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Focus on individual workers rather than generational stereotypes, management experts say

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Washington — Instead of relying on generational labels such as “millennial” and “baby boomer” to help inform workforce management decisions – including those related to safety and communication – employers and managers should focus on workers’ individual situations and needs, concludes a recently published report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

A committee of experts in management, industrial and organizational psychology, sociology, economics, adult development and learning sciences, and other disciplines reviewed hundreds of sources of scientific literature on generations in the workforce, as well as work and human capital. They determined that although the term “generation” often identifies a group of people by their birth years, age range doesn’t mean each generation has a wide range of commonalities.

“Generational categories ignore significant differences that result from characteristics like gender, race/ethnicity, education, and occupation,” Nancy Tippins, chair of the committee and principal at The Nancy T. Tippins Group, told Safety+Health. “When an organization assumes generational categories are legitimate, they ignore the needs of individuals within the group. From a safety perspective, the danger in generational categories lies in treating everyone the same despite their different situations and needs.”

For example, an offshore oil rig worker using heavy equipment and an accountant in an office setting at the same company face much different safety challenges despite being born the same year. “Consequently, the training needed by each is likely going to be quite different for these two groups if it is to be effective and useful,” Tippins said.

 

When it comes to communicating safety messages, a process unique to the individual organization will likely be most effective, Tippins said. To start, identify the organization’s goals, the message to be shared and the needs/capabilities of workers to be trained. From there, the effectiveness of training should be monitored regularly and revisited based on each employee’s needs.

“Assuming everyone in a generational category has the same needs and expectations and disregarding differences and contextual factors will limit the effectiveness of training,” Tippins said.

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