WORKING GENERATIONS Understanding & Managing Generation Y,

August 4, 2018 9:28 am

The generation gap of today is not as dramatic as it was, say, in the 1960s. But it does still exist. And it’s important for today’s safety supervisors and managers to recognize that Gen Y workers are entering the workplace with different experiences and expectations than previous generations of workers did. They also generally lack a few basic but essential workplace skills. Instead of thinking of it as a generation gap, perhaps we should consider it a knowledge gap. Why Supervisors Should Adapt to Generation Y [let’s try to stick the key words in the subheads] It might also help to think of this group of workers as “Generation Why?” While past generations were raised to do as they were told, Gen Y’ers were raised with explanations. They want to know why things must be done a certain way.


You may have a “why” question yourself: Why should supervisors adapt their methods to accommodate Gen Y workers? If you want a business case for it, consider the costs of employee turnover. First, there are the staff hours invested in:

  • Advertising for help wanted;
  • Processing applications; and
  • Preparing for and conducting interviews.
  • Once you find a suitable candidate, there’s:
  • Administrative paperwork;
  • Orientation; and
  • Training.

Once workers are properly trained, it just makes sense to try to hang on to the good ones.

Generation Y & the Safety Challenge. Another reason why the supervisor should adapt his or her methods to accommodate Gen Y workers is for their safety! Gen Y’ers had very busy childhoods. When you consider that many were raised juggling volunteer activities, sporting events, school and other activities, it’s easy to see why they might become easily bored, especially if they don’t find their work to be challenging. In some jobs, this trait may put them at

risk for injury as a result of not focusing on the task at hand. Bearing in mind as well Gen Y’s preference for flexibility and for explanations, PPE requirements or other safety practices might come across to them as corporate micro-managing or simply as optional rather than mandatory practice.


What Does Generation Y Want?

The first step in dealing with Gen Y’ers is recognizing that they come to the workplace with different expectations. The next step is to gain an understanding of what those expectations are. What do the workers of Gen Y want from their workplace?


Answer: They want:


  • To be challenged;
  • Learning opportunities;
  • To develop skills;
  • Collaboration and teamwork;
  • Flexibility;
  • To belong to a socially responsible organization;
  • A fun and positive work environment;
  • To make a difference; and
  • Respect.


How to Accommodate Generation Y’s Expectations


You have in your employ well-educated, technically savvy, adaptable individuals who are skilled multi-taskers and potentially loyal—to you at least. It is in everyone’s best interests to find some common ground. Here are some ways that an effective safety supervisor can bring out the best of the Gen Y worker:


  1. Provide thorough, job-specific orientation, including:

Site tours;

Staff introductions; and

Review of company policy and protocol.

  1. Be clear in your expectations.
  2. Identify what cannot be changed.
  3. Coach workers. Explain why something needs to be done a certain way.
  4. Provide feedback when tasks are completed and when mistakes are made. Be sure to include the


  1. Create an environment of inclusion.
  2. Recognize efforts. Yes, Gen Y employees want recognition—who doesn’t? Recognition motivates

and inspires employees, contributing to loyalty. But the recognition must be specific, timely and


  1. Encourage communication.
  2. Establish goal-setting.
  3. Offer mentoring.


The most effective way to bridge the generation gap and tap the potential of your Generation Y

employees—and keep them safe on the job—is to develop a relationship with them. Good pay will get Gen Y workers in the door, but it won’t necessarily make them stay. They will, however, stay for a supervisor they respect and trust.



About 30 years ago, companies recognized a shift in the American work ethic. Young adult workers were rejecting jobs they deemed menial or unpleasant and employees everywhere were showing a preference for leisure time versus overtime. Job satisfaction ranked higher than good pay. Employers, not employees, had to change.