Engaging Millennial Associates on Food Safety


Many articles and books have been written about how management and leaders should communicate, engage and even get along with the workforce. Over the years, different generations have been responsive to varying approaches. Now, more than one-third of the workforce is made up of Millennials — those born during the 1980s to the early 2000s — requiring innovative approaches to engagement. Millennials have a short attention span, a strong ability to multitask, and an addiction to technology. They need to know the answer now, and always ask why. In response, many food producers and grocery retail executives feel compelled to tailor food safety programs specifically to the Millennial workforce. That might not be the best approach, however.

For food safety culture to be engrained, employees need to be engaged. According to a 2015 Gallup study on employee engagement, nearly 70 percent of all employees surveyed said they were unengaged at work. That lack of engagement in a grocery store can have catastrophic effects. A 2009 study from the FDA shows that more than 50 percent of retail associates are out of compliance with many basic food safety protections.

Rather than creating a food safety program tailored just for Millennials, a better approach for grocers is to look at how this generation is shaping the attitudes and behaviors of all workers, and then develop new techniques for a sustained food safety culture. Consider these four similarities:

  • Millennials rely on tablets and smartphones. The Census Bureau estimates more than 83 million Millennials live in the United States, but it’s also estimated that 182 million people in the United States own smartphones. It’s safe to assume that Baby Boomers also use smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, and clearly, neither generation is interested in reading a print manual.
  • Millennials gravitate to social media. Sure, but according to Facebook, the average user in the United States is 40-plus years old. Nearly everyone has become accustomed to using online platforms or forums for information and a community of resources.
  • Millennials have a short attention span. It’s believed that their attention lasts for around eight seconds, but nearly everyone is exposed to a world with hundreds of television channels and instant access to everything. Consumers want everything now. Just ask Amazon why it created two-hour delivery.
  • Millennials need to know “why.” For Baby Boomers growing up, loyalty often trumped reason. Millennials have never been satisfied with doing something just because they’re supposed to; they need to know why they’re doing it and how it fits into the greater good. What could be more compelling than attaching a cause and effect to food safety? Millennials just showed everyone it's okay to want to know the big picture.

If Not Demographics, Then What?

So with so much in common across generational lines, it doesn’t make sense to create training programs based exclusively on demographics. The best food safety training programs will instead focus on a holistic communications program that’s introduced during the new-hire orientation and follows employees throughout their time with the company.

Grocers need to customize communications based on the individual to gain a baseline on how well he or she understands safety, and then work with that individual to fill the gaps. This approach enables leadership to focus its interactions directly with employees who represent the greatest risk.

Management can also establish communication forums that reflect the way employees engage with social media. Use these forums to seek out suggestions and questions from employees, and allow them to share best practices for food safety with each other in real time. For example, one retailer that implemented a social-learning forum reported an increase in questions from 3,500 to 16,000 over one year. This two-way interaction builds credibility with the program. Employee involvement creates a stronger “buy-in” and leads to positive, sustainable behavior change. Forums also give corporate an opportunity to keep an eye on knowledge gaps, and then tailor food safety communications accordingly.

Millennials have helped create a culture that’s shared across multiple generations. Workers of all ages have evolved to understand the big picture in the shortest, most efficient way, and through the devices they carry every day. They’ve revealed to retailers ways to use technology to better understand and customize communications for the individual. In that way, Millennials have enabled a smarter approach to food safety culture.

For more information, visit Alchemy Systems online. 

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds