Safety Culture / Psychology / Columns / Systems Thinking

How to manage Millennials

The most highly praised & coached generation comes to work

June 6, 2012
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The workplace is beginning to experience the blending of Millennials with Boomers. Who are these Millennials?

According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are those individuals born between 1981 and 2000 and are coming of age in the new millennium. They are the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history. Currently, they are the most politically progressive (i.e., liberal) age group. They are the first generation in human history to consider tweeting, instant messaging, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Groupon, and Wikipedia as everyday extensions of their social lives. They are the least religiously observant since surveying such behavior began with youths. They are more inclined to trust institutions than were their predecessors.1

A different tribe

Millennials are significantly different than their predecessors, namely Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation X-ers (born between 1965 and 1980). I think these differences are going to matter big time. As Millennial hiring increases, organizations and safety professionals are going to have to realign their approaches to safety initiatives, education, and training.

Probably the most noticeable difference is Millennial’s mastering of electronic devices — cell phones, tablets, computers, video games, etc. Rather than view these devices as distractions, safety professionals need to capitalize on the access they provide to the worker through real time applications for procedures, standards, performance metrics, investigations, feedback, and collaboration with fellow Millennials, both inside and outside the organization.

Online video games offer an excellent venue for safety training tailored to the specific work environment the Millennial encounters. For the past three years, I have used two online safety games as the final exam for my course at Tulane’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health. The safety games challenge what the student has learned through application as opposed to what they have memorized. Because Millennials learn through collaborative, trial and error methods, I believe online games will become the means used to make decisions concerning risk-taking through scenario game play.

Millennials also have an affinity toward social networking. Facebook is the medium Millennials use to stay in touch and up-to-date with their network of friends. Safety professionals need to consider establishing Facebook pages for each of their employees devoted to sharing what is going on in their work and personal lives. What went right, what went wrong?  Don’t mock the media; use it to your advantage.

Upsides and downsides

There are upsides and downsides of this hyperconnected world Millennials thrive in, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.2 

Some of the upsides from a safety perspective include:

1) solving safety problems through cooperative work (crowd-sourcing solutions)

2) searching for safety information online, discerning the quality and veracity of the information, and communicating effectively (digital literacy)

3) synthesizing safety information from inside and outside the corporation

4) thinking of the future strategically instead of tactically

5) concentrating on safety solutions

6) distinguishing between “noise” and the safety message in the ever-growing sea of information.

Dr. Jean Twenge provides downside insight into the Generation Me (GenMe), her term for Millennials.3  Downsides from a safety perspective include: 1) disrespect authority entirely; 2) an overwhelming emphasis on self-esteem (an outcome, not a cause) which builds into narcissism making for difficult relationships; 3) a lack of marketable skills and knowledge when seeking a full-time career in safety due to the belief adulthood starts at 30; 4) more widespread feelings of being alone, anxious, stressed, and depressed as exhibited in suicide being the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds raises at-work behavior concerns involving safety; and 5) lack of a sense of personal responsibility and tendency to blame others for their problems; think about these characteristics when conducting an incident investigation.

Restlessness

Jim Finkelstein with Mary Gavin in their book “Fuse” report 80 percent of Millennials dislike their jobs and the average Millennial will have 8.6 jobs between ages 18 and 32.4 So, how should managers manage Millennials?

Millennials are looking for a reason to believe in your company. For example, what does your company do for society beyond providing employment? Companies need to make a “blatant appeal to Millennials’ narcissistic streak” because they will not settle for any old job.5 Since their narcissism is about self-importance, focus your safety message at a personal level as opposed to some generic one-size-fits-all safety campaign.

Tips for managing

The Internet is replete with articles on tips for managing Millennials.6,7 Here are several that could make a difference in promoting your safety message and retaining your new millennial hires.

  • Learning – Millennials have been raised to believe education is the path to success. Use collaborative approaches to learning, and incorporate graphically stimulating material into your training (e.g., video games).
  • Listening – Many Millennials had doting parents. Millennials have ideas and opinions they are not afraid to express and they don’t like being ignored. Seek their input on safety and listen.
  • Praising – Millennials received constant praise from their Boomer parents. Incentivized safety programs will align with their thirst for being praised frequently.
  • Mentoring – Millennials have been coached their entire lives. Connect a mentor to each Millennial before they start work.
  • Multi-tasking– Millennials are excellent multi-taskers, so don’t hesitate to assign multiple projects to a Millennial.
  • Teaming – Millennials flourish in a team setting, solving problems collaboratively. Challenge your Millennial teams.
  • Messaging – Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation in history. Use and develop apps that suit the needs of the business and your safety management system.
  • When all is said and done, the greatest challenge management will have with Millennials will be in persuading them to stay with the company long-term.

 

References

1 Taylor, P. and S. Keeter. Editors. 2010. Millennials – A Portrait of Generation Next. Pew Research Center. www.Pewresearch.org/millennials.

2 J.Q. Anderson and L. Rainie. 2012. Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. www.pewinternet.org

3 M. Twenge. 2007. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Free Press. New York, NY.

4 Finkelstein, J. with M. Gavin. 2012. Fuse – Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace. Greenleaf Book Group Press. Austin, TX.

5 Ibid. p. 33.

6 Heathfield, S.H. 2012. 11 Tips for Managing Millennials. At http://humanresources.about.com/od/managementtips/a/millenials.htm

7 Klass, T. and J. Lindenberger. February 23, 2011. Advice for Managing Millennials. At http://www.theglasshammer.com/news/2011/02/23/advice-for-managing-millennials/

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