Common Workplace Characteristics of the Silent Generation
Do you have anyone above the age of 75 years working in the same office with you?
Have you ever noticed any unique characteristics that seem to be the preserve of these people, characteristics that no other generation seems to have?
If you have such a person in your office, they are part of the traditional generation, which is better known as the silent generation.
These are people who were born in the years between 1925 and 1945.
Today, the youngest members of the silent generation are between the ages of 75 to 80. At the moment, they are the oldest generation in American culture.
Most members of the silent generation have already retired, while those who are still in the workforce are expected to work less, acting more as advisors and consultants rather than playing an active role.
The silent generation were born in a period of great uncertainty, a time characterized by the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and the fears of a looming war.
Owing to the hardship they grew up with, most members of the silent generation grew with an appreciation for family and the smaller things in life.
They did not care much for the social pleasures most of us care about today, because they grew up without them.
The silent generation is not very well known, owing to the fact that this generation was awkwardly sandwiched between two prominent generations – the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.
The members of the silent generation were born too late to be part of the Greatest Generation, which fought in the Second World War, and too early to be part of the Baby Boomer generation.
Members of the silent generation only took part in the Korean War, which is often referred to as the forgotten war.
They are also the only generation alive today who never produced an American president.
As a result, the silent generation did not gain much prominence.
Still, this generation made profound significance to the future of the United States.
WHY ARE THEY REFERRED TO AS THE SILENT GENERATION?
I know at this point you might be wondering how the traditional generation came to be referred to as the silent generation.
While it is not certain how this term came to be, a number of theories have been put forward to explain how it came to be applied to this generation.
The first theory claims that the children born during this period were only expected to work hard, follow the orders of their parents and keep quiet.
The general understanding was that children were only meant to be seen, not heard, leading to their being labelled the silent generation.
During the period in which the members of the silent generation were growing up, there was an increased crack on the political freedoms of Americans following the formation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, whose major role was to prevent the spread of communist sentiments within the country.
This made it unsafe for people to share their beliefs and opinions freely lest they end up being labelled communist sympathizers.
People also had to be overly cautious about who they associated with or the places they visited. In effect, members of this generation grew up at a time when the government was ‘silencing’ the people.
Other theories also claim that this term came to be because the members of this generation were more focused on career growth rather than activism, which in effect means that they were silent on social and political matters.
The term ‘the silent generation’ was first used to describe this generation in 1951 by the Times Magazine, in an article that described the children born during this era as cautious, unadventurous, withdrawn, and imaginative, summarizing this description by referring to them as the silent generation. The name stuck from then onwards.
The silent generation is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Lucky Few’ or the ‘Fortunate’ generation, owing to the great timing in which they came of age.
Unlike the members of the Great Generation, who had to wait for the great depression and the Second World War to come to an end, members of the silent generation came of age at a time when the economy was entering a boom following the end of World War II.
In his 1980 book Birth and Fortune, author Richard Easterlin notes that one of the most remarkable thing about this generation was that a young man of about 30 years was capable of living a better life than most of the retired elders.
It is also said that their luck stems from the fact that the birthrates during the 1930s and early 1040s were low due to the uncertainty of the Great Depression and the Second World War, therefore there was increased demand for labor by the time the traditionalists came of age, which led to higher wages for them.
WORKPLACE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SILENT GENERATION
Like I mentioned earlier, most members of the silent generation are currently retired, and those who are still in the workforce are generally managers, partners, senior support staff, consultants, and so on.
Like all the generations after them, the silent generation have their own unique characteristics that define them and make them different from the other generations.
Of course, this does not mean that everyone born between 1925 and 1945 behaves the same way and has the same characteristics.
However, people born within the same generation have some general behaviors, values, and characteristics that distinguish them from people from a different generation.
Some of the common workplace characteristics of the silent generation include:
They Are Very Hardworking
The parents of the silent generation were turn of the century farmers who knew that putting in lots of hard work and grueling hours in the farm was the only way to live a comfortable life.
The silent generation had to help their parents out in the farms, and they adopted the strong work ethic of their parents, which they brought with them to the factories as America shifted from a farming into an industrialized nation.
In addition, the silent generation grew up in harsh economic times due to the Great Depression and World War II, and because of this, they believed that the opportunity to work was a privilege, and they therefore gave their all.
