With their sheer numbers, more than 75 million strong, millennials are eclipsing the baby boomers in size and drawing great interest in the workplace because of their remarkable cultural and technological impacts.

Gordon lynn
Consultant and Ag Writer / LEADER Consulting, LLC

Leaders and managers are seeking greater understanding of how to immerse millennials in the workplace. A generation with the potential to be the most productive to date – but one that comes with the challenge of understanding how to develop the right combination of management and motivation when supervised by someone representing a prior generation.

In agriculture, for example, the average age of a farmer/rancher is 57 years old (born in 1959); millennials are 16 to 36 years old (born from 1980 to 2000). How many differences have we seen in agriculture in the past five to 10 years? How about the past 25 years? No wonder the millennial generation has a totally different perception than other generations; change in all facets of our society has occurred rapidly.

Jeffrey Simmons, president of Elanco Animal Health and senior vice president of Eli Lilly and Company, shared as one of his LinkedIn postings (Figure 1) a chart he too found interesting as a resource summarizing the priorities across generations.

Each generation's work needs

It is a great reference for employers to understand ways to create a workplace of satisfaction, motivation and greater productivity.


Bridging the gap

I visited with several agricultural employers about their experiences working with millennials. One rancher from Kansas said a challenge he was facing was keeping his employees focused.

By this, he was referring to their time on their cellphones. When asked to check pastures or pens of cattle, he often noticed employees on their cellphones rather than focusing on checking for health or other issues with the cattle.

He said the advancements of technology have definitely been helpful on the ranch, allowing his cowboys to carry phones so he can text them with information or in case of an emergency, but was struggling with this tech-savvy generation finding that balance between using the phones for work use versus personal use.

A Minnesota cattle feeder spoke of his experience with gaining a new understanding of millennials’ perspective on flexibility of schedules. Research shows 74 percent want flexible schedules and have been labeled as entitled as a result.

But really, their end goal is a better balance in their lives between work demands and their personal lives.

He learned regular communication and some give and take on his own part was key. He made it clear to his employees he would honor flexibility, but they must honor communication back. He couldn’t risk an employee telling him Friday afternoon they were not going to be able to work the weekend shift.

On the downside, the owner is finding himself working more weekends to allow this flexibility, but the payoff is keeping employees longer in a time when labor is hard to maintain.

In agribusiness, this may mean rethinking policies to allow employees to connect to their work by checking emails from home or from their children’s basketball games.

Each situation, from rancher to farmer, to agribusiness, may have to be handled on a case-by-case situation, but with the goal that quality work must get done.

Three tips on managing millennials

1. Average tenure of employees:

  • Millennials = two years
  • Gen Xers = five years
  • Baby boomers = seven years

Why don’t millennials stay? Because if they don’t see growth and personal benefit within the first two years, they believe they will find it somewhere else.

This continual mindset may lead them to another company or have them want to move up the ladder where they are. They have been raised in an era of excess resources; therefore, solving problems and finding solutions such as making a job move is not a daunting challenge to them.

As an employer, if you notice your employee is seeking more, don’t put road blocks in their way; go ahead, ask if they want to take on additional responsibilities.

This may prevent them from leaving your ranch or business because they are just seeking a more relevant, stronger connection to their work. But if they have decided they need a new challenge, give them the support to do so.

2. Be a mentor, not a boss: Millennials, like the gen Xers, are more likely to leave the job due to a boss than the job itself. Not only does this generation want a personal connection to their work, but they would prefer to think of their boss as a mentor rather than someone who always gives top-down instruction and is not visible.

Just like a mentor would, they expect their boss to express care, concern and provide feelings of support to build a level of trust and a bond.

This creates a stronger connection to the business, makes them feel more a part of the team and generates overall success. Millennials have been labeled as drawing attention to themselves, but it’s actually their desire to be part of a greater meaning.

3. Provide constant feedback: Ninety percent of millennials would be more confident if they could visit with their bosses regularly than have that once-a-year dreaded performance review. For this generation, receiving feedback in that format is foreign to them. Millennials are a generation open to feedback, and they want it to be clear, specific and often.

They were raised when you didn’t wait for an answer; you Googled it and got an instant response – therefore, they seek constant feedback and want to be recognized regularly for their contributions. This demonstrates respect from their boss and builds a greater connection.

In summary, millennials seek flexibility, connection and meaning. A positive for agriculture is: This generation prefers to work where the culture and mission is something they value.

If they value agriculture and choose to work in agriculture, then if you as their employer can create a culture that connects with them, you may beat the odds of the short-term employee statistics.  end mark

B. Lynn Gordon
  • B. Lynn Gordon

  • Assistant Professor and Extension Leadership Specialist
  • College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences and College of Education and Human Sciences - South Dakota State University
  • Email B. Lynn Gordon