Recruiting Across the Generations – Part 1- Define & Contrast

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We live during interesting times. Rapid travel and instant communication have linked  our communities. Information overload is the norm in our work and personal life. The American workforce consists of an amazing four generations who grew up under different world events.

Each of the four generations entered the workforce with a different set of work/life values. These different values were influenced by the generation before them and the events in which they grew up.  Many of the starting values of these four different generations have evolved and merged as the world continues to change.  On the opposite hand, some of their original values remained as a distinct influence to each generation.

These four generations include the Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y.  During the 2010 census, the work force was approximately 5% Traditionalist, 38% Baby Boomer, 32% Generation X, and 25% Generation Y. In recruiting, it can be helpful to understand the differences and commonalities between the generations. These can influence your recruiting style, work benefits, and publication materials.

The Generations Defined


The Traditionalists were born between 1900 and 1945.   Their early influences included World War 2, the Korean War, the Great Depression, and the New Deal.  Their families were typically predictable with mom staying at home as dad worked for the same company until retirement.  A huge percentage of the males served in the military and adopted this “top-down” management style. They were expected to work hard, respect the boss, and seniority was granted with age.  Value was place on history and traditions; job security was expected.

Communication was formal using typed memos and proper grammar. Work and home life were separate and after 30 years you retired with a pension.

This generation still influences our work force in upper management and with lasting policies/procedures.  Most are now retired or working part-time in unrelated jobs, to supplement their income and social life.

Baby Boomer

The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Their early influences include the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Sexual Revolution, the Cold War, and the Space Race. Their family life still showed a lot of “stay-at-home” moms. The 50-60 hour work week was a norm for this generation due to their large population and competitive nature. They used work as a tool to establish net worth and identity. They were often afraid to even take a day off for fear of losing their status at work. Team work became strong with influence from the management theories espoused by Japan manufacturing. The boss was respected, as they expected to receive respect from younger employees.  Boomers felt rewarded by money and titles. These titles and awards are often displayed on their office walls for all to see.

While the Boomers are approaching retirement age; many will remain in the workforce  as long as possible.  Since they spent money freely and their savings were destroyed by the recessions; retirement will be tough financially.  Also their job defines them; so retirement will be a tough mental choice.

Generation X

The Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. Their census was smaller than the Boomers. They entered a world where companies, sports, and the government were losing respect and trust.  Childhood experiences included companies moving off-shore and efficiency standards… resulting in layoffs for their parents. The massive Information Age began during this generation with rapid information available to anyone with a computer or TV.  There is little doubt that they are skeptical of authority and the establishment.  With their self- preservation mode highlighted, they became more career oriented, instead of job oriented. This workforce expected a good salary; and not having to start at the bottom and work up the ladder. Changing jobs to further their career was accepted, even if they had just started a new job or had received some valuable job training. This generation works hard and is efficient; but, may not be as willing to stay overtime. They saw their Boomer parents define their self through jobs and Generation X wanted a life after work. They were the original latch-key kids and learned to take care of themselves.  Generation X believed in working to live; not living to work.  They are not afraid to discuss and compare their job salaries and perks with fellow workers.

This generation is currently at the apex of their employed job and life stress. They have a mortgage, kids in college, and yet they still manage to keep a balance between work and life. They expect to move up in the company; while planning a future change in career for fulfillment. If you believe it is difficult to understand the desires of this generation, just ask them; they will often tell you what they want to achieve.

Generation Y

Generation Y was born between 1981 and 2000. They have been exposed to news stories of extreme violence and danger during their childhood; and, on the flip side, they have very protective parents. Their major influences were the 9-11 attacks, terrorist wars, highly reported school shootings, and a strict code of legal intolerance. Their parents were often divorced; however, they provided a highly structured childhood. Every child received a trophy for sports participation and they grew up in a world of tolerance for other races and groups.

They know the stories of young entrepreneurs who make fabulous fortunes. Many of this generation had structured home and work responsibilities and may be earning an income at a young age. Their parents have kept them actively involved in discussions on family decisions. They enjoy activities which are technical or extreme fun.

This generation has the idealism of the 60’s and the workplace problems of Gen X. They have little fear of expressing their opinion and may not realize they lack the experience and “working” knowledge in the workplace. You can almost see their stance…Why show doubts when information is instantly available from computer searches.  On the job, they may feel they are working with the boss, not for them.

