What Changes are Needed in the Safety Industry to Fit the Growing Millennial Workforce?

Written by: Sierra Morris

millennials generation and workplace safetyThere are certainly mixed opinions out there concerning the millennial generation (typically classified as those born between 1980-early 2000s). A vast array of articles, blogs, and empirical research have been conducted to determine the financial situations, lifestyle choices, and personal values of millennials.

They are a pretty significant demographic after all – 7% larger than the Baby-Boomer generation (Fry). Whatever your opinion of them, facts are facts, and millennials will make up 50% of the workforce by the year 2020 (Williams). Other studies claim millennials will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025 (Williams).

Getting Millenials Involved in Your Company’s Safety Program

The workplace demographic is already shifting – rather quickly at that – and it’s in every manager’s best interest to understand what this means.

How will things change at work with this new demographic change suddenly taking over the field or the office? How should managers and supervisors address these changes and prevent high turnover rates? More specifically, what sort of changes can Occupational Safety and Health programs make to fit the needs and preferences of the millennial generation?

Motivation to Perform Work Safely Must Change

When you want to encourage your workforce to engage in certain behaviors, you naturally turn to motivation and behavior shaping techniques like positive reinforcement or punishment. The most important thing to remember about motivation is that your methods of motivating compliance must mean something to the subject; you can’t motivate someone by offering them a reward or threatening them with a punishment they don’t care about.

After looking at multiple sources and compiling their data, it seems the rewards millennials care about (as far as the workplace goes) are not career advancement, monetary rewards, or prize drawings.

Millennials, when in need of motivation, want support, appreciation, and to feel as though their efforts and contributions make a difference. Millennials want feedback, reassurance, and to feel as though their upper management notices them and is invested in their career.

To motivate a millennial, consider the following strategies:

  1. Train and encourage supervisory personnel to give encouragement, positive feedback, and other “feel good” type reinforcements. (80% of millennials prefer on-the-spot feedback to traditional performance reviews.) (Achievers)
  2. Give millennials the opportunity to come in late or leave early as a reward for high performance. If performing part of their job from home / online is an option, consider offering that. (45% of Millennials will choose workplace flexibility over pay.) (Millennial Branding)
  3. Consider offering new responsibilities, new skill/job training, or leadership opportunities – i.e. leading safety meetings, contributing ideas to management, invites to a workplace safety committee, etc. (Millennials are typically characterized as liking to feel that they are being invested in by their company just as much as they are investing in it.)
  4. Consider creating baby step promotional titles, roles, peer groups, or job responsibilities to encourage the feeling that millennials are being recognized and promoted for high performance. (Millennials need to feel that they are making strides in their personal and professional growth.)

meeting other professionals toastmastersSafety Communication Must Be Open

Millennials are typically intolerant of workplaces they feel stifle their personal values or their ability to “have a voice” (Center for Women and Business). If you think about it, this makes sense.

This generation has spent their formative years and adulthood with the power to broadcast their most complex feelings and most mundane thoughts to the world through endless social media outlets. A shared value among the millennial generation is open communication and giving everyone – regardless of title or “importance” – the chance to speak up; they are, in fact, statistically “unwilling” to work in environments they deem unpleasant or stifling (Center for Women and Business).

It’s not surprising, then, that millennials are extremely loyal to companies that facilitate their need to have their voice heard and personal values addressed (Center for Women and Business).

Consider the following strategies to keep the safety conversation flowing and communication channels open for millennial workers:

  1. Facilitate an “open door policy” for workers of all titles and pay grades to speak to upper management about health and safety issues.
  2. Provide an online anonymous portal for workers to address sensitive issues without fear of reprimand or retaliation.
  3. Form “safety committees” comprised of workers of all levels that meet on a regular basis, with the goal of discussing health and safety issues.
  4. Invite and strongly encourage workers to provide suggestions for program improvement, with the option to remain anonymous.
  5. Train and encourage ground-level leadership (foremen, supervisors) to openly field questions and discussion with subordinates about HSE policies, procedures, and practices.