Perhaps this explains why they ended up being considered one of the wealthiest generation.
Like their parents, members of the silent generation believe that they only way to make it in life is through hard work.
They advanced in their careers and earned promotions by putting in long hours at work, and they believe that the same thing should apply to all other generations.
They don’t believe that it is possible to achieve massive success within a short span of time, something that seems to be the preserve of millennials.
In addition, the silent generation believe that work and responsibility should take precedence over everything else.
They Are Very Loyal Employees
According to a survey conducted by Deloitte, almost half of millennials do not plan to be working for the same employer in the next two years.
Only 28% of millennials planned to stay with the same employer for more than five years.
Another report by Gallup also found that more than half of millennials (60%) are open to new job opportunities, and it is no wonder they have been labelled the job hopping generation. To the silent generation, this is utter madness!
The silent generation was brought up on ideals of loyalty to their country, and they brought with them these ideals to the workplace.
They believe that one should be extremely loyal to their employer, and a great portion of them spent their entire working life working for the same employer.
Members of the silent generation are also less likely to change jobs for the sake of advancing their careers.
However, they also expect their employers to show the same kind of loyalty to them.
The silent generation are also very committed to the founding goals and beliefs of the organization they work for.
They Respect Authority
Different generations have different approaches when it comes to authority. The baby boomers were taught to question authority.
Millennials have no problem respecting authority, but they expect authority to show respect to them as well.
Gen Xers learned to ignore authority. When it comes to the silent generation, however, they have deep respect for authority.
At the time they grew up, conformity and conservatism were valued ideals, and so they learned how to toe the line.
They generally like maintaining the status quo without rocking the boat or initiating any conflict at the workplace. They are also excellent team players.
They Are Technologically Challenged
If you are a millennial, you have probably had to show your silent generation grandparent how to do something on their iPhone, on the computer or on the internet.
If you send them a text message, they will probably reply to the text message after two days. If you tell them you can find a date in five minutes by simply swiping right or left on your smartphone, they will probably think you are crazy.
When they silent generation was growing up, most of the technologies we take for granted today had not become mainstream. Actually, some had not even been invented.
Personal computers as we know them today did not emerge until the late 70s and early 80s, and even then, they started gaining prominence in the 90s, at a time when the oldest members of the silent generation were in their 50s.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that mobile phones become widely available, and we are not even talking about smartphones. It wasn’t until the late 90s that the internet became mainstream.
Considering that most of the technologies that we use at the workplace today became mainstream when the members of the silent generation were in their 40s and 50s, it is not surprising that most of them are technologically challenged.
Technology came when they had already grown old, and many didn’t bother learning how to use it.
Considering that they had spent a huge chunk of their working lives without technology, many traditionalists are not very eager to change their work habits to incorporate technology.
This is why someone from this generation will still ask you to call them or write a physical letter (who still writes this?) when an email or text message would have been more convenient.
On the flip side, since they got used to working without the convenience of modern technology, they are more accustomed to dealing with people in person and therefore boast excellent interpersonal skills, unlike most millennials and generation Zers who find this to be a great challenge.
They Are Traditional
The traditional way of doing things may be very inconvenient today, but it worked for silent generation during their time, and they are therefore a bit reluctant to let go of the traditional way of doing things.
They prefer the organizational hierarchy of the traditional office, which is going obsolete, over the horizontal structure that a number of companies are adopting today.
They prefer talking in person rather than calling or sending an email. They believe in the trustworthiness of brick-and-mortal institutions over the convenience of online portals.
They prefer the traditional 9 -5 working model over the remote or flexible working models. They believe that work is defined by the amount of hours put in rather than productivity regardless of time input.
They Have Willpower
The silent generation grew up during a time of adversity. They saw their parents struggle to raise them while still grappling with the economic turmoil of the Great Depression.
They saw a time when jobs were scarce for their parents.
Many of them had to join their parents in toiling on the farms from a very early age.
Because of this, members of the silent generation learnt how to be tough very early on.
They are very determined and will do everything it takes to succeed in their career, whether they are happy with what they have to do or not.
At the time they were coming of age, there still weren’t so many jobs to go around, therefore they took whatever was available and were grateful for it, even if it wasn’t necessarily appealing to them.
Therefore, you are unlikely to see an employee from the silent generation quitting when the going gets tough.