Contrasting Generations

Quick Overview

The Traditionalists are small in the total workforce number due to their age. We are seeing some remain in their jobs, returned into a consulting position, or just entering some type of new job such as the store “greeter”. Years ago, the retired were penalized in the social security program for work; but, those regulations have been relaxed so that they can earn additional income without penalty. The economy has brought many retires back to work; as it will also delay the next generation from retiring.  The workers who remain are described as working to still show they have value and deserve respect.

The Baby Boomers were born into competition. They were huge in population and learned to compete from their parents and peers. They felt a necessity of moving upward in the work force. Some are retiring; while many are planning to work as long as is possible. Work defines their life.  Retirement funds are often limited due to their social climbing lifestyle, compounded by several crashes in the stock market. Watch a crowd of Boomers at a social event and they will be asking each other what they do for a living.  You could sum up the Boomers with one word…competitive.

The Generation X’ers grew up in a world where their parents were going through record divorce and long hours of work. These were the original “latch-key” kids who learned to survive and take care of themselves at home. Many watched their parents get laid off from a company when jobs were downsized or shipped off-shore; there is little doubt they have less belief in company stability.  Still they survived and they expect a good job; plus balance in their personal life that was missing with their parent’s life.  You can summarize them as working smart, efficient, and with limited trust of the company.

The Generation Y’s are newer to the work force. They grew up working or in a structured childhood of family and activities.  Multi-tasking is natural with their communication, entertainment, and work. One job is not considered a challenge and they may be asking to move up, laterally, or in different directions. Work life balance is critical and they want work to be fun. If the job is not fun, they have no problem with job hopping to the next great adventure.  Communication is fast and they want to be challenged. The future work force needs to adjust to this generation.  It would be easy to describe this generation as extreme and multi-tasking. They are the precursor to the upcoming generation, Generation Z.

Contrast by Examples

Sitting in the restaurant you may observe four distinct groups. The Traditionalist is over- heard to say, “Hey Joe, how’s the wife and kids doing?”  They typically divide work from social events.  The Baby Boomers will be comparing jobs and asking how work projects are going; as they try to impress each other.  Boomers tend to define themselves by their job.  Gen Xers are discussing social time and where the kids and family can go to enjoy the beach.  The Generation Ys are “all over the map”, as they have the TV going (changing stations before the end of the show), while listening to music, and texting to people (some are sitting across the table from them).

In the job world, the Traditionalist believes you should stay in a job for many years to support the company mission. The Boomers keep a close eye on the job ladder so they can slowly climb to the top. They plan to assume a higher job title with more awards and certificates on their office wall.  The Gen X are into technology and do not want to be micromanaged. They enjoy training to enhance their career; which easily could be transferred to the next company.

The Generation Y’s are busy multi-tasking and expect to be given a career to challenge their skills. They are confident beyond their years; and, they plan to add value to the company.

Give the groups a project at work such as planning a “meet and greet” event and you can enjoy the different approaches. The Traditionalists will want to meet and determine what was done in the past.  Formal menus and invitations will be created and people will be assigned to give motivational speeches at the dinner. The Boomers will meet and set up committees.

More senior members will head each committee and a time frame for reporting in 3 days, with follow up reports for the next meeting. Finally a plan of action will be created with a place for  the committee chairman to sign off on. The Gen Xers will want banter a few ideas around and want to create a quick but comprehensive plan of action. Follow up meetings will be brief. They will also want to know if people will be paid to attend the social event. The Gen Y’s will hire a catering company without approval for expenses.  A big concern will be who will be bringing the Frisbee and other games.  They will set up activities for old and young since they are considerate and respectful of different age groups.  They enjoy their own groups as well as  older age groups; but, they plan to have fun.

The US Army: A Study in Hiring Generations1

The US Army has been actively involved in creating advertising messages for the different generations. They have recruiting quotas that have varied through draft, patriotic wars, unpopular wars, and the all-volunteer army. Over the years, we can see several changes in their slogans and posters relating to the generations.

