Managing millennials in agriculture

Young farm couple

What considerations should you have as an employer if you have employees (family or nonfamily) who are part of the millennial generation?

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 stretch the birth years for millennials from 1981 to 2004.

(Interestingly, the baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are the only generation the United States Census Bureau defines.)

It’s not fair to paint all millennials with a broad brush when describing this generation, but there are a few considerations when working with this generation.

The millennial generation

This is considered to be the most energetic, educated and diverse generation — one 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 balanceDairy Excel Info Box

Millennials are very protective of their time away from work and 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.

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 10 hours, and are motivated to find ways that make production agriculture more efficient and profitable.

Their entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of technology has and 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 positive assets they can offer to agriculture. A consumer mentality is one asset that 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.

Moving forward

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.


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