I fall into that weird "not a Baby Boomer but not Gen X either" age, having been born at the tail end of one era and the start of another. I understand the Baby Boomers and I understand the Gen Xers, but I'm having a tough time with the Millennials and I probably will be completely clueless about the generation that comes after them.
Millennials often get a bad rap. They are called "crybabies" and entitled and to some extent, it's true. Many remain living in their parents' (comfortable) homes longer than previous generations because to move out would lower their standard of living, the ones I've interviewed for jobs expect paychecks much larger than their level of work experience dictates and they require a fair amount of positive reinforcement.
I'm not a big sports fan, but I couldn't help but notice an AP headline that announced, "Changes Coming After Bowl System Reaches Record 40 Games." That's right; there now are 40 bowl games. Not to date myself, but I remember when there were a few: the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl… Somehow a few became 40.
Obviously, this is happening because large corporations want to sponsor these games and schools and conferences don't want to turn down sponsorship money and broadcast fees.
But perhaps the quote that struck me most in the article was this one: "South Florida Athletic Director Mark Harlan said it was tough to hear his counterpart at Temple, Patrick Kraft, recount the story of how he told last year's team it wouldn't be playing in the postseason."
"We have to make sure 6-6 teams are rewarded,' Harlan said."
Let's think about that statement. We have to make sure that teams with mediocre records – borderline LOSING records – are rewarded? Really?
Generally, winners are rewarded for their hard work. But that isn't the case anymore, and we have a generation of young people who believe that that they should get a participation trophy simply for showing up to work.
That said, the news isn't all bad. Millennials have been praised as the most creative generation, the most civic-minded generation, the most involved generation, and that's all true from my perspective. I'd like to add they also probably need the most communication of any generation.
My former boss was famous for not praising his employees. When asked why, his response was: "I'm not praising someone for doing their job that they get a paycheck to do."
That won't fly with Millennials. They need to be told they're doing a good job (or a bad job) without waiting for an annual review. They need to feel as if their contributions are appreciated (hence the importance of those participation trophies). They need to feel as if they are a part of the team and that their input has value.
Gary Wegryn spent 41 years working for three railroads, eventually becoming a senior manager and moving into safety for Norfolk Southern. Now retired from the railroad, he's a consultant with G.K. Safety Incentives. He acknowledges that many Millennials feel like "everyone is entitled to a trophy," but he also sees the plus side of working with them.
"They bring technology to the forefront. They will rewrite everything that's been taking place for the past 30 years," he said. "We need to get them involved in safety."
Soon, Wegryn noted, the workforce will be 50 percent or more Millennials, "and the number one reason why they leave a company is because they don't feel they're being utilized enough. They WANT to work. I call some Baby Boomers 'retired in place.' They don't want to do extra work or learn new skills, not really."
He said that when he's having a discussion with Millennials and Baby Boomers or Gen X workers about safety, he's often challenged by the Millenials to explain why it's important to work a certain way or wear PPE. The Baby Boomers in the discussion respond by telling them "This is the right way to do this" or "This is how we've always done this," said Wegryn.
That's when Wegryn challenges all of the workers and asks, "Is it the right way to do it?" He asks them to come up with a different way of doing things to eliminate risk and improve safety outcomes, and the Millennials often rise to the challenge.
His advice is to acknowledge the differences between the communication styles of the various generations of employees in the workforce, offer praise when it's deserved and make everyone part of the solution, rather than viewing certain groups as part of the problem.
"Have those crucial conversations with Millennials. Provide instant feedback. Mentor them and not with the guy that's been doing it wrong for 20 years," suggested Wegryn. "Get them involved in safety and I guarantee the workplace will change for the better."