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Knowledge at Work - UL Workplace Health & Safety

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Workplace Safety

Baby boomers and millennials, a powerful force in the workplace

October 03, 2013 - Posted by Hannah.Ubl

In this two-part feature, guest author Hannah Ubl, generational expert at BridgeWorks, explores how generational differences play out in the workplace.

It’s a common scenario: A friend, family member or co-worker excitedly asks, “Have you seen the latest (fill in the blank here)?” From there, the conversation often turns into a discussion about new smartphone applications.

My generation, the millennials (born between 1980-1995), is accustomed to using tools that enable immediate access to news and knowledge. My baby boomer parents and their friends (born between 1946 and 1964) remind me it wasn’t always like that.

In their youth, breaking stories on the evening news were revolutionary. When the television was introduced, baby boomers suddenly could see assassinations, war, riots and other human tragedies unfold in their living rooms – events they had previously only read about in newspapers. Secrets about political and social movements were harder to keep. With heightened awareness, baby boomers began to agitate, triggering dramatic social change including the civil rights, anti-war and women’s rights movements.

Jump ahead 20 years to the millennial generation. We are just as eager as our parents to become involved – and much more exposed than they were to breaking news stories. My generation is accustomed to instantaneous reporting that presents hundreds of possible ways to take a stand. We bring our strong desire to make a difference into the workplace, primarily by using our ability to quickly access information and share our knowledge.

However, other generations may feel we share too much too often in the workplace. Admittedly, sometimes they’re right.

But I have hope for my generation. If there is a shared effort between managers harnessing the millennial hunger for knowledge and millennial employees properly sharing it, then the positive change everyone is striving for seems inevitable.

Here is a suggestion for employers who are intent on harnessing the power of millennials’ inquisitive nature:

Invite millennial voices to the table

Millennials have been speaking up from an early age, encouraged by our parents, teachers, mentors and counselors to share our opinions and feelings. Not surprisingly, we have an expectation that our youthful voices will be heard at work. This can be a hard pill to swallow for members of other generations whose voices did not seem to carry much weight until they had ascended up the ladder. The millennial tendency to share makes us strong collaborators who strive to innovate. When collaboration is discouraged, we have a tendency to become disengaged.

In a recent study, Deloitte found 84 percent of millennials believe “business innovations have a positive impact on society.” We want to be part of that innovation. One of the best ways for employers to harness our knowledge and passion for innovation is to allow us to speak up. We’ll feel more included and therefore more motivated in our work.

And here’s a suggestion for millennials who are eager to share their knowledge in the workplace:

Think evolution, not revolution

Sharing your knowledge is great. But first learn about the past in your industry and then do what you do best – innovate. When you present your ideas, avoid the mindset of “out with old and in with the new” (revolution). Instead, respect the positive steps made in the past and build upon them for the future (evolution) – as illustrated by the UL Workplace Health and Safety Evolution of Safety Timeline.

The difference televised images made to boomer is remarkable. Now millennials can use instantaneous, mobile access to images and information to be agents for change. Combined, these generations represent a powerful force.

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Topics: workplace safety