If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times — “kids today just don’t work like we did.” I heard that when I was the kid and I hear it today referring to a whole new generation of kids.
Maybe it’s not the kids, maybe it’s the adults. As adults maybe we don’t know how to communicate with the younger generation. For me this is a terrible thing to admit. I’ve grown old and don’t understand the language, music, dreams, etc. of the new generation of teenagers.
Luckily, my daughters haven’t hit those teen years yet, so I have time to catch up before they know I was behind.
As a farm manager, you too can learn the characteristics of this generation, now referred to as the Facebook generation or Linksters. As I’ve written in past columns, one of the keys to working with others and communicating on the farm is to develop an understanding of personality characteristics and generational tendencies.
Improving communication and understanding how teenagers function, can help you develop a more positive working relationships with young farm employees, whether they are family or not. This in turn can improve the work produced by your teen employees and also help with retention.
Linksters are described by multigenerational workforce experts, Meagan Johnson and her father Larry Johnson in their book, Generation, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters as:
15- to 19-year olds.
Technology is a part of who they are and how they live.
Most are living at home.
They tend to be close with their parents — in some cases best friends.
They are tolerant of alternative lifestyles.
Social activism is an important part of their lives.
This group has different values and means of accomplishing tasks when compared to older generations. They are still very inexperienced and managing them at work can be a challenge. However, understanding how they communicate and their tendencies can make that challenge a little easier.
A few tips for managing Linksters:
Change is a good thing. This group tends to have a short attention span and will lose interest if they get stuck with the same boring job all the time. I understand agriculture can be a dangerous job, but providing training and allowing teen employees to undertake some of the more challenging, and what they perceive as fun, jobs can be very motivating for this group.
A conversation can help you learn what your young employee would like to learn to do, and the two of you can set some of the more challenging chores as goals they can work toward.
Provide training. Many times as managers we’ve grown up on the farm and have been completing the chores associated with milking cows, producing feed and other crops, driving tractors and equipment from many years. Remember these employees are young and are used to parents giving them lots of instructions. Be sure to explain even the obvious when giving “how to” directions, because it may not be obvious to someone doing the job for the first time.
Spell it out. Also explain the consequences of being late, texting while working or even just talking on the phone. A job description can be a very helpful tool. Kids are used to being given specific directions, so provide them with an outline of your expectations of them as an employee.
Include them in your “farm family.” Be sure to make them a part of your employee farm functions and meetings when you can. Help them to feel like part of the team. Ask their opinion on how a specific task might be accomplished differently.
Thank your employee’s parents. Farming often requires dirty jobs and some long hours. Remember to thank his/her parents for helping to get them to work on time, being well rested, for washing their clothes that have been redecorated with manure spots, etc.
At this age, parental support and encouragement is important, so having parents on your team will be helpful in retaining young employees.
Know what songs are on Linksters iPods. Seems trivial, but knowing the music kids are listening to will help you better understand their language and improve your ability to communicate with them.
These are just a few ideas and tips to help you bridge that gap between management and teen employees. Taking the time to train as well as get to know the interests and ideas of your young employees can prove to be a great benefit to your farm (and in some cases your family) in the long run.
(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Erie County.)