As a vet student, and eventually as a veterinarian, you will spend a significant amount of time interacting with people from different generations. Intergenerational conflicts may arise in interactions with your classmates or professors, in dealing with your employer or coworkers at your first job, and in client interactions.
No matter the context, being aware of generational differences in communication can help improve your conversations with colleagues and clients.
Although there are differing views on what exactly constitutes each generation, the following generations are commonly recognized:
- The Silent Generation
- The Baby Boomers
- Generation X
- Gen Z
Each of these generations is associated with specific characteristics, based on events and circumstances during the formative years of individuals born during that period. While there is substantial variation between individuals, understanding the basic characteristics of each generation can help you relate to these individuals more effectively.
Silent Generation (Born 1925-1945)
There are many possible explanations of how this generation received its name, but some attribute it to the fact that the children of this generation were expected to be “seen and not heard.” The Silent Generation grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. These experiences imbued many members of this generation with a sense of thriftiness.
As pet owners, members of the Silent Generation tend to rely heavily on their veterinarian to make authoritative recommendations regarding their pet’s health.(1) Unlike some younger generations, which desire a sense of partnering with their veterinarian, this generation is unlikely to research their pet’s condition independently. They expect their veterinarian to provide them with relevant information and present a detailed diagnostic and/or treatment plan.
Given their desire for thrift, members of the Silent Generation may be hesitant to spend large sums of money on their pets. If you can provide clear benefits associated with expected treatments, this may improve their comfort with approving necessary diagnostics and treatments. In some cases, however, these generational differences may be difficult to overcome.
While many members of the Silent Generation have retired, you may still find yourself working for, or alongside, individuals from this generation. Members of the Silent Generation are known for being hardworking. Through their experiences with austerity and uncertain economic times, these individuals developed an appreciation for steady work and a steady income. Individuals from this generation typically worked long, grueling hours as a requirement to get ahead in life and they tend to expect the same from others.
Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
Baby Boomers were born in the post-war years. Their parents were likely frugal, driven by the Great Recession, but the Boomers were born into a time of economic growth. This tends to affect their mentality surrounding work and spending. Baby Boomers are frequently very career-driven; they often embody a “live to work” mentality. Baby Boomers also tend to value authority and hierarchy.
As clients, Baby Boomers typically prefer face-to-face or telephone communication, instead of email or text messages. Like the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers grew up before the internet and technology became a common aspect of daily life. Most Baby Boomers also like to have written reference material, such as client education handouts.
Baby Boomers’ respect for authority can sometimes present a problem for new grad veterinarians. Clients from this generation may be skeptical or distrustful because of your age. If you encounter this problem on a frequent basis, consider updating your hairstyle or wardrobe to convey an appearance of professionalism or maturity.
At work, Baby Boomers are known for their job loyalty. While members of more recent generations are more likely to change jobs in search of “greener pastures,” Baby Boomers are more inclined to stay with a single job for their entire career, unless there is a significant reason to leave.
Generation X (Born 1965-1980)
Generation X lived a mostly analog lifestyle during their childhood years, but experienced the development of the internet as young adults. Raised by the Baby Boomers, who placed a high emphasis on work and responsibility, Generation X has rebelled against this by seeking a greater degree of work-life balance. While Baby Boomers “live to work,” Generation X is more likely to “work to live.”
Members of Generation X typically cite email as their preferred method of communication.(2) They don’t want printed client education handouts (that would be something extra to keep up with or recycle!), but they do appreciate having written information emailed to them for later reference.
Generation X clients often do their own research before coming to the veterinarian. They may already have a theory about the cause of their pet’s illness and what diagnostics or treatments they are willing to accept. This can be a benefit or a drawback, depending on the pet, the medical condition, and the client.
At work, Generation X is known for their desire for work-life balance and their emphasis on family. They are results-oriented and typically value ideas over titles and authority. Generation X is the first generation to focus on working “smarter, not harder,” with a shift away from an emphasis on work hours and towards an emphasis on results.(3)
Millennials or Generation Y (Born 1981-1996)
Millennials have a much greater familiarity with technology than previous generations. They are used to having constant access to the news and social media. They communicate largely via text message and expect rapid responses from others. Studies have shown that Millennials prefer to avoid face-to-face or telephone interactions.(4,5) These individuals don’t typically want printed or emailed informational content; instead, they’ll conduct their own online search for any information they need. Like Generation X clients, a Millennial client is likely to have already performed extensive online research on their pet’s condition.
As clients, Millennials want to feel a sense of relationship with you.(1) They want to feel like a valued partner in their pet’s care. They want to have time to discuss their pet’s care, make decisions jointly, and otherwise experience a sense of partnership.
At work, Millennials typically focus on “play first, then work.” They are known for their emphasis on friendships. They typically value work engagement and the acquisition of new skills over measurable results or adherence to rigid processes.
Generation Z or Post-Millenials (Born after 1997)
This generation is the first to grow up entirely in a technological, internet-based society. They have had access to electronics since childhood and typically have a large amount of trust in information that is available online. Members of Generation Z often have significant global awareness, which is largely attributed to their exposure to online news and social media.
As clients, members of Generation Z typically prefer online communication and expect rapid responses from anyone that they are conversing with online. Like Generation X and Millennials, Generation Z clients are likely to have already performed extensive online research on their pet’s condition. They prefer to learn in bite-sized pieces; like Millennials, they may be less inclined to read a lengthy client education handout.
At work, members of Generation Z are comfortable interacting with individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. This can be a significant benefit when interacting with both clients and coworkers. Additionally, Generation Z is very familiar with the concept of multitasking. Individuals from this generation are often competitive, financially motivated, and creative.
While you’ll often hear stereotypes about all generations, both good and bad, the reality is that members of each generation bring unique pros and cons to the table. Understanding the underlying motivations and preferences of each generation can help ensure that your interactions with your employer, coworkers, and clients are as productive and beneficial as possible.
- Heath, S. 2016. Understanding Generational Differences in Patient Engagement. Patient Engagement.
- NTT Data. Mind the Gap: Communicating Through the Ages.
- BankMyCell. Why Millennials Hate Talking on the Phone.
- Business Wire. 2018. Millennials as Bosses: Forget Face-to-Face, Online Messaging New Norm for Communicating with Direct Reports, According to Korn Ferry Survey.