Original research
Understanding generational differences

It is always interesting to hear veterinarians seeking to employ new graduates talk about “these young kids …” and how things are so different nowadays. I have heard in the hallways, “next time a prospective employee asks me about vacation time I will tell them ….” As our colleague, Larry Firkins, stated in his 2013 Business Management AASV Seminar, “Every generation that enters the workforce causes stress, frustration, and criticism from the generation already employed.1” This is not a unique situation or something “wrong” with the current generation of new graduates. This is simply part of the usual cycle of life.

The concept of generations is based on the fact that individuals born at a particular time frame are exposed to a unique mix of factors at a particular stage in life forming their general attitudes and behaviors. As a cohort, these generational groupings help us better understand differences in strengths and weaknesses between different individuals of different ages. As with any summary, when we try to generalize behaviors, we must recognize not all individuals in a cohort will have the same values or behaviors.

What is important to recognize is that these differences between generations are real; especially when it comes to values or how they define success. Our own perspective and experience affect how we work with others. This often leads to two major mistakes. First, we assume that others define success or happiness the same way we do. We believe the best way to become successful is to work 70 to 80 hours a week, leading to more income for our clinic and thus higher profits, just like we have been doing. Millennials (born 1981 to 1997) value time off. It is not that they are lazy; their goals in life and how they define success are different.

Second, we assume that for others to achieve the same “learning” or “experience” that we have achieved they must go through the same painful process and mistakes we did. If we had to climb up a large mountain to get to the other side, we do not feel it is right for the newer generation to just be able to go through the newly constructed tunnel at the base of the mountain. If the goal is to get to the other side of the mountain, we should be happy that someone has figured out a different way to do it, or that technology today can help minimize obstacles for others rather than resent them having it “easy.”

Understanding generational differences is critical in allowing us to better communicate and move forward not only with our prospective employees, but also with our clients and consumers. We have learned the value of personality testing in the workplace. Personality testing is not done to identify who is right and who is wrong. Personality testing is not done to decide whom you should hire. Personality testing is done to better understand how to better communicate and motivate others within a workplace. The same is true about different generations. It is not about one generation being better than the other, but rather simply recognizing they are different. As such, we must adapt our approaches to better connect and better stimulate them so we can all achieve our own goals. After all, since early 2015, Millennials have been the largest share of the American workforce.


1. Firkins LD. Managing generational expectations. Proc AASV Pre-Conf Sem 7. San Diego, California. 2013:3–4.

Alex Ramirez, DVM
AASV President