Millennials, people born between 1980-2000, are now the largest, most diverse generation in the U.S. population. Millennials are the new workforce. Will workplace safety programs built and influenced by retiring baby boomers need to change to better serve millennials?
Baby Boomers entered their work careers when OSHA and EPA were being formed. The group mindset of boomers places heavy emphasis on regulatory compliance for safety program management. Millennials grew up with the Internet. Millennials Goggle best safety practices.
Boomers entered their work career when 30-year retirements were expected. Millennials expect many job hops for income or career growth, and they will transport their 401K to different employers.
Boomers often blend work with life activities – they value helping fellow coworkers. Millennials separate work from their personal life – helping others is not a top priority.
Boomers buy the products they make. Millennials buy whatever product they believe offers the best quality and price.
Let’s explore deeper how generational mindsets may influence workplace safety programs.
Fading into history
Large bowling centers that supported company blue-collar boomer bowling teams are old school and fading into history. Millennials like to bowl but not on a company team. Robert Putman’s 2000 book “Bowling Alone” explains this trend. With the decline of company teams, the number of U.S. bowling centers decreased 25 percent from 1998 to 2012.
Many, if not most, of Cloverlanes bowlers belonged to a union such as the UAW. In part due to millennials’ mindset, union membership across the U.S. has fallen to a 100-year low. Michigan doesn’t even rank among the top ten states for union membership.
Other company off-the-job team recreations such as softball and events such as annual company picnics are fading from view, too. Company picnics still exist but rather than stand-alone, often on company grounds, many are held at nearby amusement parks where workers and their families half-heartedly wear company logo shirts, come briefly to eat lunch, hope to win a prize, endure a 20-minute company rah-rah speech – then off the family goes elsewhere into the park to enjoy the rest of the picnic-day on their own. This is another example of millennials wanting to separate work from their personal life.
Do I know you?
Popular boomer TV episodes of the “Flintstones” and “Laverne and Shirley” showed coworkers bonding while on the company bowling team. “Just keep your eye on the ball, Barney Boy” is a phrase millennials might use but don’t know where it came from. When you’re with someone off-the-job -- where there is ample time to get to know them well -- you learn about their life successes and struggles. These are often similar to what you’ve experienced. Trust is formed off-the-job and continues at work. Trust supports peer pressure (either good or bad) on other workers for workplace safety. Take away bonding time and opportunity for comradery and workers know fellow workers only superficially. Subsequently trust exists only superficially.
Lack of trust
Millennials know coworkers superficially. Trust and peer pressure for safety in the millennial world are also superficial. For example:
A boomer safety pro works at the plant level among a growing millennial workforce. The plant has existed for decades and has a very good safety record. It’s a union plant with safety committees, written safety program and an open-door communication policy. But periodically an anonymous worker complaint is sent to OSHA about a perceived safety problem – and periodically OSHA makes an onsite investigation to resolve the complaint. Although complaints are rarely substantiated, the visits by OSHA were nonetheless uncomfortable. Because the complaints are recent events with little historical precedent, the safety pro assumed they came from the growing millennial workforce. Lack of trust appeared to be a major factor driving complaints.
Building a culture for millennials
Here are key actions to address the generation gap:
The plant safety policy was re-communicated by additional postings and emphasized by managers during various meetings to the entire workforce.
The plant safety pro and senior management communicated to the entire workforce that best safety practices would extend beyond minimal compliance with OSHA regulations.
Volunteers from the hourly workforce were solicited to attend OSHA 30-hour training taught by an international union representative. About two-dozen workers, a substantial portion of the workforce, completed the training.
The workforce was informed that they could bring any safety or health concern to any of the OSHA 30-hour trained workers for investigation and correction, if necessary.
The safety pro increased face-time and interaction with workers on all shifts.
An exhibit was built to show how parts manufactured in the plant were eventually joined with other parts to create quality end products used by consumers and industry.
The result? There have been no further anonymous complaints to OSHA. The combination of actions appears to meet a key objective in enhancing trust, and perhaps building better loyalty, among the entire workforce. Are these actions the new norm expected by millennials?
To better understand the motivations and mindsets of workers in the millennial generation, visit: