The generational makeup of society and the workforce is rapidly changing. The baby boomer generation is comprised of about 78 million people born between 1946 and 1964. This generation is six years into the retirement age and will continue to retire for about the next 15 years or so.

Hagenow bob
Dairy Sales Manager / Vita Plus

The first millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) came into the workforce around 2002. They will continue to enter the work pool until about 2022. They will outnumber the baby boomers in the workforce by 2018. They number about 80 million in total.

Sandwiched between these two groups are the generation X workforce members, and they tally about 40 million.

So why does this matter?

While it is always dangerous to stereotype and make broad-brush generalizations about any group of people, we tend to see some distinct differences among these three groups in how they approach work, how they are motivated and how expectations are set and met.


Broadly speaking, baby boomers:

  • Are driven by financial reward and “winning”

  • Take on work for an identity and as a means to get ahead

  • Are highly competitive with one another

  • Seek status and personal achievement and shun feedback or input

  • Set high personal and professional goals

  • Want to excel in a specific area while evolving in a career

  • Are not as concerned about the bigger picture of their work or purpose of what they do

Comparatively and broadly speaking again, millennials:

  • Want to be part of a high-functioning team with team goals driving motivation

  • Are not as driven by financial reward and individual advancement

  • Really appreciate the opportunity to be part of a bigger purpose and cause

  • Prefer to have objectives set and then find ways to set their own goals and timelines to accomplish the objectives

  • Want to continue to learn and advance in a culture by switching roles frequently within the career journey

  • Tend not to look at work for identity or purpose

  • Seek frequent feedback and input

Our list of differences could go on and on.

Much has been written about these two generations which are so large in size. As it relates to the workplace, it is interesting to note that many believe generation X has largely been “swallowed up” and assimilated into the baby boomer way of approaching work and is motivated largely by similar things.

It is important to point out that neither group is right or wrong in its approach or preferences. They just are. The majority of a generation’s preferences, attributes and behaviors are manifested from the experiences that shaped them.

Needless to mention, the experiences that shaped people born in the 1950s and 1960s were very different than the experiences that shaped those born in the 1980s and 1990s.

So back to the title of this article … How do we successfully set expectations or standards for millennials? Specifically, how does a baby boomer (or similar-in-style generation X) supervisor effectively coach, motivate and lead these employees?

If you agree with the defining bullet points listed above, it should become clear that different approaches to setting standards and expectations are indeed needed.

For example, in the past, some businesses developed performance incentive programs based on large individual goals or expectations. “Complete this big task and receive this big reward.” Rewards were often financial and, because the goals were individual, they often led to competition among employees.

Reviewing the preferences of the millennial generation clearly reminds us that this approach doesn’t work well for this generation.

So what does tend to work when setting expectations, goals or standards with this group? Consider the following tips as you work to effectively manage millennial employees. The examples provided relate to milking parlor employees, but the concepts can certainly be applied to other various job roles on your farm.

  • Set and define the individual objectives that need to be completed within a certain time frame. (Example: Milking training will be completed within two weeks.)

  • Define what kind of behavior and actions will not be acceptable in meeting the objectives. (Example: Mobile devices are allowed to seek additional information but not for any social purposes while working.)

  • Spend a great deal of time on the “why” of your organization and the mission you are trying to accomplish. (Example: Quality milk is vital to our success. Therefore, we want you to be properly trained in milking cows to ensure good teat-end health and low plate counts. It’s also vital that cows are calm and comfortable.)

  • Define what success looks like and how that will advance the team and overall purpose. (Example: Success is a monthly somatic cell count average below 150,000 for the herd and 90 percent of teat ends in healthy status. Individual success is measured by cows milked per hour by milking shift.)

  • Clearly understand the training and resources needed to complete the objectives, and hold yourself accountable for providing that environment for the employee.

    (Example: Training consultation with the herd veterinarian is encouraged along with the herd manager and fellow milkers. You may also want to reference any and all online resources approved by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.)

  • Determine how often check-ins and feedback are desired. (Example: The supervisor will check in daily at the end of the shift to observe progress. Formal discussion will occur at the end of the first week and then at the end of a two-week period. Questions are encouraged throughout this process.)

  • Construct the team they will be part of and identify the team’s resources and mentors. (Example: The herd manager and other milking team members will be part of the functioning team. The herd veterinarian and lead milker will be key resources and available as mentors.)

  • Learn how and when they will ask for assistance and determine the role you will play in their success as a supervisor. (Example: The supervisor will coordinate any resources and scheduling. Questions or comments can be asked in person, text or email.)

This is clearly not an exhaustive list of things to consider, but it should be clear that a successful approach to motivation and setting expectations is quite a bit different for the youngest workplace generation than it was for the baby boomers or generation X.

I personally am excited about the contributions the millennial generation is making and will continue to make to our workforce in general and our agriculture industry specifically. This is one of the most trained, most connected, creative and giving generations in the history of man.

Millennials want to be engaged in their work and lives, and want to find their “calling.” Once they do, their level of motivation can lead to big accomplishments for their team and the organization as a whole.

Great things happen when passionate people are fully engaged in the workplace. It is our duty as coaches and supervisors to help our millennials in the workforce find their passions and create the environment for them to accomplish their objectives and the team’s goals – and also help them be a big part of the purpose of your dairy.  end mark

Bob Hagenow