Communicating Safety and Gen Y with Eva Maria

 Audio Podcast available at the bottom of this post or on itunes.

  • 1:04 Is Generation Y a myth?
  • 3:58 Generation SMART
  • 8:40 Best way to communicate health and safety with young people?
  • 19:03 Can you be too direct?
  • 24:30 Safety Training Options

Tony: Welcome back, listeners.  Today I’ve got Eva-Maria, or Eva on the show.  Now Eva was born in 1990 in Russia and moved to Wellington, New Zealand as a young child and started a debt thing and watching how people talk and communicate while learning the English language.  She wrote her first book in 2007 as a 17-year-old teenager called, “You Shut Up” and more recently a bit more of a softer title in her second book called, “Shush Me” [Correction – it’s called “Shush, You!”]]

She’s done a lot more than that but her aim is to help improve relationships and communication between the generations.  So in terms of improving workplace health and safety, many businesses employ younger people and if we can learn to kind of communicate better then obviously we’re going to improve both safety outcomes and business productivity; so that’s why you want to listen to the show.

Eva, thanks for coming on.

Eva: Thank you very much, it’s fantastic to be here.

Tony: Great. So I thought we’d kick off in tackling this whole Y-generation or Generation Y thing and is it a myth?  Can we start talking about this generation?

Eva-Maria NZ on workplace safety

Eva: Yeah, absolutely.  Always best to define it first, right?  Generation Y, it’s quite an interesting term; I personally try not to use it in my presentations when I’m speaking about the younger generations, partly because Generation Y has a lot of negative connotations that come with it.  Some people say that Generation Y are the laziest generation, some people say Generation Y are called this because they’re always asking why (laughter), “Why this?  Why that?” because they never want to do anything.  Basically I think Generation Y’s main trait is that it is a certain age of people and it’s about people … Generation Y are young people aged between 15 and 35 and the reason why I have a problem with this, I guess the term, is because say … If you think about yourself, do you really think you are the same person you were at 35 as you were at 15?

Tony: Absolutely not, as you get …

Eva: I think that this sort of generation, it’s grown so large; it’s so big that when people try and claim that they’re Generation Y experts or that the generation has some common traits, I do not think it is correct.  I guess apart from shutting everything down in the first couple of minutes of this interview; I guess for those listeners that are listening to this right now, perhaps if I can offer a different way of viewing this generation.  Not necessarily the 15 to 35-year-olds but I guess …  Viewing this generation in perhaps a different light and applying maybe a little bit better understanding or techniques around how to get along with them or how to communicate with them because I think that, for example, from my work with young people, the way that you’re words … As a teacher the way that you would talk to a 15-year-old is a lot different to how you would talk to a 35-year-old.  Certain techniques like, I don’t know, maybe showing a 15-year-old pictures of something to get them excited about a project you’re talking to them about, whereas the 35-year-old wants the facts in a PowerPoint or something.  I think it’s about, perhaps, offering sort of general ideas around how to best communicate and understand the generation.

Tony: Okay, I like that.  That’s good, remove the pigeon holing.

Eva: Absolutely, so I guess if we’re stuck about talking about, I guess, generation of young people, my sort of contribution is, instead of calling them Generation Y, I call them Generation Smart.  It’s not necessarily because they’re smarter than everyone (laughter), although [crosstalk 00:04:03]

Tony: We’re pigeon holing the older than 35s now are we?

Eva: (laughs) But Generation Smart is, smart actually stands for five words and the people that have been to my presentations, when they sort of learn what these words are, for some people it’s very hard to forget and I think that these words describe what the generation is.  The S in smart stands for Swift, young people are very, very … Fifteen to thirty-five year olds is very fast in the way that they pick up technology or the way that they think or the way that they want things done so this is the generation of people that are used to instant gratification.  They want to go out somewhere for dinner tonight, they’re not going to call around and ask their friends, they’ll head straight to Google and they’re expecting an answer straight away or if we’re … I recently had this problem when I bought a new computer and for some reason it’s got Windows 8 on it unfortunately and it was taking longer than 30 seconds to start up when you start up the computer.  For me I was just getting so frustrated because … It shows that we’re impatient as well.  We’re always looking for something that’s done faster.

The M in smart stands for “Mobile” so we move around a lot, we are always on the go.  Young people sort of prefer jobs that take them places, not necessarily to help them travel to other places but more so, more flexible jobs they get.  A lot of young people like to work from home if they can.  Just the fact that they move around perhaps a little bit more than other generations have and I think going back to statistics, just as an example, 66% of newlyweds, young families in New Zealand going to move to a different city so it’s not so much relevant to the workplace, although it kind of is.  It’s just that we’re not, I guess the generation isn’t so much scared of change; scared of moving around.

The A in the word smart stands for “Accessible” so you can probably track down almost any young person because of their use of social media because they’re always trying to tell everyone where they are (laughs).