  • Uncle Sam Poster and Slogan saying “I Want You” with the grand old man pointing at you; while wearing red, white, and blue.
    • Created by James Montgomery Flagg in 1917
    • Heavy use in WW1 and continued into WW2 (Traditionalist recruiting)
    • Reinforced loyalty and patriotic idealism
  • “Today’s Army Wants to Join You”
    • Created in 1971 (Baby Boomer recruiting)
    • Started toward end of the draft after the unpopular war in Vietnam War
    • Relaxed new attitude to encourage employment, more so than duty
    • Ads reinforced the Army as a job where Boomers could showcase their career and receive excellent benefits.
  • “Join the People Who’ve Joined the Army” & then “This is the Army”
    • Created in 1973 & 1978 (Baby Boomer recruiting)
    • The draft ended and the Army needed to promote military service as a job.
    • Just a modification of the previous slogans as times evolved
  • “Be All You Can Be”
    • Created in 1981(Generation X recruiting)
    • Highly popular jingle, judged second best in 20th Century by Advertising Age magazine.
    • Created for Gen X who needed to make move up quickly and get out of the shadow of the Boomers
  • “An Army of One”  & “The Power of One”
    • Created in 2001 (Generation Y recruiting)
    • Went along with plenty of supporting ads for “GoArmy.Com” as seen on race cars, rodeo events, magazine ads, etc.
    • High tech and also presenting message to people who are very confident in their abilities.
    • Ads on TV emphasize talking with parents about career since Gen Y often consult parents about major life events

You can see how each campaign was designed for a generation. Would a Traditionalist be recruited by “An Army of One”.  The answer is no; they were into military command structure and loyalty.   Would a Generation X be attracted to “Today’s Army Wants to Join You”. The answer is again no; they were trying to establish themselves from a controlling Boomer and Traditionalist workforce. The campaigns were well thought out and successful for the generation they wanted to attract. The Army re-vamped their slogans (and hopefully their internal operations) to meet the recruiting population.

Don’t Forget…We are Also Merging the Generations2

It’s convenient; to think we have four distinct groups living in well contained boxes.

Wait…before you jump to that conclusion; realize the generations have also been merging and evolving in some areas. While we can respect and see trends for each generation, we can also see how they are changing with the times.  Granny may still have most of her original values and influences; but, she now spends hours each day on the computer sending out emails and forwarding anything she reads, to everyone who has an email. The Generation Y may gather news from the web; but, realize many of those articles were written by traditional news organizations with the values of a newspaper or evening news.  The Boomers have observed the Gen Xers and Gen Y’s ask for perks; and the Boomers learned they could also ask for some special perks.

The Gen X company loyalty was influenced by observing their parents being laid off to job off-shoring and efficiency wars; but the Boomers were the ones actually trying to hold a job during these events. They were trying to provide for their families as the laid off bread-winner. Many generations lost respect for company loyalty during this time.

Every generation seeks flexibility in work; however, they may seek it in different forms with different reasons. The elder employee wants time for family, while the younger may want flexible time for social life or even to take a few months off to fight world hunger or another social cause. The Gen X and Boomers need time to do personal errands and may also be taking care of their parents at home.

Two of the top values of the four generations include family and love.  The top three reasons for happiness in the workplace for every generation are feeling valued, recognition and appreciation, and a supportive environment. The generations will define these values differently but the principal overall value remains the same.

We continue to see clear differences in the generations but must also realize they are not living in a closed community and each generation is evolving.


What Comes Next

In my next article, I will discuss a recruiting plan. Putting everything together for “Recruiting Across the Generations”.

Summary Chart3

  Traditionalist Baby Boomer Generation X Generation Y
Age4 Born Between 1900–

1945, Age in 2014 is


Born Between 1946-

1964, Age in 2014 is


Born Between 1965-

1980, Age in 2014 is


Born Between 1981–

2000, Age in 2014 is


Names Also called Veterans, The Forgotten Generation,  or Radio Babies Also called Me Generation or Boomers Also called Gen X or Gen Xers Also called Millennial or Echo Boomers
How Many5 Census 40.3 million

