Misconceptions about the millennial workforce is one of the contributing factors to incidents.
Like any great safety professional, you are keen to involve all of your staff in your safety program. Lately, however, you have noticed an interesting trend. A younger workforce is slowly starting to emerge and it is not uncommon now to see younger people in middle management positions. This cohort of young people are considered millennials. Who are these millennials and why is there so much talk about them? They are the generation that will shape and define your company’s safety direction for the foreseeable future. I believe that without their buy-in you will not be able to have a successful safety program at your company.
Millennials are between 20 to 35 years old. They experienced the birth of the Internet, mobile phones, instant and continuous social connectivity and unprecedented economic booms, which translated into job security never seen before. Generally speaking, their philosophy on life is based on the notion that you have to experience life and all that it is has to offer. Travelling, work-life balance, being healthy both in mind and body and focusing on immediate rewards versus long-term payoffs, are important to them. They seek transparency and value collaboration in both their personal and professional lives.
I am a millennial. I distinctly remember, Kazaa, ICQ, Napster, my first Nokia mobile phone, using a 56K dial-up modem and then DSL, ADSL, broadband, WIFI and lastly Microsoft Messenger. These were all new technologies that forced changes upon society. However, growing up with technology versus being introduced to new technology are two different things. The millennial generation is used to instantaneous everything. With the arrival of the Internet, a world was created that brought you news, social events and information instantly.
If you are a safety professional, regardless of where you work, you must embrace technology. As the vice-president of safety of your organization, do you know what mobile phones your workers or contractors are using? Do you know what apps they use to socialize with? How do they obtain their news, their information? Are you familiar with Tumblr? Do you have a Facebook page/group solely dedicated towards addressing safety problems in your company or do you consider that to be too much transparency for your company ? What about Twitter? Everyone is on Instagram, do you have a company account? Pictures are worth a 1,000 words, why don't we let pictures do the talking?
When your workers discuss apps such as Vine and Snapchat do you look confused or are you in the know? The millennial generation and the one following that generation (Generation Z) are the most socially connected generations. It would be a waste to not utilize this avenue of communication with your workforce. Understand the behaviour of your workforce and reach them with timely messages about what your health and safety program is aiming to accomplish.
Implement change faster
There is a good chance your way of communicating with your workforce is sub par. Your message might not be reaching your intended audience. On top of that, your implementation of new initiatives might be painfully slow. Millennials expect change a lot faster than you might be comfortable with. How do we go about solving this matter? This is where things become more complicated.
As a worker I would like to know whether my reports and observations are dealt with in a timely manner. Has your organization closed the feedback loop in a successful manner? It's 2014, millennials lament the fact that they are still using a paper-based system to complete so much of their health and safety paperwork. Numerous times that I have heard the following comments: " Why am I spending so much time on paperwork that I know won't be looked at, and if it is looked at, that real change won't happen until I am long gone?" or " Can I use my laptop or mobile phone to complete some of this paperwork?”
At times I question the direction safety programs are headed in, in terms of the amount of paperwork that must be completed by hand. If your worker leaves your work site and goes back home, he consumes information differently. He digests information differently and will also produce information differently. However, when the worker comes back on site, he is forced to function in an environment that operates completely different from how he naturally would. It is up to your organization to create an environment that is digitally connected and up to date.
Build up social currency
What about social currency? The best approach to take when working with millennials is as follows: You and the corporate team work alongside them, you do not work above them. Yes, you are in charge, you have a safety program to run. You have to initiate safety goals and have everyone work toward those goals. However, be very careful that you do not trigger the ivory tower syndrome. You and your corporate team have to engage your staff. This results in abandoning the authoritarian style of managing programs and individuals from afar and without adequate explanation.
One of the worst faux pas you can commit is telling your staff you are managing your safety program in a particular manner, because historically that is how things have always been done.
Another common mistake is not explaining the "why" to your staff. Explaining why you are promoting x, y, z also allows them to share their views on the topic. Making an effort to understand their point of view will foster a sense of inclusiveness and give them the opportunity to have a voice in your health and safety program.
What’s at stake?
Failure in a health and safety program leads to incidents. An incident can lead to the destruction of property or an injury to the worker. Companies in Alberta are on record-setting pace for being fined for OHS violations. Tragically, this goes hand in hand with workers losing their lives on the work site. In 2010 we saw 145 workers lose their lives. At the end of June 2013, we saw a staggering 103 workers pass away from injuries sustained from work site injuries, past and present illnesses. I could not fathom the idea of someone losing his or her life at my work site. What are some of the challenges you are currently facing in your safety program that may contribute to a lack of understanding between the different generations?
Leo Vroegindewey is the founder & CEO of White Knight Safety.
Leo Vroegindewey is the founder & CEO of White Knight Safety.