Could it be that the same sorts of excitement, when experienced time and again, are no longer experienced as excitement? Does the skydiver with 100 jumps behind him or her feel the same rush of adrenaline or awareness when poised at the door as they might have when braced for their first couple of jumps?

How about you? Does your pulse quicken like it did when you confront what is now a familiar situation that you might have initially thought dire or dangerous?

I work at a relatively young organization, but we have a mix of seasoned professionals of ten-plus years along with newer employees with about three years of experience. At the present time we’re experiencing what I’ll refer to as the “doldrums.” Not that there isn’t enough excitement — I think it may be more a matter of the same sorts of excitement. Not apathy, lethargy or without care. Just “ho hum.”

My assessment leans less toward attitude than it does toward complacency or boredom. What I sense has the feel of laissez faire rather than lackadaisical. Still, this atmosphere appears to me to be trending toward improper response and negative outcomes.

What to do?

Ah, that’s the challenge. “To train, perchance to learn, ay, there’s the rub.” (My apologies to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.) You see, training by any of its names still requires “being there” — a classroom of live bodies not completely adrift in boredom.

There is, of course, a bit more history behind this atmosphere I’m describing. I’ll give you the bullet points, perhaps enough to paint a picture:

  • Previous management regime of accusation and rigidity, armchair quarterbacking and second-guessing;

  • Recent management reorganization;

  • Inappropriate actions and responses in the face of non-nominal, but not unusual events.

    My initial efforts, in addition to assessing the atmosphere for learning, holding talks and consensus-building, are being directed toward research. Before heading into the classroom, I’ve got to learn what I can about building effective supervisory skills, teamwork and confidence in an experienced, skilled and competent group of employees.

    Pretty straightforward, you say? Have you ever attempted to cull through the literature addressing this?

    I’m confident that effective methods exist, but I’m at a crossroads. I want to rather quickly go about addressing the fall-out of our past history. That will set the stage for future learning. But I don’t want to give the illusion that the complacency or boredom has been corrected.

    I’m looking forward to what we might be able to accomplish in the very near future. (What was it that P.T. Barnum said?)

    SIDEBAR: What to do

  • Don’t get too far into training your older workers without acknowledging the value of their experienced job competence. Recognize their collective know-how for what it is — a significant safety advantage. Give credit where credit is due.

  • Workload and time pressures might be greater on older workers, cutting into opportunities to train. One solution is to go with more informal training, especially given their years of experience.

  • Don’t stereotype the older generation. Some baby boomers and beyond will readily adapt to new technologies. No general rules apply. Young and older workers can have similar attitudes — positive or negative — to change in the workplace.

  • Seasoned vets generally prefer hands-on learning in an interactive, highly social setting with coworkers they’ve known for years. Allow for plenty of give and take.

  • Loosen up. These folks have heard it all before. Even when introducing new training topics — recent industrial hygiene monitoring results, new information on musculoskeletal disorders — keep your presentation on the informal side.

  • Be prepared for your vets to voice their opinions more comfortably about things they’re not happy with. Listening is an important instructor skill in any classroom, and it’s a sign of respect when addressing an older “student body.”

  • Encourage your older workers to be contributors and teachers in the classroom. Be open to what they can teach you.

  • Young workers can be seen as needing basic training and skills development. When reviewing the basics with older workers, work in more advanced concerns, such as effects of aging, not taking your body for granted, back care, and risks of running on auto pilot. You have to customize your content.

  • Encourage younger workers to speak up and share experiences and opinions when in a class with older workers. The new perspectives are refreshing and educational.

    Source: Adapted from European Resource Development,