with 7.7 million working

Census 81.5 million

with 59.9 million working

Census 61.0 million

with 49.4 million working

Census 85.4 million

with 31.9 million working

Major Influences in Their History WW2, Korean War, Neal Deal, Parents survived the Great Depression Civil Rights movement, Cold War, Sexual Revolution, Vietnam War, Kent State shootings, Oil embargo Watergate, Company mergers, Stock Market Crash, Information Age started 9/11, Terrorist Attacks, School Shooting,
Major Influences of Their Culture High percentage served in military with military chain of command, GI Bill gives college possibility,  Expect others to honor their commitments Started the 60 hour work week, Large population and very competitive in work and career ladder Parents Lay Off from Jobs, 24 hour news channels, Internet started, Decline of American economy, Sports and political scandals, Internet a part of daily life Internet and techno is a major part of their life, Global markets, Information available quickly, Slow to leave parent’s home, Twitter, Often discuss major decisions w/ parents
Major Influences During Their Childhood Very little money in household Explosion in number of TV sets, Large population competitive in sports and school Latch-key kids as parents worked, Grew up learning to take care of themselves Everyone gets a trophy in competition sports, Children of merged families, Parents structured their daily lives, Attached to their gadgets and parents, Extreme Fun in TV shows and activities
Work Life Balance Family and job did not mix, Loyal to organization Raised by a stay-at- home mom, Live to work, If I retire I will be broke Both parents worked, Work to Live, Clear balance in work and life, Efficient work but leave on-time Value lifestyle over upward mobility, Strong relationship with parents, Diversified social group of friends
Work Environment Adhere to the rules, Top down (military) management, Age gives seniority, Salary info kept very private from peers, Expect respect for experience, Never discuss salary and benefits with peers Workaholic and afraid to take off, Teamwork oriented, Work up the ladder of management, Takes work home, were warned of possible firing if they ever discussed salary with peers Unimpressed with authority, Do not trust corporations since parents were laid off, Project oriented, Want work to be fun, Will discuss salary/benefits with peers, Expect training so they can move up in career (even if different company), Expect to start near top of pay ladder Tolerant of diversity in workplace (races

& age groups), Multi- task in work duties, Accepts and seeks out leader to be a mentor, Prefers to work around peers their age, Job hopping is frequent, Work should be socially rewarding and fun, Planning multiple careers (not just jobs) within their life, Work with management-not for them, Seeks jobs with stability and meaning, Goal oriented

Communicate Memo, Policy Manual, Inspiring speeches Talk in person, Business meetings, Use proper sentence structure Email, Web sites, Short sentences Email, Text, Twitter
Motivate Value history and tradition, Enjoy motivational message, Place degrees and awards on the wall, Title important as their identity Ask for their input, Paths for early retirement or career change, Cutting edge tools, No micro management Work with peers, Want to be challenged, Boss is a mentor, Cutting edge tools
Career Goals6 Build a legacy Build a stellar career Build portable career Build parallel careers
Benefits Flexible schedule in approaching retirement so they can continue to work with time off Mentoring and coaching opportunities, Post retirement opportunity and pathways, Retirement options Daycare and convenience for child raising, Time off for reward, Employment stability, Healthcare Flex-time, Cutting edge technology, Company supports social causes
Flex-ability Keys Flexible schedules for partial retirement activities Flexing  into retirement, May need flex schedule to take care of parents Flex time to attend parenting activity with kids and household Flex time for social life/fun, Time for self- improvement or social causes



Recruiting Discuss history, Show how they are still valued, Keep discussion conservative but listen to their needs, Do not appreciate games, Ask what motivates them, Formal orientation Retirement options such as 401K, Salary and promotion, Close the deal quick, Healthcare benefits, Ask what motivates them, Formal orientation Portable retirement plans, Lots of training opportunities, Healthcare benefits, Close the deal quick, Stability of company, Ask what motivates them, Orient with short sessions Lots of training opportunities, Close the deal quick, Offer internships for younger to gain interest, Show different career options, Include peers in recruiting events, Ask what motivates them, Orient with experienced mentor
Company Website Options Tradition & History, Show pictures of older workers adding value to the company Benefits , Career paths, Online job posting Lots of web content with media-blogs- etc., Career paths, Highlight opportunity for career advancement, Show if you support community or charity events Lots of web content with media-blogs- etc., Pictures showing diversity of staff, If you support community or charity events then highlight it on the website



1Chambers, M and Vergun, B. “Army Recruiting Messages Help Keep Army Rolling Along.”, October 9, 2006.

2Tolbize, A. “Generational Differences in the Workplace.”  University of Minnesota, August 16,2008.

3Unknown Author.

4Age Calculated in 2014

5Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012

6Lancaster, L and Stillman, D.  When Generations Collide: New York, First Collins Business, 2005.

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Steve Passmore, DPT

Dr. Steve Passmore graduated as a Physical Therapist in 1977 and has enjoyed a unique career from clinician, to management, to operations, to consultant. In 2002 he established Healthy Recruiting Tools and later Focused Mailing Services. Healthy Recruiting Tools provides the “tools” for companies who need to recruit healthcare workers (primarily therapists and nurses). Focused Mailing Services, on the other hand, provides discount direct mail services for any company that needs to advertise by direct mail. We work with mega corporations, to charities, to the mom-and-pop operations who need to grow.

For additional information please feel free to contact at Steve at [email protected], visit our web site at or, or call at 888-993-9675. Also available is an in-service training course for conferences and our book Recruiting in Healthcare: Unlocking the Methods and the Magic 2nd Edition available thru Amazon hard copy or kindle.

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