Like any great safety professional, you are probably keen to involve all of your staff in your safety program. Lately, however, you have noticed an interesting trend: A younger workforce is slowly starting to emerge and it is not uncommon now to see younger people in middle management positions. This cohort of young people are considered Millenials. Who are these Millennials and why is there so much talk about them? Answer: They are the generation that will shape and define your company’s safety direction for the foreseeable future. I believe that without their buy-in you will not be able to have a successful safety program at your company. (Learn more about the challenges of setting up a safety program in The 2 Biggest Challenges to Creating an Environment That's Truly Safe.)

What's a Millennial?

First, let’s define what a Millennial is and into what age bracket they fall. There seems to be some debate surrounding what birth years are considered to be included in the Millennial generation. In general, however, Millennials are said to be born between 1979 and 1993. They experienced the birth of the Internet, mobile phones, instant and continuous social connectivity and unprecedented economic booms, which translated into job security never seen before. Generally speaking, their philosophy on life is based on the notion that you have to experience life and all that it has to offer. Traveling, work-life balance, being healthy both in mind and body and focusing on immediate rewards versus long-term pay offs are important to them. They seek transparency and value collaboration in both their personal and professional lives.

I am one of them. I distinctly remember, Kazaa, ICQ, Napster, my first Nokia mobile phone, using a 56K dial-up modem and then DSL, ADSL, broadband, WI-FI and Microsoft Messenger. These were all new technologies that forced changes upon society. However, growing up with technology versus being introduced to new technology are two different things. The Millennial generation is used to instantaneous everything! With the arrival of the Internet, a world was created that brought news, social events and information to everyone's fingertips. This helps explain one of the key steps to getting Millenials to buy in to a safety program: embracing technology.

Embrace Technology

If you are a safety professional, regardless of where you work, you must embrace technology. As the VP of safety of your organization, do you know what mobile phones your workers or contractors are using? Do you know what apps they use to socialize with? How do they obtain their news, their information? Are you familiar with Tumblr? Do you have a Facebook page/group solely dedicated to addressing safety problems in your company? Or, do you consider that to be too much transparency for your company? What about Twitter? One hundred and forty characters of news at a time! Everyone is on Instagram; do you have a company account? Pictures are worth 1,000 words, so why don’t we let pictures do the talking? When your workers discuss apps such as Vine and Snapchat, do you look confused or are you in the know?

The Millennial generation and the one following that generation (Generation Z) are the most socially connected generations. It would be a waste not to use this avenue of communication with your workforce. Understand the behavior of your workforce and reach them with timely messages about what your health and safety program is aiming to accomplish. If you fail to reach your audience, you will suffer the safety-related consequences.

Implement Change Faster

There is a good chance your way of communicating with your workforce is sub-par. Your message might not be reaching your intended audience. On top of that, your implementation of new initiatives might be painfully slow. I reminded you earlier that Millennials expect change a lot faster than you might be comfortable with. How do we go about solving this matter? This is where things become more complicated. As a worker, I would like to know whether my reports and observations are dealt with in a timely manner. Has your organization closed the feedback loop in a successful manner? It’s 2013; Millennials lament the fact that they are still using a paper-based system to complete so much of their health and safety paperwork. Numerous times I have heard comments like, "Why am I spending so much time on paperwork that I know won’t be looked at, and if it is looked at, that real change won’t happen until I am long gone?"

Or this: "Can I use my laptop or mobile phone to complete some of this paperwork?" At times I question the direction that safety programs are headed in, in terms of the amount of paperwork that must be completed by hand. If your worker leaves your work site and goes back home, he or she consumes information differently. That worker digests information differently and will also produce information differently. However, when the worker comes back on site, he or she is forced to function in an environment that operates completely differently from how they naturally behave. It is up to your organization to create an environment that is digitally connected and up-to-date.

Build Up Social Currency

What about social currency? When it comes to Millennials the best approach to take when working with them is as follows: You and the corporate team work alongside them, you do not work above them. Yes, you are in charge, and you have a safety program to run. You have to initiate safety goals and have everyone work toward those goals. However, be very careful that you do not trigger the so-called ivory tower syndrome. You and your corporate team have to engage your staff. This means abandoning the authoritarian style of managing programs and individuals from afar and without adequate explanation. One of the worst faux pas you can commit is telling your staff you are managing your safety program in a particular manner because that's how things have always been done. Another common mistake is not explaining the "why" to your staff. Explaining why you are promoting particular initiatives also allows them to share their views on the topic. Making an effort to understand their points of view will foster a sense of inclusiveness and give them the opportunity to have a voice in your health and safety program.

What’s at Stake?

Failure in a health and safety program leads to incidents. An incident can lead to the destruction of property or an injury to the worker. Every day, workers suffer injuries and lose their lives on the job. I could not fathom the idea of a loss of life at my work site. So think about it: What are some of the challenges you are currently facing in your safety program that may contribute to a lack of understanding between the different generations?

This article originally appeared at
WhiteKnightSafetySolutions.com. It has been reprinted here with permission.