“I’m worried that we’re not effectively engaging younger, newer employees in our reliability-improvement initiatives,” lamented a participant in one of my workshops. “How should we be working with them?”
That type of concern and question is becoming more common in today’s older industrial facilities—and for good reason. The ways we employed, trained, and engaged previous generations of employees won’t necessarily work going forward. Now is the time to re-tool our approaches. Here are some insights into those generations and how to engage their members in the workplace.
Think about the differences in your family, i.e., your grandparents, parents, yourself, and your children. Each generation is different, based on experiences with different technologies, socio-economic conditions, educational approaches, and politics, among other things. Let’s look at four generations and various factors that formed their lives:
• Matures (born before 1945): Strong family and community ties, WWII and Pearl Harbor, post-WWII economic boom, manned space flight.
• Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964): Cold War, Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War, political assassinations, feminist movement.
• Gen X (born between 1965 and 1977): Disintegrating families, unemployment, advent of personal computers and the Internet, Space Shuttle explosion, end of the Cold War, Berlin Wall destruction, Gulf Wars.
• Gen Y, aka “Millennials” (born between 1977 and 2000): Oklahoma City bombing, 9-11 terrorist attacks, growth of school violence, global warming, increasing divorce rates, advent of smart phones and other technologies, everybody gets a trophy.
The formative years
Major generational events combine with situations in an individual’s formative years to influence their behaviors, beliefs, expectations, and interests. During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Dr. Morris Massey described three major life-shaping periods:
• Imprint Period (birth to 7 years of age): We absorb everything, accepting much of it as true, especially coming from our parents. The sense of right and wrong, good and bad is learned here.
• Modeling Period (between 8 and 13 years): We copy people, primarily our parents, and other people who impress us (community leaders and teachers, for example). We try different things to see how we feel about them.
• Socialization Period (between 13 and 21): We tend to look for ways to depart from our earlier programming and are significantly influenced by our peers. Media (social-media) messages, especially those that seem compatible with peer-group values, have a major influence.
The challenge in a workplace is how to effectively engage (and value) inherent generational differences, despite the diverse, life-shaping events and experiences of peoples’ formative years.
Focusing on Millennials
Get ready. Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, preceded by record departures of seasoned, skilled workers. The bad news is Millennials often lack the skills, knowledge, and experiences employers are seeking in replacements for their disappearing skilled personnel. While more people may make up the labor pool, it’s the skills shortages (skills gaps) that will prevent them from securing employment. According to a 2015 report titled “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond,” from Deloitte (deloitte.com, New York) and The Manufacturing Institute (themanufacturinginstitute.org, Washington), in the next decade, nearly 3.5-million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled. Because of the skills gap, 2 million of those jobs are expected to remain open.
Knowledge transfer and reliable training processes are rapidly becoming a more-than-compelling need in many business sectors. The traditional training model, however, is mostly inefficient, ineffective, and inconsistent with how Millennials learn. Still, the task at hand involves more than training them—it’s engaging them.
Millennial expert Christine Hassler offers some pointers on how to work with and benefit from this generation. It starts with understanding that members of this group are typically over-parented, self-expressive, optimistic, globally oriented, and wanting to make a difference. They tend to be multi-taskers, entrepreneurial thinkers who value freedom and flexibility, but believe that organizations rarely make use of their skills. According to Hassler, prospective employers can leverage these characteristics by offering what these job seekers want most:
• diverse opportunities based on individuality and creativity
• fair compensation for work that has a purpose
• a great place to work, i.e., fun and ethical
• a sense of belonging and social engagement flexibility.
Attracting Millennials can be enhanced by employers that:
• invest in technology and social media
• have a story to tell, a brand
• leverage current Millennial employees in recruiting
• embrace social and environmentally conscious practices
• re-invent the workplace environment
• address how their goals can be achieved by working here.
Hiring Millennials may require employers to overhaul their practices and:
• recruit, hire, and train for skills mastery
• look for leaders, out-of-the box thinkers, and optimists
• deploy creative application and interview processes
• upgrade employee orientation and on-boarding programs
• include Millennials in interview and selection processes.
Retaining newly hired Millennial employees can be improved by employers that try to:
• make the first day unforgettable
• offer feedback, flexibility, and transparency
• create a fun workplace with a sense of purpose.
Managing Millennials must be accomplished by leveraging their expectations:
• provide frequent feedback
• provide clear expectations with accountability
• coach, rather than direct (see the following “Situational Leadership” model)
• challenge and empower them
• inspire them (be a strategic and aspirational thinker)
• add the human element
• be open and transparent
• show respect for all people at all levels
• get to know employees on a personal level
• conduct weekly check-in
• provide interpersonal training and personal development
• provide technology platforms for feedback sharing.
Developing Millennials into leaders must go beyond traditional programs and begin early in their employment through:
• cross-functional expertise and rotational learning
• apprenticeship models with assigned mentors
• involvement with “high-ranking” executives
• intrapreneurship (defined as workplace innovation)
• ongoing training and personal development
• formal knowledge-transfer processes
• connection to the bigger “why” (beyond “what” and “how”).
Engagement is ‘situational’
Leading and empowering Millennials is where the proven principles of Ken Blanchard’s “Situational Leadership” framework for employee development can come into play. Adapting our leadership styles to fit individual employee needs will be one of the most important methods you can use to engage Millennial employees.
According to Blanchard, the four sequential leadership styles in the Situational Leadership model include directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. These leadership styles are aligned with four sequential stages of individual employee development:
• low competence/high commitment
• some competence/low commitment
• higher competence and/or variable commitment
• high competence/high commitment.
Efforts to empower and engage employees, especially Millennials, must build on what motivates them. How we lead them to be productive members of an organization is an integral part of that motivation. MT
Dr. Morris Massey, What You Are is Where You Were When, 1986 video program, Enterprise Media, MorrisMassey.com.
Christine Hassler, “Bridging the Generational Divide Attracting, Engaging, and Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce” (keynote), millennialexpert.com.
“Situational Leadership” training program, The Ken Blanchard Companies, KenBlanchard.com.
Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at RobertMW2@cs.com.