Safety Training and Technology Can Use an Upgrade

Millennials are the most educated generation in the workforce today. As of 2016, 40% of millennial workers had at least a bachelor’s degree (Graf). Even more of the typical millennial workforce will have graduated high school (72% of all millennials) and gone on to enroll in college (68% of high school grads) (The Millennial Generation Research Review).

When you consider the average education level of this generation coupled with their intense focus on professional development and personal growth, it becomes quite clear that safety training now has room for an upgrade. Millennials can not only more easily digest training material, but they also want more of it than previous generations. To millennials, training and professional development exercises are a way to grow and progress professionally (Finn).

start an online safety business

In addition to being better prepared for and more interested in training opportunities, millennials may necessitate a change to the way these opportunities will be delivered. 50% of millennial college students say they don’t need a physical classroom, and 39% view the future of education in a more virtual (as opposed to traditional) light (Schawbel).

And as far as technology in the workplace in general, 42% of millennials stated they would leave a company due to “substandard technology” (Dell). Millennials view workplaces utilizing modern technology as more efficient, environmentally friendly, flexible, and collaborative (Finn). 

Consider these tips to revamp your safety training program:

  1. Consider the educational background of your training audience – make sure training materials fit the comprehension levels of the students and are engaging enough to retain attention.
  2. Develop new safety training courses and offer them to the workforce at large as professional development opportunities.
  3. Consider offering computer-based training, or (at some point) virtual reality training (safe driving courses, crane operation).
  4. Consider integrating daily safety tasks into the virtual world – i.e. digital work forms, JSAs filled out on iPads, reports available for completion through smartphones, etc.


In less than a decade, the workforce demographic will have undergone a dramatic shift. Millennials are on the rise, and their leadership will either be them, or will have to understand how to motivate, train, and manage them.

In the world of Occupational Safety and Health, these tasks are already difficult enough. An effective health and safety program will heed these growing trends and changes and make a similar shift toward the future.


Achievers and Experience Inc. “Reveal Class of 2012 Study Results to Understand the Needs of the Future Workforce | Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs.” Achievers. February 2012. Accessed August 27, 2017. https://www.achievers.com/press/achievers-and-experience-inc-reveal-class-2012-study-results/.

“Center for Women and Business.” Millennials in the Workplace. Bentley University. Accessed August 27, 2017. http://www.bentley.edu/centers/center-for-women-and-business/millennials-workplace.

Dell. “Press Releases.” Dell. July 18, 2016. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/press-releases/2016-07-18-future-workforce-study-provides-key-insights.

Finn, Dennis, and Anne Donovan. “PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study.” Pwc.com. 2013. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/hr-management-services/publications/assets/pwc-nextgen.pdf.

Fry, Richard. “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation.” Pew Research Center. April 25, 2016. Accessed August 26, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/.

Graf, Nikki. “Today’s young workers are more likely than ever to have a bachelor’s degree.” Pew Research Center. May 16, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/16/todays-young-workers-are-more-likely-than-ever-to-have-a-bachelors-degree/.

Schawbel, Dan. “The Cost of Millennial Retention Study.” Millennial Branding. August 6, 2013. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://millennialbranding.com/2013/cost-millennial-retention-study/.

Schawbel, Dan. “The Future of Education Study.” Millennial Branding. June 11, 2013. Accessed August 26, 2017. http://millennialbranding.com/2013/the-future-of-education/.

“The Millennial Generation Research Review.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. March 15, 2017. Accessed August 27, 2017. https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reports/millennial-generation-research-review.

Williams, Ray. “Like it or not, Millennials will change the workplace.” Financial Post. September 16, 2013. Accessed August 27, 2017. http://business.financialpost.com/executive/careers/like-it-or-not-millennials-will-change-the-workplace.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sierra Morris resides in Fort Polk, LA
with her husband and two dogs. Still relatively new to the OSH world,
Morris seeks to make sense of occupational safety and health
issues through a lens of behavioral and social psychology.

sierra morris

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