Working with Traditionalists: How Other Generations Can Adapt

Traditionalists are the oldest working generation in today’s professional environments. They bring a wealth of information, knowledge, and experience with them. Therefore, organizations that work with Traditionalists either on their staff or on their Boards are fortunate to have access to their input. In order learn as much as possible from this generation, while they are still present in the workplace, it is critical to know and understand their preferred way of communicating, leading, and working. It is also important to know how and when to adapt your own preferred communication, behavioral, and leadership styles to meet the needs and preferences of this


Typically, Traditionalists prefer face-to-face communication. They grew up with limited communication technology and they prefer to connect in person when possible. If you cannot communicate in person, pick up the phone and call them. Not only is this respectful to their own preferences, it will allow you to increase your verbal communications skills when there is no written form used. Having a personal touch is important, so try not to talk business right away but take time to get to know one another.

When meeting with Traditionalists, some formal protocol is appreciated. Have someone else introduce you, or if you are in charge of the meeting make sure to introduce everyone properly. You can add a personal touch if appropriate. For example, say “This is Betty Jones. She is the current President of our Board of Directors and has been a member of our organization for over forty years. She is here to provide us with strategic details about our new direction. Also, she is an avid fly-fisher!” Additionally, pay attention to meeting protocols such as offering something to drink and sending the agenda ahead of time so that they can prepare. This is, of course, good to do with everyone, but Traditionalists respond especially well to such protocol.

Their leadership style is based on a chain of command and creating contingency plans. They dislike indecisiveness, disrespect, profanity, and poor dress. They appreciate a sense of formality and high quality work. I always think about how Traditionalists dressed, and sometimes still dress, when going on a plane. They dressed very formal, especially compared to today’s travelers. Keep this in mind when meeting with them in person. Forego the jeans and sweaters and wear something more traditionally professional. Finally, use formal address, such as Sir, Doctor, and Madam. Again, the more professional protocol you use, especially in the beginning, will set you up for success when working with them.

Personally, I learned and witnessed that if you include this generation in inquiry-based conversations and discussions that you can learn about additional leadership approaches to increase your own adaptability. Learn from other generations as much as possible, especially the ones that are currently leaving the workforce. There is a lot to be gained from generational diversity and increasing your own ability to meet the needs of every generation in the workplace.


-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

At the ASCP Annual Meeting this October, I had the privilege of facilitating a Roundtable Discussion about diversity in the workplace. I anticipated that we might be talking about issues such as culture, religion, gender, ethnicity, educational level, ability/disability and possibly age and generational issues. I was anticipating a very rich and “diverse” list of topics for this discussion.

To my surprise, generational differences was the primary topic for this Roundtable Discussion. There were nine people at our table with representation from both sub-sets of the Baby Boomer group, as well as, the Gen Xers, and Millennials (Gen Y). There seemed to be a strong disconnect between the Millennials and Gen Xers and the older people in the lab, meaning the Boomers and Traditionalists.

The Traditionalist generation only represents about 5% of the workers in clinical labs, however, the Baby Boomers still represent about half of the work force in the clinical labs. The strongest point of dissention seemed to center on “work life balance.” There was clearly a lack of knowledge and understanding on both parts. Baby Boomers are known for their work ethic and learned well from their Traditionalist’s parents and role models. They identify with their job, profession, and career. This is why we still have Traditionalists and Boomers working in the laboratories. They possess the institutional knowledge, relationships, and a strong sense of loyalty.

The Gen X and Y “work life balance” issue collided with the strong sense of work ethic characterized by the Traditionalists and Boomers. However, once each generation were able to share what they valued, there was a light bulb that appeared at the table and the bridge of understanding began to be built.

So what’s the key to collaboration? It’s all about talking with each other and asking good questions. The Traditionalists can learn from our Gen Xers and Millennials and focus on work life balance. Just as it is important for the Gen Xers and Gen Ys to learn about the institutional knowledge and work practices that can be gleaned from the Traditionalists.


-Catherine Stakenas, MA, is the Senior Director of Organizational Leadership and Development and Performance Management at ASCP. She is certified in the use and interpretation of 28 self-assessment instruments and has designed and taught masters and doctoral level students.