The myths of the Millennial workers
The newest food industry workers may perform better with different training methods, but they’re not that different from previous generations.
The common complaints about the Millennial generation of employees is that they’re just not as good, hard-working or dependable as the people who came before them. Of course, every previous generation has been faced with similar complaints from their elders. Are Millennials really more interested in promotions and social media updates than getting their work done, or is this a case of generational bias?
Martin Wiedmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University, believes that the mindset of the Millennial worker is really not so different from any other worker. When it comes to teaching employees about food safety, for instance, a straightforward lecture is often ineffective for an adult learner of any generation.
“There clearly has been a major shift in training delivery as new technologies have become available and more accessible and easy to use. This shift has not only been affected by technology, but also by the increasing recognition that standard one-way delivery of information through lectures is often not very effective, particularly for adult learners,” he explains. “Hence a shift to more active, participatory, and case-based teaching and training is occurring at all level from high school, to university and adult education and training.
“While it may be true that attention span of many people today is shorter, I think there always have been few people who can stay fully focused through a 90-minute lecture,” Wiedmann continues. “Today, it may just be easier to see when people are not paying attention because they play with their phone, while before people would doodle or stare into space.”
The takeaway, he says, is that people need and benefit today from interactive training as much as people would have 20 or 30 years ago.
A Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data showed that Millennials (considered ages 18-34) are now the largest share of the American workforce, representing more than one third of workers today. They surpassed the Baby Boom generation in 2014 and Generation X last year. Research indicated that number will grow even more in the near future.
“First, immigration to the U.S. will continue to disproportionately enlarge the ranks of the Millennial labor force. Immigrants coming to the U.S. are disproportionately in their young working years,” the group said in a release. “Relatively speaking, few immigrants come to the U.S. during childhood or during older adulthood. In the past five years, over half of newly arrived immigrant workers have been Millennials.”
When it comes to the food industry, there may not be that much difference between the youngest and oldest workers. A recent study from Alchemy Systems stated that job satisfaction among food industry workers stood at 66.1 percent, with supervisors (71.7) having a slightly higher level than workers (62.7). Broken down by age group, workers aged 25 and younger actually had the lowest level of dissatisfaction, at 17.2 percent. The age group with the highest level of dissatisfaction was the group between the ages of 46 and 55; a full quarter of those surveyed were dissatisfied with their job.
The consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) stated in its “Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace” report that Millennial workers do not like a rigid corporate structure and “information silos,” which can occur when departments or management groups do not share information or communication to other groups. They want a better work/life balance and are unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifice to their personal lives.
“Millennials want a flexible approach to work, but very regular feedback and encouragement. They want to feel their work is worthwhile and that their efforts are being recognized,” PwC states. “And they value similar things in an employer brand as they do in a consumer brand. These are all characteristics that employers can actively address.”
Not all accommodations can be easily met. While many younger employees want to work from home at least a part of the time, there are jobs where it is not logistically possible. However, changes to the management structure that would please Millennials would have the added benefit of pleasing the rest of the workforce. After all, Wiedmann notes, the desires of the youngest generation are mirrored in the older generations as well.
“While it is commonly said that Millennials want to be agents of change and that it is important to keep them involved in on-site processes, I think this applies more or less to all good employees regardless of age,” he notes. “Hence it is important to actively involve all employees in not just training, but in developing a food safety system and a food safety culture.”
Wiedmann recommends using a range of methods and approaches for training, so employees — Millennials or otherwise — with all types of learning styles will get at least some of the content in the learning style that works for them. He also says that is essential to not just worry about the delivery methods, but that it is critical to measure whether or not the training leads to the desired outcome.
“Typically these outcomes should not just be “more knowledge”, but an improvement in a process outcome, such as quantifiable improvement in food quality or safety related indictors,” he says. “Another thing found effective and very important is to not just provide people with knowledge on ‘how to do things,’ but to also focus on ‘why do we do something.’ For food safety, we often convey this through case studies that illustrate the consequences of not consistently following food safety practices.”