, common experiences, attitudes and tastes are further indicators. When we broaden our definitions of the generations this helps us to understand why the members of a particular generation may actually identify more with the group before or after them. This is especially true of those individuals whose birth dates are near the beginning or ending periods identified, as they are definitely affected by the experiences of their closest peers.


The Veterans

The first generational (grandma/grandpa) cohort born between approximately 1922-1943. This group has been referred to as the Silent Generation or the Veterans. While this generation’s numbers are decreasing rapidly they still have a significant presence and therefore it is worth our time to take a closer look at this group.

Key Moments

Many of these individuals were born in the years immediately preceding the Great Depression or during that time. While they were not impacted from a working perspective, this generation keenly felt the effects of this event. They learned to be very conservative in their spending habits, to reuse a large number of materials and to have a deep distrust for banks and other financial institutions. Conversely, these individuals developed a deep trust in government as they saw FDR institute his New Deal programs and as a result saw family members and friends able to go back to work.


Arguably the most defining experience for the Veterans was their participation in World War II. This generation was the first and only generation that experienced a full-scale mobilization for war that involved everyone. Many of the young men born during this period volunteered or were drafted to serve their country in parts of the world that they probably had never heard of before being sent there. The women of this generation stepped up to fill in the gaps left on the home front as “Rosie the Riveter” went into factories and did a man’s work. For those who may have been born in the latter part of this era they knew sacrifice as they watched mothers and fathers weeping over a brother, uncle or cousin who paid the ultimate price in the defense of freedom. These young people learned to do without as they helped the war effort through rationing and Meatless Mondays and planting of Victory Gardens. This generation witnessed a unique event as the country was united in the fight against totalitarianism and fascism.

What do they value?

As a result of these shared experiences some characteristics of the Veterans are:

  • Liking for uniformity and consistency-this generation saw the rise of many things being mass produced in addition to a large percentage having served in the military
  • Tendency towards conformity
  • Conservative spending habits-having lived through the Depression they value the dollar more than following generations
  • Disciplined-this generation knows the meaning of the word “sacrifice” and they have also learned not to publicly question authority

Baby boomers

The Boomers, born between approximately 1943-1960, are really the first cohorts that were defined as a generation. It has been said by many that this group broke onto the national scene in a big way and have continued to have that same impact throughout their lives. At this time, the Boomers represent the largest generational cohort in the United States and continue to receive a great deal of attention.

Key Moments

One of the most defining “events” that helped shape Boomers as a generation was their being raised in the years immediately following World War II. Up to that time the nation’s population had been declining, but suddenly there were a large number of children being born with that trend continuing for the next several years. For the first time, parents were having children whom they wanted rather than because they needed them to work the farm or simply because children accompanied marriage. These parents had fought and sacrificed for the freedom to have children and for a better world in which to have them, and as a result they were very dedicated parents.


As Boomers matured and entered their teen and young adult years they began to react to the somewhat structured and disciplined lives of their parents. All of us are familiar with the turbulent 1960s and the rebellion of many in this generation against the established norms of society. While there has always been a certain flexing of wings in the teenage years, rebellion on this scale had not really been seen before. The Boomers began to question societal norms and even what they perceived as their parents’ blind following of authority. This has continued to define many in this generation.

As with the Veterans, a war was one of the major formative events for the Boomers. However, Vietnam was a much different war than WWII. Instead of a nation rallying around the cause of liberty, many questioned whether America should even be involved in this war and many actively resisted. Many of those who did go went because they had to and unlike their fathers they often did not return to a hero’s welcome but to hatred and animosity. The Boomers continue to be strongly affected by the scars from Vietnam.


What do Boomers value?

As a result of these shared experiences some characteristics of the Boomers are:

  • Can be self-centered-as the largest generation, society has had to accommodate them since they were born and marketers continue to do so.
  • Tend to be optimistic-in spite of difficulties the prevailing optimism that followed WWII embedded itself in the Boomers and they see infinite possibilities
  • Learned teamwork-this was the first generation to have “sharing” and “works well with others” on their report cards.
  • Tend to be soul-searchers-being raised in times of economic prosperity, they have often pursued spiritual development as adults, understanding that there is more to life. However, for the Boomers spirituality is not confined to organized religion.

Now do you understand your grandparents and even your parents on why they act the way they act? By understanding each generation, we can now able to communicate and relate to them little bit better. Stay tuned for Gen-X and Gen-Y characteristics on Part 2 of this story and we can all understand little better about our selves. -SjC


2 Responses to “Do you understand people? (Part 1)”

  1. Kurtis Beaver January 23, 2014 at 10:58 am Permalink

    Interesting read.

  2. Scott Lorah February 26, 2014 at 2:16 pm Permalink

    I am a Boomer and I concur!

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