As a vet tech, you will likely find yourself communicating with people from a wide variety of age groups. You’re probably already doing this in your vet tech coursework, to some extent, but the frequency of these cross-generational interactions will only increase as you begin your career. In addition to likely working with coworkers of different ages, you will likely spend a significant portion of your time interacting with clients from across the spectrum of age ranges and generations.
No matter the context, an awareness of generational differences can help improve your communication with your colleagues and clients.
Although there are differing opinions on what exactly constitutes “a generation,” as well as the exact birth years that bracket each group, the following generations are commonly recognized: The Silent Generation, The Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
Each of these generations is associated with specific characteristics, based on what was going on during their childhood. While there can be substantial variation between individuals within a generation, understanding each generation’s basic characteristics 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.” These individuals grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. Members of this generation typically value thriftiness and responsible spending, because they grew up in relatively lean financial times. They place an emphasis on hard work and they tend to respect authority.
The Silent Generation as Clients
Members of the Silent Generation rely heavily on the veterinary team to make decisive recommendations regarding their pet’s health.(1) Unlike some younger generations, which desire a sense of partnership and collaboration, this generation prefers clear recommendations.
These individuals tend to be reluctant to spend large amounts of money in a manner that they perceive as frivolous. This can sometimes lead to a reluctance to provide expensive treatments for their pets, especially if the benefits of that spending are uncertain. Convincing them of the worth of a given treatment or procedure may increase compliance, but it is also important to understand that this generation may just have different priorities than you.
The Silent Generation at Work
While many members of the Silent Generation have retired, some are still in the workforce and may own veterinary practices. Through their experiences with austerity and uncertain economic times, these individuals developed an appreciation for hard work and a stable income. Individuals from this generation typically worked long, grueling hours as a requirement to get ahead in life; they may also expect this from their employees. They hold traditional values and morals, as well as grit and willpower in high regard.
Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
Baby Boomers were born in the post-war years. Their parents were typically frugal, driven by the Great Recession, but the Boomers were born into a time of economic growth. This generation values authority and hierarchy. They also place a significant emphasis on work and careers.
Baby Boomers as Clients
Baby Boomers also grew up before the internet and technology became common aspects of daily life. They tend to prefer face-to-face or telephone communication, instead of email or text messages. Most Baby Boomers also like to have written reference material, such as detailed discharge instructions and client education handouts.
Baby Boomers’ emphasis on respecting authority can present challenges for younger veterinary technicians. If you are young, or look young, some Boomers may be skeptical or distrustful of you because of your age. If you encounter this problem, consider updating your hairstyle or wardrobe to convey an appearance of professionalism or maturity.
Baby Boomers at Work
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 unless there is a significant reason to leave. Keep this in mind when working with members of this generation.
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. They place a high value on family. Unlike Boomers, who define themselves largely through work, Generation X tends to view work as a means to an end.
Generation X as Clients
Members of Generation X typically cite email as their preferred method of communication.(2) They don’t want printed client education handouts (like Baby Boomers), because 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 condition and the individual client’s personality.
Generation X at Work
Generation X views work as a means to an end. Members of Generation X 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 were introduced to the internet and social media during their childhoods. They are used to having constant access to the news and social media. Millennials place a high value on interpersonal connections, especially with friends.
Millennials as Clients
Millennials communicate largely via text message. Studies have shown that Millennials prefer to avoid face-to-face or telephone interactions.(4,5) These individuals typically aren’t interested in 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.
Millennials want to feel a sense of relationship with the veterinary team.(1) They want to feel like a valued partner in their pet’s care, making decisions jointly with the veterinarian and veterinary technicians. In contrast to the Silent Generation, who prefers authoritative recommendations, Millennials seek collaboration with their veterinarian.
Millenials at Work
At work, Millennials typically value skills and engagement over results or adherence to rigid processes. They are known for their emphasis on friendships and often view enjoyment as being just as valuable as productivity. Because they find pleasure in work, Millennials are often highly engaged in their work and seek additional education when possible. They also tend to be more adaptable and creative than earlier generations, bringing these assets to the workplace.
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 early 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.
Generation Z 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, a typical Generation Z client is likely to have already performed extensive online research on their pet’s condition. They prefer to learn in bite-sized pieces; like Millennials, they are less inclined to read a lengthy client education handout.
Generation Z at Work
Given their global awareness, members of Generation Z are comfortable interacting with individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. This can be an advantage in both creating strong veterinary teams and in facilitating client communication.
Generation Z is also very familiar with the concept of multitasking. At work, these individuals may appear distracted, but this is a consequence of the world in which they have grown up. These individuals are often competitive, financially motivated, and creative.
While you’ll often hear stereotypes about all generations, the reality is that each generation tends to bring unique pros and cons to the table. Understanding the underlying motivations and preferences of each generation can help ensure that your interactions 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.