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Millennials on the farm

Bob Hagenow Published on 11 March 2015

If you’re like me and seeing a little more gray on the top or you have an occasional ache or pain you didn’t used to have, you are probably not in the millennial generation.

No, I was not born between 1982 and 2000, which are the traditional boundary years that define generation Y. (I was 19 years old in 1982. You can do the math.)

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Millennials, the common name given to members of generation Y, are rapidly becoming valued contributors to our dairy industry and specifically our dairy farms.

Generational attributes

What characteristics are common within this broad group of people who are now somewhere between 15 and 32 years old? They tend to:

  • Be goal-oriented and interested in self-development
  • Multi-task and have numerous activities taking place simultaneously
  • Have high expectations of personal and financial success
  • Plunge into work they find interesting
  • Value teamwork and fairness
  • Be sociable, hopeful, talented, collaborative, inclusive and civic-minded
  • Be a technically literate, educated and ethnically diverse generation
  • Want intellectual challenge and yet have a great work/life balance

In addition to the above attributes, millennials have been taught they are unique and special. (Think of the trend/movement that doesn’t keep score at games.) They have a strong sense of community. (A village has been involved in raising them.) They tend to think more about the group than themselves. They have been provided with frequent and positive feedback for things they have done.

This group has largely never known the world without the Internet as a big part of everyday life. This has led them to see the world as one that is connected 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

With unlimited information at their fingertips, millennials do expect quick results in everything they do and have a great desire to advance rapidly. This includes their perspectives on careers. This is quite a contrast from the way many employees in previous generations have approached life and the workplace.

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It is important to point out that the above descriptions and attributes are highly generalized and do not apply to everyone born during this time. It is also noteworthy that general attributes of any generation are neither right nor wrong and do not imply success or failure, etc. Most attributes of any generation or era are a result of the environment and experiences it has lived and the formative ideas/behaviors generated out of those experiences.

Coaching your team’s millennials

Let’s assume your goal is to have high-performing relationships with millennial employees who are actively engaged in their job roles. How can you adapt your management practices to better connect with this unique and valued group of employees? Following are some recommendations you may want to incorporate.

When communicating with millennials, be positive and constructive and avoid condescension. Remember, these individuals have received frequent and immediate feedback in their formative years from parents, coaches, teachers and other leaders.

Subsequently, they expect this of their work coaches and supervisors. This generally means giving feedback, including areas where the employee can improve. It also leaves no room for misunderstanding. Also remember, this may take place more via texts and social media versus face-to-face interactions.

Tie feedback and individual responsibilities to the “greater good” of the team or farm. As noted, millennials tend to place high value on helping others advance and contributing to something bigger than them.

Clearly define your farm’s mission and purpose. Communicate that often to all members of your team, especially this group. Your reputation in the community can be a real driver of a millennial’s original reason to seek employment at your farm and then to remain engaged there.

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Creating the ideal environment and culture

A flexible and creative environment tends to be an important engagement factor for millennials. Obviously, numerous activities on the farm need to follow specific protocols.

However, if employees have opportunities to complete tasks under more flexible terms or in more efficient ways, give them a chance to develop those steps or take on projects within their time structures. You may be surprised at the innovation and creativity brought to the task.

Adopt technology when appropriate to help with efficiency and interest. Again, this generation has largely not known a world without tablets, smartphones, social media, etc. In their eyes, a workplace that doesn’t adopt these tools is drab and behind the times. Letting them lead a “technology initiative” on your farm is a great way to use their natural gifts and will potentially make your farm more effective and efficient.

Clearly define a development plan

Millennial employees want a clear plan for career advancement. Self-development, career contribution to the “cause,” re-invention and intellectually challenging tasks are all hallmarks and needs of the millennial generation.

It is imperative that managers and coaches spend ample time constructing an environment and a path where these employees can continue to evolve. This may be the most important aspect of helping a member of this generation engage.

Millennials are very quick to adopt change. They expect a lot of variety both in their daily roles and throughout their careers. They are accustomed to things happening and moving quickly and assume this is the “normal” way of doing things.

That philosophy is applied to every aspect of their lives, including work tasks and responsibilities. A static routine or stale career path can quickly cause a millennial to disengage from the job. Be very intentional about conversations with this generation. Openly discuss how they want to grow and help them get there.

As a baby boomer myself, it is very interesting to observe the millennials. The creativity, innovation, passion, desire to contribute and natural and seamless use of technology can be extremely vital assets to add to any team they join.

This generation is replacing the baby boomers in the workplace and on our dairy farms. They share many of the same career needs as other generations but also have some unique requirements to become fully engaged.

With a little work and commitment, all coaches and managers can create an environment where this generation and all members of the farm team can capitalize on their skills, contributing to the overall success of the farm.

At the end of the day, a fully involved and engaged team – growing both individually and as a group – is what we want to have on our farms. It is in this environment where many good things can happen as we look to long-term success on the dairy. PD

bob hagenow

Bob Hagenow
Dairy Sales Manager
Vita Plus

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