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Bridging the Generational Gap in EHS

EHS generations


Younger employees want more than just basic safety precautions.


There was a time when environmental health and safety (EHS) was intended to protect people in the workplace and elsewhere from egregious hazards and to comply with an ever-growing list of laws and guidelines, many of which were developed and championed by such entities as the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From sawdust in the supermarket to handles by the toilets, EHS-related offerings took care of every possible incident and accident before they occurred.


Or so we thought.


While it is still true that employees and others deserve basic safety in the workplace and elsewhere, what is asked for and how it is asked has changed with each generation. Whereas “the Greatest Generation” was apparently content to punch in and punch out for 30 years en route to a golden timepiece, X, Y, etc. seem more eager to punch their ticket to their next gig, and so apparently feel more entitled to make more demands more often.


Whether it is because they were raised by so-called “helicopter parents” who protected them from every scrape and scratch, and rewarded them for every swing and miss, or whether it is because they are more technologically literate and more aware of what is “out there” IRL, today’s employees often have different if not more demands of the environments in which they work. Not satisfied with OSHA and EPA, many create their own guidelines and are not afraid to demand their employers and neighbors follow suit.


Instead of simple HVAC, they want renewable, free-range air brought in through organic, fairly-traded ducts. Instead of filing a complaint on an anonymous card, they want to be able to source their services from device to device, or at least from cubicle to a facility manager. And, more often than not, they want it NOW!


In addition to basic health and safety, many Millennials also request that employers provide guidance. Perhaps due to a longing for parental figures who will help them get their work done and make it to the next level, many Millennials seek employers who offer mentorships and other supportive systems in addition to the basic systems that used to suffice.


They also look for places where they can seek support from others. Instead of the old “that’s not my department” attitude, many younger workers seek to learn to do everything the organization can do and to fill in and support wherever they can. They also look for ways to connect with other workers in more meaningful ways than just gathering at the local pub on payday. As much as they want to contribute,


Millennials also want their employers to contribute to the environment, not just by protecting it according to EPA standards, but by giving back to it through community service, LEED engineering, etc.


As many of them were also raised as much by drones and smartphones as helicopter parents and villages, most Millennials demand that their work environments have the latest gadgets and, ironically, work-saving devices.


Speaking of devices, even when trying to train younger workers, technology is usually a must in EHS. Whereas many parents can still show you their worn union handbooks, today’s staff want multi-media presentations that engage their visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Don’t just tell me how to climb a ladder. Climb it with me! Or, better yet, get me a VR ladder so I can try it without risk of actually falling.


Such is the way of modern EHS.


Still a large portion of the American workforce, Baby Boomers seem far more reticent to make their desires known and seem more willing to accept, and even protect, the status quo. See a spill on the floor? Someone will get that. Have a hacking cough from the plant? It’s all part of the job. Use a smartphone to post a note about my boss? Are you nuts? I’ll get canned! (And besides- What’s a smart phone?)


Having been raised by parents who spoke of banding together through financial strife and world war, Boomers seem much more into the ”us” than the “I” and more dedicated to their employers and other organizations than to their own advancement. When presented with the possibility of changing jobs or even changing vocations, many put such experiments off until retirement, if they ever approach them at all. So while they may want a safe environment, organic and fair-trade are a bit too “new agey” for them.


As there is clearly a generation gap within the workplace, it can be challenging for employers and other facility managers to comply with all the wishes and desires that arise. Fortunately, new technologies are making it easier and more efficient to survey, gauge, and respond to requests and needs, even if they are not explicitly voiced. As ever, the bottom line is making sure people are safe and secure as they feel they need be in order to be productive. For EHS and workplace culture today and tomorrow, it’s time to bridge the generational gap through collaborative, communicative technology that promotes an inclusive office culture.


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