Thought Leadership

Are your millennial employees ready to lead?

September 19, 2013
It was only a matter of time!

The Millennial generation has been pouring into the workforce since the late 1990s and increasingly they're being promoted to supervisory and management positions.

That’s right where we need the most day-to-day safety leadership and support.

And by 2014 fully 36% of the US workforce will be composed of Millennials. By 2020 approximately 46% of all workers will be Millennials. This means that Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and to a lesser extent the Mature generation, will come under the direction of Generation Y supervisors before long, if they haven't already.

If the perceived differences between Millennials and their predecessors are real, there could soon be rising tensions in workplaces across America.

There are those who believe that the Millennial generation will prove to be disastrous as leaders and we will see the effect in safety. They're generally believed to be well-educated and technologically savvy, but also over-confident, ambitious and filled with unrealistic expectations about their careers. That may all be true, but the biggest issues facing Millennials being considered for a workplace promotion revolve around their possible lack of readiness for the position.

Generation Y supervisor candidates could be:

Unprepared for greater responsibility - There's a big difference between being responsible for your own efforts and taking on responsibility for the performance of a team of employees. Millennials will have to understand that as supervisors they will sink or swim based upon the efforts of others. Can you see the effects with safety?

Intimidated having to supervise older workers - It can be difficult to command the respect of older, more experienced employees. Millennial supervisors have to find ways to command respect and loyalty from the beginning. If they don't, their tenure in management will be short and less than sweet!

Overly "familiar" with their employees - Millennials are famous for projecting a casual attitude and 'familiar' demeanor. But history suggests that it's best to keep direct reports at a professional but warm distance in order to maintain a sense of authority. It could be challenging for Millennial supervisors to maintain a delicate balance between friendliness and authority, especially when it comes to safety and the need to counsel and discipline.

Vulnerable to stereotypes - All of the discussion about differences between the generations over the past few decades has spawned a lot of stereotypes that have been plastered upon various generations. Millennials increasingly dislike being pigeonholed, but in reality each generation has been stereotyped and Millennial supervisors need to avoid falling into that trap when they deal with other generations as well.

Don't let your Millennials fall into any one of these traps. Discover their talents, coach them up and groom them to be the best future front-line safety leaders of your company.

Visit for information and to register for David Sarkus’ two-day course: Relationship-based Soft Skills for Safety Professionals, Oct 22 and Oct. 23, Renaissance Hotel, Pittsburgh, PA.

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