Published: 11 Apr 2019
Nathan Bakker, TIA
What generation are you? What generation are the people you work for, work with or who work for you?
EARLY 1900’s – MID 1940’s
MID 1940’s – MID 1960’s
MID 1960’s – EARLY 1980’s
EARLY 1980’s – LATE 1990’s
LATE 1990’s – EARLY 2010’s
EARLY 2010’s - NOW
Employing people is a necessity on many dairy farms and managing people isn’t always easy. In my job, I have heard a lot of stories about the challenge of finding people willing to work on dairy farms. More than once, I have heard people say something along the lines of “young people just don’t want to work hard/put in the hours/get their hands dirty…” And it isn’t just in the dairy industry I hear this being said about millennials. Stories in newspapers and social media have said things like:
- Millennials want money, but not hard work
- Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation
- Millennials are lazy, entitled, self-centred
- Millennials aren’t eating cereal because it’s too much work
- They’re always on their phones
- Literally anything can and probably will offend them
- As far as actual problems, they kind of have it easy but complain a lot nonetheless
As a millennial, I identify with some of these (I am always on my phone!) but others not so much (I am quite happy to eat cereal!). It is easy to just focus on negative stereotypes and how bad young people are ‘these days’ but as Michael McQueen – keynote speaker at the 2019 Tasmanian Dairy Conference – highlighted with this quote, millennials aren’t the first generation frowned upon by older generations:
“The youth of today love luxury. They have bad manners and contempt for authority. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents and tyrannise their teachers.” This quote is attributed to Socrates way back in 410 BC. It highlights that each generation always thinks the next generation is getting ‘worse’.
So, does it matter what each generation thinks of the other? Michael made the point that by 2020 – which is next year – 35% of the work force is going to be millennials (generation Y). That is as many millennials in the work force as Generation X’ers. If we can learn to better understand each generation, then it could make life in the workplace a lot better and more effective for everyone.
To help everyone remember and understand what it was like for millennials growing-up in the 1980’s-1990’s, Michael outlined seven key characteristics of millennials and discussed the reasons for these:
- Everyone’s a winner – 1979 was International Year of the Child and at this time a large focus on building self esteem began. One of the key elements of this was to always give positive reinforcement for everything (Michael pointed out this is a flawed idea as you can’t give another person self-esteem). But because of the constant praise and validation, millennials came to expect it. A survey asked millennials how often they want to be praised – 60% said at least once daily; 35% said 2-3 times each day.
- Truth is subjective – everything is about ‘my interpretation’. Millennials don’t like being told they ‘should’ do something, they want to know ‘why’.
- ‘Out of range’ is out of the question. If you are over the age of 35 you will remember what it was like to not be constantly attached to technology. Millennials don’t remember that – they have grown-up with mobile access to the internet. In a survey, 40% of millennials said they would rather lose a finger than their phone!
- Respect must be earned. Earlier generations were taught to respect their elders and respect particular positions, titles etc.
- There is more to life than work. Where Gen X tend to attach their identity to their work ethic, Gen Y have been told to value their health, family and friends (but when they do, they get called lazy).
- Life was never meant to be hard. Older generations would be familiar with the phrase “life isn’t meant to be easy”. Gen X’ers have the attitude that when you meet a challenge, you ‘build a bridge and get over it’. Because of the way they have been brought-up, when millennials encounter challenges, they conclude (i) there must be something wrong with my goal/path/relationship, and/or (ii) there must be something wrong with me. This is exacerbated by social media which tends to portray all the best bits of people’s lives.
- I’ve got this. Despite their confident, brash exterior, millennials actually crave leadership, boundaries and mentoring.
Building relationships with millennials
I don’t think very many people take the attitude ‘easy come, easy go’ with staff because there is a lot of time and effort that goes into training each new person. So how do you get them to stay with you as long as possible? Michael says it is all about building a relationship with each team member.
- Prioritise your relationship
- be authentic – don’t be afraid to let your guard down, own up to mistakes. A millennial will learn better from hearing your story about how something worked/didn’t work rather than you just telling them what to do. And don’t have double standards, be consistent with rules for all staff, including the boss.
- be interested in them – unlike older generations, they don’t tend to divide life into different buckets e.g. ‘work’ ‘home’ ‘hobby’. Where a Gen X or Baby Boomer might get to work after weekend and be ‘right, let’s get to work’, a millennial is more likely to want to share everything they did on the weekend.
- be flexible – pick your battles. Know what is non-negotiable for your farm e.g. safety – they must wear a helmet. But then there will be other things, like a maybe a tongue piercing that you don’t like, but it doesn’t actually impact on how they do their job so just let it go.
- Use stories to teach and coach – ‘don’t tell me it is right, show me it works’.
- Respond well to the ‘why’ question. Because older generations were taught to respect their elders and those in authority, there is a tendency to ‘do as they are told’. When a millennial is asked to do something and they respond with ‘why?’, many leaders see this ‘why’ question as disrespectful and a challenge to their authority. In reality, many millennials don’t mean it that way. They genuinely want to know the reason behind why they are being asked to do something. For example: why would I put the cows back into the same paddock I just got them out of and then come back in 2 hours and move them to the next paddock? You may be thinking they are questioning your judgement or are just lazy and can’t be bothered. But really, they are asking because they want to understand the reason behind that decision. If you just dismiss their questions, you will lose them. Answering the ‘why’ question is also a great opportunity to evaluate why you are doing a particular practice. Sometimes until we have to explain ourselves to someone else, we just keep on doing what/how we have always done something. Try and take on board their ideas and thoughts make them feel included and part of the team. They have fresh eyes and ideas that you might not have thought of. If you respect them they will respect you.