Managing Four Generations in the Workplace

We have four generations in the workplace today! Dentists have never before had to manage such a diverse set of beliefs, values and communication styles all at once. But if we take steps to bridge the gaps, we can leverage the best attributes of every generation: loyalty, innovation, passion, professionalism, and strong work ethic to cultivate a workplace super-culture.

The time period we are born in affects so much of our outlook, mindset, and beliefs as we develop in the context of events around us. Each generation is affected by things like the state of the economy, whether it’s a time of war or peace, and advancements in technology. And the generation raising us imposes their belief systems and what they would like to change. When we understand a person’s wants, needs, and where they come from, we understand more of what drives them, both personally and professionally, so we can better manage these incredibly diverse teams!

Here’s a look at how today’s generations break down contextually.

Baby Boomers (80 million born between 1946-1964)

Baby boomers are the longest-working group in the workplace, often staying in the same company, in several different roles, for as long as possible. They don’t aspire to retire as early as their parents and will likely outlive them by 10 to 25 years. They know the benefits of staying active in later years.


  • Productive and hard-working in the workplace – willing to put in long hours
  • Very loyal to their companies
  • Make long-term commitments
  • Adept at breaking down large projects and delegating appropriately
  • Communicate in a direct and professional manner – preferably in-person

Generation X (60 million born between 1965-1980)

Also known as the “Sandwich Generation,” Gen X’ers make up one third of the workforce and tend to be the “meat” of the operations while also holding the most leadership positions. They don’t complain much and are good at figuring things out on their own with little support. In a rapidly-changing digital economy, managers find their innovation and resourcefulness indispensable.


  • Seek work/life balance
  • Independent
  • Creative and problem solving, especially with few resources
  • Don’t like being micromanaged

Millennials or Gen Y (75 million born between 1981-1996)

Millennials have gotten a bad rap, but don’t be fooled. They are the purpose-seekers and dreamers who want their life to be about more than just money.


  • Follow their own set of rules
  • Love collaborating
  • Desire transparent relationships with managers
  • Prefer digital communication, except in critical conversations
  • Goal-oriented
  • Great multi-taskers
  • Technology attitude: “there’s an app for that!”

Generation Z (65 million between 1997-2015)

Don’t be fooled by the fact that this generation was pretty much born with a phone in their hand. They are #woke and have #goals. They are more like The Silent Generation: more practical and frugal and appreciate security more than previous generations.


  • Motivated by money (grew up in 2008 recession)
  • See the world through Instagram influencers who made money on fame
  • Greater purpose than salary, even more so than Millennials
  • Willing to work hard
  • “Show Me” generation: love step-by-step instructions and teach themselves how to do things via YouTube and Instagram

The 4 Generations: At-a-Glance

Chart depicting four generations in the workplace.

A Gray Area: “Cuspers” (born within 3-5 years of the generation ranges)

While the generational differences may seem clear-cut, there are those who find themselves somewhere in the middle. These are your in-betweeners – your “cuspers” – who straddle the line of two generations and share characteristics from both. They are great to have on your team because they bridge gaps between team members of different generations, and can empathize with and understand both perspectives. Cuspers are excellent mediators, translators and peacemakers, especially when employees clash or conflicts arise. Of course, there are always exceptions to the stereotypes, so it’s important to ask and not just assume.

Are You Prepared for What’s Coming?

Currently, Millennials and Gen Z account for just over one third of the workforce. In the next six years, that number will skyrocket to a whopping 75 percent! We’re already starting to see higher turnover rates among the youngest dental teams.

I frequently hear from young dental professionals that their Boomer dentists and even some Generation X dentists are not willing to change to accommodate the needs and values of the new workforce (ex: flex-time, being a part of the big picture). Dentists unwilling to change their mindset and accommodate these needs will experience a loss of productivity and higher turnover. Those that do make the shift will continue to attract and retain the best young hygienists and office talent.

Stay Current & Competitive to Attract and Keep Top Talent

The good news is, there is plenty you can do to bring harmony to a multi-generational team and make your office more attractive to potential new hires:

  • Understand what motivates each team member and help them grow to reach their professional and personal goals.
  • Learn how individual team members communicate. Personality testing like DISC assessments will tell you a lot about a person’s communication style.
  • Know what your team members value. Is it flextime? Work-life balance? If you can accommodate it, or at least try to, your team will appreciate it.

The more you understand your individual team members, the happier you all will be. DentalPost offers free online tools and resources, including Emotional Intelligence, DISC, Core Values, Workplace Culture and Skills assessments for dental professionals. These make for great individual and team exercises to help you and your team better understand yourselves as individuals and as a collective unit.

Show Up & Lead

We are all contagious. It is our choice how we show up and lead our team.

It takes work to bring together a high-performing team, but the effort will yield BIG rewards as you,  your team, and your patients benefit and reap the rewards of a thriving and growing dental practice!

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About the author

Tonya Lanthier is founder and CEO of DentalPost, the dental industry’s premier and largest online and mobile job board, connecting and educating more than 850,000 job seekers and 60,000 dental offices in the U.S. and Canada. A Registered Dental Hygienist, Tonya built DentalPost from a passion to improve lives and help dental professionals build teams that excel through metric-based career matching tools, including emotional intelligence and personality tests, core values, skills and work culture assessments.

About DentalPost

DentalPost is the dental industry’s premier and largest online and mobile job board, connecting and educating more than 850,000 job seekers in the U.S. and Canada to build better places to work through teams that excel. Founded by Tonya Lanthier, a Registered Dental Hygienist, DentalPost leads the industry in metric-based career matching including personality tests as well as values, skills and work culture assessments to assist in selecting the best match for each position.