Myths about Millennials: Workplace Safety Matters

Today, more than one-in-three American workers are millennials.  They represent the largest share of the American workforce. As baby boomers increasingly enter the ranks of retirement, companies are embracing the differences of this younger generation to foster a safe workplace, while increasing employee productivity and engagement.

Defined as those who were born between 1980 and 2000 (give or take a year), millennials are sometimes unfairly maligned as self-absorbed. Given this perceived obsession with “me, me, me,” you might assume this generation exhibits a lack of interest and motivation to participate in workplace safety programs.

In fact, millennials place a higher value on safety than other generation, especially workplace safety – more than any other generation. This may surprise you, but stop and think about it.  This generation grew up in what continues to be some of the most turbulent times.  Such tragedies as the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center attack and conflicts across the globe have ingrained the importance of safety in the minds of millennials since childhood.

That said millennials are indeed unique when compared with prior generations. And that’s a good thing! Savvy companies have seized upon these differences to re-evaluate and refresh their workplace safety training and their corporate communications strategy overall. This change has benefitted all employees.

Consider the following employee engagement strategies to turn millennials into key contributors to your workplace safety team.

Sound Bites vs. Big Bites. Given the vast array of media options today, rolling out the traditional safety training video or an endless PowerPoint® presentation can be as interesting as watching paint dry. Millennials are often blamed for having short attention spans, but the fact is, everyone does.

Texting and Twitter have short-circuited all our communication. YouTube has forever changed the way we think of videos. Online learning has adapted to these changes by serving up short, interactive modules. E-learning offers 24/7 accessibility that enables all employees the flexibility to “self-serve” and learn at their own pace.  Classroom instruction still has its place. Just be sure to divide safety training into several sessions vs. hours-long marathons. Publish safety tips on your company’s electronic display boards to reinforce safety soundbites. Comprehending the information is more important than testing one’s mental endurance.

Release Your Millennials! You know the line, “Teach a man (or woman) to fish…” The same holds true for workplace safety training. Serve up those sound bites and then release your millennials to investigate and report back on ways to improve hazard spotting, accident prevention, off the job safety and other office safety topics. Make it a competition! Break up into teams that are comprised of all generations to uncover safety dos and don’ts. Videotape each team’s ongoing exploration, along with the informative (and often humorous) strategy sessions and publish them on your intranet or digital signage for all employees to see and share.

Be sure to publically acknowledge all participants and ask for feedback during and post-competition. If gamification is not a viable option, allow employees to complete workplace safety programs within a more flexible, yet defined timeframe. Provide links to your company’s intranet or an industry association. You’re paying corporate dues to these organizations. Empower your employees by using the valuable resources that these associations generate on your behalf.

Social Makes Safety Sense. Social media gives everyone the power to speak up, influence, and join the conversation. To millennials, this is second nature. Put these powers to good use! Create a Twitter safety poll to obtain insights into beliefs and training priorities. Have some fun and ask folks to comment on the latest safety goggles and lab apparel posted on your Instagram account. Start a company page on Facebook and invite your employees (and their families) to safety summits using the “Create Event” tool. These suggestions are just a few ways to extend workplace safety from your corporate headquarters to the home and community.  Regardless of what social media channels you use, regularly post safety updates and training opportunities to keep safety top of mind for all employees.

Summarize Safety with Infographics. It’s not just Millennials that prefer visual communication. Infographics have become a very popular way to communicate complex subjects in a simple, digestible way. Corporate communications departments have added to them to their arsenal for sharing important information with employees. Infographics can be used to summarize job safety programs, highlight workplace safety tips and include statistics on accident prevention and healthy living. They are perfect for sharing on social media and are often reproduced in print and posted on employee bulletin boards, or displayed on electronic display boards. Infographics can drive important safety training essentials both on-the-job and at home.

Millennial Mentorship. Often stereotyped as superheroes ready to leap to their next employer in a single bound, millennials arguably get bored more quickly than prior generations. Therefore, keeping these multi-taskers engaged through mentoring and coaching, giving direct feedback, and providing opportunities to learn new technical skills are some keys to retaining this safety-conscious generation.

Temporary assignments, such as working in logistics to observe warehouse safety or enlisting their help to conduct third-party safety audits for other departments, foster teamwork across the company. Furthermore, completing OSHA workplace health and safety training, being part of a successful ISO audit, or earning Six Sigma certification should be worthy of any company’s employee recognition program.  Recognition improves employee morale and increases productivity, while also demonstrating the company’s commitment to developing and investing in the future of its people.

Let them lead! Not only do millennials value being mentored, but they also wish to share their skills with other employees. Reverse mentoring enables older workers to learn from millennials. Whether it’s adopting new software, training on effective use of collaboration tools or adding a social component to a workplace safety initiative, millennials can share their knowledge to help co-create new solutions. Invite millennials to take the lead on specific corporate communication initiatives involving safety in the workplace. Put them in charge of updating safety tips on digital signage throughout your company’s facility.

Finally, although this article focuses on millennials, it’s important to state that intergenerational teams bring out the best in all employees. They allow many views to be heard and can generate unique approaches to workplace safety throughout the company.Not only does it facilitate collaboration across generations, it’s critical to defining an inclusive and dynamic high-performance culture.

Barry Lee Cohen
May 22, 2017

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