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From boomers to Gen Z: Generational differences in the workplace

Aug. 23, 2021
Is your team made up of all different ages? Here are some tips to help everyone get along, including understanding what motivates each generational group.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a six-part series about generational dynamics in today’s workplace. Watch for future installments on DentistryIQ from Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA.

As dental professionals, we need to take a step back and look at the big picture of who makes up our dental teams. As a dental pro of almost three decades, I’ve seen the introduction of new generations into the workplace throughout the years. Today's workforce is actually made up of five generations of personnel, each with their own unique characteristics.

There is much discussion about the role of generational experience and expectations when the dental industry recruits, hires, trains, and manages new team members. Are the differences truly generational, or are they just the stage of life a person is in? We have distinct needs at different stages in our careers. We typically want to absorb everything we can early in our careers, strive for progression during mid-career, and, with familial responsibilities, we may want a greater work-life balance.

Today’s workforce is actually made up of these five generations:

  • Traditionalists (also known as the silent or greatest generation): Born 1925 to 1945, traditionalists make up approximately 2% of the workforce as many are working beyond retirement age,1 whether due to necessity or love of the profession.
  • Baby boomers: Born 1946 to 1964, boomers make up approximately 25% of today’s workforce. About 65% of boomers working today plan to work past age 65.2 Around 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age each day.3
  • Generation X: Born 1965 to 1980, gen Xers make up approximately 33% of today’s workforce and are the smallest generation of the five in terms of numbers. They’re credited with bringing the work-life balance to the workplace. Gen Xers make up the highest percentage of startup founders at 55%, and they will outnumber baby boomers by 2028.4
  • Millennials (also known as generation Y): Born 1981 to 2000 or 1981 to 1996, depending on the source, millennials currently make up 35% of the workforce.1 By 2025, millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce.Approximately 15% of millennials ages 25–35 still live at home with their parents.6 In 2016, millennials became the largest generation in the labor force.1
  • Generation Z: Born 2001 to 2020 or 1997 to 2012, again depending on the source, gen Zers make up 25% of the US population, outnumbering boomers and millennials.1 But they currently make up only 5% of today’s workforce. About 40% of gen Z wants to interact with their boss daily or several times a day,7 and 84% assume their employers will provide formal training at the start of their employment.8

Each generation has had different experiences, educational backgrounds, and cultural events through the years that shape their perspectives. Although every member of a generational group is unique, these characteristics in general create group predilections about how a generation wants to be motivated, their preferred types of workplace interaction, and what makes them tick.

Understanding and accommodating generational tendencies, such communicating their values and beliefs, will help promote an environment of team satisfaction and retention. Facilitating the growth and development of dental teams is important regarding leadership roles, management styles, and motivational factors. Perks or benefits may need to be adapted to each particular generational group of team members. This isn’t easy with a generationally diverse workforce, especially when it’s not fully understood what characteristics each group brings to the team.

Some recommendations for leaders supervising multigenerational teams are:

  • Make the most of generational differences in the workplace by using these differences to enhance the work and productivity of the entire team, thus optimizing patient care.
  • Be more conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of each group, especially regarding technology, work ethic, and motivation. When you understand each group, team harmony can be enhanced.
  • Encourage each team member to learn from one another. This can assist with approaching conflict resolution when each is able to understand where the other is coming from.
  • Employ high tolerance to avoid generational struggles so as to build an effective team that can set aside differences and work cohesively.

With the changing landscape of competitive recruitment, sustainability of a particular work environment could be achieved by retaining the best talents long-term, especially in areas suffering from dental professional shortages. By understanding each group’s distinctive characteristics, needs, and wants, you can work with individual team members to motivate them. Tune in to subsequent articles as I explore the uniqueness of each generational group, beginning with the traditionalist generation, next time in Generational dynamics in dentistry.


1. Labor Force Composition by Generation infographic. Pew Research Center. May 11, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/ft_15-05-04_genlaborforcecompositionstacked-2/ 

2. Rampton J. Different Motivations for Different Generations of Workers: Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Inc. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.inc.com/john-rampton/different-motivations-for-different-generations-of-workers-boomers-gen-x-millennials-gen-z.html 

3. Fry R. Millennials projected to overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. Pew Research  Accessed on August 11, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/28/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers-as-americas-largest-generation/ 

4. Searing L. The Big Number: Millennials to overtake boomers in 2019 as largest U.S. population group. Washington Post. January 27, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-big-number-millennials-to-overtake-boomers-in-2019-as-largest-us-population-group/2019/01/25/a566e636-1f4f-11e9-8e21-59a09ff1e2a1_story.html 

5. Big demands and high expectations: The Deloitte millennial survey. January 2014. Accessed August 11, 2021.  https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-dttl-2014-millennial-survey-report.pdf 

6. It’s becoming more common for young adults to live at home – and for longer stretches. Deloitte. May 5, 2017. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/05/its-becoming-more-common-for-young-adults-to-live-at-home-and-for-longer-stretches/  

7. Morris C. 61 million Gen Zers are about to enter the US workforce and radically change it forever. CNBC. May 2, 2018. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/01/61-million-gen-zers-about-to-enter-us-workforce-and-change-it.html  

8. Lyons L, Lavelle K, Smith D. Gen Z Rising. Accenture. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.accenture.com/t20170901T082427Z__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-50/Accenture-Strategy-Workforce-Gen-Z-Rising-POV.pdf#zoom=50  

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA, CDA, RF, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a senior moderator of the Dental Peeps Network and a past president of the ADAA.

About the Author

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA, CDA, RF, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a senior moderator of the Dental Peeps Network and a past president of the ADAA.