What You Need to Know About Managing Millennials in Agriculture

by: Chris Zoller- Extension Educator, ANR

The exact dates vary depending upon your source, but the Pew Research Foundation has established birth years between 1981 and 1996 as the Millennial generation (also referred to as Generation Y or Gen Y) .  Researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss have identified the birth years for millennials as 1981 to 2004. Interestingly, Baby Boomer (those born between 1946 and 1964) is the only generation the United States Census Bureau defines.

What considerations should you have as an employer if you have employees (family or non-family) that are considered a part of this generation?  It’s not fair to paint all Millennials with a broad brush when describing this generation, but following are a few considerations when working with this generation.

The Millennial Generation
This is considered to be the most energetic, educated, and diverse generation that is also technology savvy and conscious of social issues.  Members of this generation have been influenced by terrorist attacks, school shootings, and the emergence of the Internet.  Approximately one-third of the U.S. workforce is made up of Millennials and it’s estimated they will comprise nearly one-half of the workforce by 2020.

Work-Life Balance and Flexibility
Millennials are very protective of their time away from work.  Millennials are leaders when it comes to having flexibility in the workplace.  A Bentley University study found that Millennial employees are almost twice as likely to have a spouse or partner working at least part-time compared to the Boomer Generation.  As a result, Millennials report finding time for themselves, getting enough sleep, and managing their personal and work life as being significant concerns.
The following question was asked of the Bentley University study participants: How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements if your company provided increased flexibility and/or paid parental leave?

What Do Millennials Value?  What Motivates Millennials?

Millennials are not unlike previous generations when it comes to wanting to perform meaningful work and contribute to the mission of the business.  “A survey published by the Harvard Business Review found that employees of all generations value meaningful work, yet every generation perceived that the other generations are only in it for the money, don’t work as hard, and do not care about meaning.”  I’ve reached an age where I find myself saying things like those reported in the Harvard Business Review…  Millennials also value mentoring, want to develop relationships with their employer and co-workers, desire to enhance their skills, believe training is important, and embrace technology.  This generation tends to believe that the work day doesn’t have to be ten hours.
Millennials are motivated to find ways that make production agriculture more efficient and profitable.  The entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of technology this generation has will continue to impact agriculture.  It’s happening all around us – robotic milkers, the use of drones, apps, etc.

Work Assets
The Millennial generation has many assets they can offer to agriculture that are positive.  A consumer mentality is one started with Generation X and continues today with Millennials.  This mentality will continue to force everyone in agriculture to re-think food production and be cognizant of what consumers want, need, and desire.  Knowledge of computers and related technology can help farms better manage and interpret data to make more informed decisions.  Technology is fast paced, ever changing, and will continue to influence food production.  Millennials tend to be optimistic, goal oriented, have a positive attitude, and enjoy working with others.  These are positive attributes of employees in any business.

Work Liabilities
As with all young people, Millennials lack experience.  This is normal.  Just remember this as you work with employees in this generation – they have high expectations, focus on achieving goals, and are able and willing to learn.  Millennials prefer a structured work environment, need supervision, can be impatient, and may lack skills needed to effectively deal with difficult people.

What does all of this mean for you as an employer?  Your approach to employee scheduling may be a bit different than how you’ve done it in the past – keep in mind the high value that Millennials place on achieving a work-personal life balance.  Capitalize on the desire many in this generation have to achieve goals, perform work that is meaningful, work with others, and engage in training.  In addition, allow employees with the technology skills to help you better manage your farm for the future.  Technology will continue to impact agriculture and you will need to continually explore and evaluate the best technology for your farm business.  More employees are entering agriculture with no or limited production experience.  Be aware that your training programs may need to be more focused and incorporate hands-on activities.
Multi-Generational Impacts on the Workplace, Bentley University, 2017
Generational Differences Chart, West Midland Family Center, www.wmfc.org
Millennials in Agriculture – Part 1, Michigan State University Extension, 2017

(Originally published in Farm & Dairy, September 27, 2018)

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