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Silent Generation

From boomers to Gen Z: What about the 'silent generation'?

Sept. 17, 2021
Though there are few of them still working, the silent generation still wields influence in the workplace. They're in the practice because they enjoy it, and patients appreciate this.

People build many of their characteristics on the dominant historical, cultural, and technological trends of their developmental years, therefore different generations often have distinctive values, attitudes toward work, and preferred methods of communication.

Part two of this six-part series on generational dynamics in the workplace focuses on the smallest segment of today’s workforce—traditionalists—but probably one of the most important groups regarding their contributions to 20th century societal advances. For my introduction to this series, read "From boomers to Gen Z: Generational differences in the workplace."

Who exactly are the traditionalists?

Traditionalists are the team members who have been in the workforce the longest. They’re between the greatest generation (born 1901-1924)1 and the baby boomers. Traditionalists are in their mid- to late-70s and make up about 2% of today’s workforce, usually in a part-time capacity.2 This group endured the Great Depression of 1930 and brought the United States out of WWII. Rules of order, respect for authority, and following directions are all important characteristics of traditionalists.3

During a time of tremendous change, traditionalists were shaped by many events, including WWII, the Korean War, President Roosevelt’s New Deal,4 the rise on corporations, and space exploration. They were raised by parents who survived the Depression, so they’re used to lean times.

As a result of these events, traditionalists’ core values and attributes include adherence to rules and conformity with a disciplined and loyal work ethic and dedication to the company/practice. They endure delayed rewards while respecting authority. They don’t question authority and take a duty before pleasure stance to make sure the job gets done.

Traditionalists in the workplace 

Traditionalists have strong workplace views. They focus on the task at hand, they’ve adapted to technology as needed, and they feel that workplace entitlement should be based on seniority and tenure. Their time at work involves punching the time clock and getting the job done. When traditionalists are asked about work/life balance, many say that they keep the two separate. At this phase of their lives, those who are still working want flexible hours and to create balance in their lives. Traditionalists prefer a conservative hierarchal clear chain of command top-down type of management, and they view work as an obligation. 

What do traditionalists look for in a position? Most expect recognition and respect for their experience, and they place value on their work history. They strive for job security and stability, along with an organization that has a good reputation and strong ethics. Traditionalists bring value to the workplace with their experience, knowledge, and intuitive wisdom. Their dependability and detail-oriented loyalty is often sought after by employers. On the flip side, traditionalists do not adapt well to change or ambiguity.

There are some keys to working with traditionalists. They follow rules well but want to know procedures and protocols. They tend to think that work is not supposed to be fun and easily become frustrated by what they see as a lack of discipline, respect, logic, and structure, especially if the workplace is more relaxed or spontaneous. With their conservative tendencies, they like a personal touch in the office setting. They tend to prefer one-on-one communication or interaction versus an email.

They appreciate a show of respect for their age or experience with formalities such as “mister,” “sir,” or “missus.” They expect the use of good grammar and manners and no profanity in the work setting. They want those around them to focus on the words being voiced and not on body language. Traditionalists are slow to warm up but can be enjoyable team members. They tend to listen attentively to constructive criticism on work performance, and when it’s time to reward them, they prefer subtle, private recognition without the fanfare that some of their younger peers often crave.

They are motivated by respect and recognition, and they strive to provide long-term value to the company or practice. Traditionalists make great mentors, and they believe in investing in long-term commitment by showing their support. At this point in their lives, career development is not really an option. Their views on retirement vary but the bulk of the generational group report working for 30 years and then retiring and living off pension and/or savings. Some dental professionals work well into their 70s and 80s because they truly enjoy what they do, and patients see this.

The bottom line about this group is that traditionalists grew up without technology and many other modern conveniences. Countless members have overcome adverse economic conditions in their lifetimes and consequently have established diligent financial habits. They're hard workers with strong core values, dependability, and a wealth of experience. 

Tune in to subsequent articles as I explore each generational group, with baby boomers up next time.


1. Ensign, A. The Greatest Generation: Birth years, characteristics, and history. Family Search. June 13, 2020. Accessed August 29, 2021. https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/greatest-generation-years-characteristics

2. Labor Force Composition by Generation infographic. Pew Research. 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/

3. McCullough K. The Traditionalist Generation–Still working and still killin’ it! Karen McCullough. January 17, 2020. Accessed August 29, 2021. https://www.karenmccullough.com/traditionalist-generation-still-killin/

4. New Deal. Britannica. July 28, 2021. Accessed August 29, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/event/New-Deal

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.