Who Are the Traditionalists?
Traditionalists, born 1900–1945, currently make up less than 2% of the US workforce (which Pew admits may be a bit of an overestimate) and 9.8% of the population. Though their numbers may be small, they’ve left a lasting legacy on how we approach work. Traditionalists founded many organizations that are still thriving, and their communication and leadership style have left an enduring mark on our modern world, still shaping how we work today.
Savers + Survivors
Think about your family income. Now slice it in half. Do you feel that… the flood of anxiety, stress, and fear washing over as you frantically strategize how to keep your household afloat? For most of us, this is just an uncomfortable exercise. For Traditionalists, it was the harsh reality of life. The Great Depression wasn’t a chapter in a history book; it was the economic condition they grew up in. Between 1932 and 1933, family income was cut nearly in half. Almost a quarter of the country was unemployed. People waited for hours in breadlines—praying that they’d reach the front before the free bread, likely their only food for the day, ran out. Schools closed abruptly, leaving students without instruction and too much time on their hands. As you can imagine, this meant Traditionalists had to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” maximize their frugality, and constantly save their coins; thus the mantra, “Waste not, want not.” Growing up in this environment established strong financial habits early on, especially since Traditionalists didn’t have the safety nets like Social Security, Medicare, or welfare. While few Traditionalists who were teenagers during the Great Depression remain today—they’d be roughly 100 years old—their values and lessons live on in Traditionalist/Boomer Cuspers, Baby Boomers, and the organizations they helped build.
The Common Good
From their depression era childhood to war-torn early adulthood to even now in their golden years, when the nation calls upon Traditionalists to serve, they do so proudly, happily, and without complaint. Though Traditionalists in America make up only 9.8% of the population, they account for 26% of all charitable giving. This generation is accustomed to putting aside their individual needs for those of the greater good. They’ve learned that by coming together as a country, we can accomplish incredible feats (e.g., winning two world wars, surviving the Great Depression, building the A-bomb, just to name a few). More Traditionalist men served in the military than any other generation (50%). They learned to fall in line and do as they were told, otherwise, they were putting their lives, or your comrades’ lives, in danger. Their military experiences taught them that using a top-down approach is the most efficient way to get things done. Traditionalists remain, to this day, a patriotic bunch that puts great stock in the effectiveness of the military chain of command style of management and leadership.
Greatest Generation 1901–1924
The Greatest Generation watched their fathers leave home to fight in the First World War, and they had varied experiences in the very contradictory time of the Roaring Twenties. Women were working and voting, dance halls were popular, and the country grew to be more productive thanks to mechanization, but the Ku Klux Klan and the Prohibition were also very present. This generation survived the Great Depression as young adults/adults, and they soon followed in their fathers’ footsteps to fight in WWII.
Silent Generation 1925–1945
Silent Gens are the youngest of the Traditionalists. They are the original “sandwich” generation, as they found themselves smushed between the war-hero Greatest Gen and the many Baby Boomers. While most were too young to fight in WWII, they were in the midst of their early formative years during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and they were eventually drafted for the Korean War. While adults of the time recited that children were to be seen and not heard, this segment of Traditionalists learned to keep to themselves. In 1951, TIME Magazine described the Silent Generation as unimaginative, withdrawn, unadventurous, and cautious, but upon transitioning into adulthood, this gen developed ambitions to rise above their losses from the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, and WWII, and they went on to raise about half of Gen X, our beloved modern sandwich generation.
Their Lasting Legacy on Workplace Culture
- Chain of Command: With over 50% of Traditionalists being veterans, their military experiences taught them that using a top-down approach was the most efficient way to get things done. The Traditionalist management style is modeled on the military chain of command, and it is still an integral piece to many of America’s largest corporations today.
- Hardworking: Surviving the Great Depression and fighting world wars is no easy feat. Traditionalists worked their tails off to carry America through these tough times, and they felt the rewarding sense of unity and patriotism when their collective work paid off.
- Loyal: Upon making it through their formative years, Traditionalists learned that by putting aside individual wants and working together, they can accomplish amazing things. They seek to partner with large institutions to get things done.