They will probably just stick it through with the hope that things will change eventually.
They Are Not Wasteful
Like I mentioned earlier, members of the silent generation grew up in harsh economic times, and they therefore learnt how to be thrifty.
They know that things don’t come by easily, and they are therefore very careful with what they have and will try as much as possible to avoid unnecessary wastage.
For instance, they will hang on to the same car for 10 years if it works just fine, instead of trading it in for a newer one every couple of years.
They will diligently take care of what they have so that it can serve them for longer without them having to buy new things.
Of course, younger generations might find this habit to be annoying.
Men Are More Likely To Be In The Workforce Than Women
Today, in the world of feminism, the notion that men should work while women take care of families has been thrown out the window.
According to Pew Research, 78% of millennial women are employed, and only a meager 26% are not in the workforce.
However, things have not always been this way.
The silent generation grew up in a pre-feminism world when women were still expected to stay at home and take care of their families.
According to the same research by Pew Research, back in 1965, when most members of silent generation had reached their working years, a whopping 58% of women were not part of the workforce.
Even for silent generation women who worked, they were generally expected to hold ‘female’ jobs such as being secretaries, nurses, or teachers.
What this means is that, even today, you are more likely to find more silent generation men in the workforce compared to women.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY MANAGE YOUR SILENT GENERATION EMPLOYEES
If you have some silent generation employees in your workforce, you will need to take a different management approach when dealing with them compared to dealing with younger generations, such as gen Xers and millennials.
Taking the right approach to managing your silent generation workforce is very important, since a poor approach to managing them can lead to loss of employees in senior positions that you might have a hard time replacing.
As we saw earlier, silent generation workers learnt the importance of authority from a very young age.
Therefore, at the work place, they expect their managers (authority) to be very direct and very specific in their instructions and what they expect from the silent generation workers.
They will expect you to provide them with clear, long term goals, and will also expect you to be fair and consistent.
They prefer organizations with a command-and-control style of leadership where the decisions are made by a few people within the organization.
Most silent generation workers have a strong dislike for work environments that are open and empowered.
This generation also learnt to tackle tasks and challenges logically, and will therefore expect you to take a logical approach to everything. It is also good to remember that they grew up without technology.
Therefore, they will prefer in-person interactions rather than phone calls, emails and video conferences.
Silent generation workers are also not very open to change, and you should therefore exercise some degree of caution when implementing anything that will have a huge impact on their ordinary way of doing things.
Considering that they are the oldest generation in the workforce, they will expect you to respect their age and long experience.
Owing to their age and experience, they will most likely be in managerial or other senior positions, and it is good to show that you appreciate their leadership skills.
Below are some more tips on how to effectively manage silent generation workers:
- Make sure that your company’s policies and procedures are well articulated.
- While they have respect for authority, they don’t like feeling like they are being put under a lot of pressure. Therefore, while it is important to be firm with them, exercise some measure of patience when dealing with them.
- Since they learnt to respect authority and follow everything that comes from the leadership, they will expect others to respect them and follow their directions when they are in leadership positions.
- They want to know that their knowledge and experience is appreciated. A good way to take advantage of this is to implement a mentorship program that allows the silent generation workers to pass on their knowledge and wisdom to younger generations. This also provides them with an opportunity to learn about technology from the younger generations.
- If you are implementing significant changes in policy or procedures, make the change gradual and put some measures in place to help silent generation workers navigate through the changes.
While we have in this article looked at some of the common workplace characteristics of the silent generation, it would be a fallacy to claim that this should give you the full picture of who your silent generation employees are as individual people or as individual workers.
Generally, generational characteristics are influenced by things such as historical occurrences, the state of the world at the time the generation was born, preferred childhood raising styles, and so on.
While these influences may lead to some similarities among the group of people born within the same time period, they don’t take into account the individual experience which also play a significant role in shaping and molding a person’s character.
The point here is that, while your silent generation workers will have many similar characteristics, you should still take their individuality into consideration.
You cannot expect all your silent generation workers to have the same aspirations, same desires, same worries and fears, and so on.
Therefore, in as much as their common traits put them in one general category of employees, don’t forget to treat each of them as an individual.
Take the time to engage with each of your silent generation workers and get to know them as a person.
This, coupled with their generational traits, will make it easier for you to manage your silent generation workers.
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