The R in smart stands for “Ready” and I think that this is a very good point to take away is young people are full of energy and they’re very ready to do stuff and the big thing that I found very early on when I was doing a lot of work with teenagers and parents was that a lot of teenagers were starting to get bored or get into trouble because they were ready to do something and adults didn’t think to give them as much responsibility.  Hopefully this is a point that we’ll touch on later on about young people in the workplace as well about giving more responsibility to them.

The last letter of Generation Smart, so of the word smart is T, “Transparent”.  I think this generation is … One of the biggest differences of this generation is that, perhaps we’re a little bit, well, we’re a lot more transparent in the way that we’re honest but that honesty, we’re not really sure if it’s good or bad.  Just as an example, young people write about everything they do on Facebook; not all young people and definitely we’re not going to write every single thing on Facebook but we’re more open to the fact that anyone can know what we’re doing or anyone can know where we are or … there’s not as much secret keeping, this generation, just because of the technology.

Tony: Sure, less privacy concerns.

Eva: Yeah, and I guess this is a very, very long way of trying to explain where I’m coming from when I talk about the younger generation, or Generation Y as some people call them, but I think it’s a very good way to illustrate the key differences of this generation from other generations in the world.

Tony: That’s fantastic.

Eva: Well, in time, not in the world.

Tony: Okay, that’s a model and we want to be looking at how we can communicate better so we’re in the workplace now, we’ve got younger people, who are smart, and …

Eva: Absolutely (laughs).

Tony: What is the best way, then, to communicate with young people in the workplace in terms of health and safety?

Eva: So the best way … Well, I guess there’s a number of things that you can do to be better at communicating with younger people in the workplace.  Firstly, one of the things is just remember that even though they’re young, you used to be a young person once as well, right?  You know, whether it was a long time ago or yesterday, it’s still very, very relevant and I think a lot of managers perhaps tend to, not consciously forget it, but just not realize that there are certain ways in which they can empathize.

I believe that 15-year-olds, no matter whether we’re living in today’s world, in the 20th century, in the 19th century, 15-year-olds would have always been pretty much the same, like nothing’s changed and there’s so many different quotes from Socrates and Plato.  Back in those days they were complaining about young people and how young people are disrespectful and annoying and nothing’s changed.  I think one of the things is really looking back into “How did I want people to communicate with me when I was younger?”  That could be sort of a first step of empathy.

Tony: Okay, so empathy.  So, learn from history a little bit as well.  Not only global history around 15-years-olds and so on but your own history.  How were you at that age?

Eva: Yes, absolutely.

Tony: You mentioned earlier about, and maybe this is one of the things to tie in at this point, giving more responsibility.

Eva: Absolutely.  That … Giving more responsibility to young people.  At one of the ACC  forums that I was speaking at there was a lady at the very end who said, “Well, from everything that I’ve heard from you, I understand that I should probably be giving more responsibility to young people, but I’ve got this one problem and it’s about the young guys at work not wearing their safety gear and I really need them to wear it because, obviously it’s dangerous if they don’t and it’s on the rules and it’s … We’re trying to write it all, write it down, rules, on posters around the workplace.  We’re trying to make sure that the managers tell them that they need to do it but we just can’t get them to do it.”  And she said, I didn’t even need to answer this question, it was perfect.  She said, “From what I learned from you today was I should get one of them to sort of become the enforcer of the safety gear being worn?” and I was like, “Yes, that’s exactly it.”

Whenever there’s some sort of problem or whenever there’s something that you need doing, giving responsibility to younger people and taking into account that they have this energy, they want to be doing more, because let’s face it, a lot of young people, at work they are bored.  A lot of the time they might be quite bored.  They might be working on their computers or doing whatever but I think that young people really, really need to be challenged and obviously … We know that young people aren’t retainable, as retainable as they used to be.  You’re lucky if a young person stays with you for about 18 months these days; young people do tend to skip from job to job and it’s not necessarily because you’re a bad employer or it’s not necessarily always to do with money or where they’re living, it’s just that they want to be challenged more and more and I think that responsibility, given them some sort of extra task to do, or giving them … Just giving them something extra to answer for really can help them not only with their performance for everything that their doing but all of their work but also help them, I guess, be more excited about the job and be able to apply this energy that they have to doing something good, and hopefully there’s something good.

So for this lady that was at the forum, I guess for her now she’s going to be saving time because instead of her trying to run around after these guys to wear their safety stuff, she’s got someone else out there doing it for her so she has extra time to be doing important things.

Tony: So in this case we’re identifying a potential leader amongst that peer group to kind of lead the change or enforce it if need be.

Eva: Yes, absolutely.

Tony: What about those who don’t react to that kind of peer pressure situation?  Is there a different way of communicating with them?

Eva: Yes.  Another way that you can communicate with them, I guess one of the points that I try and stress very, very hard is, and I have a number of different examples from workplaces and even in my own life with my parents, where the way that people communicate sometimes they think that everything is obvious and what they say is [crosstalk 00:14:12].

Tony: Do you have a, Eva, do you have an example?

Eva: I guess, perhaps, a really easy one is when I was about, entering my teen years and the dishes, I don’t know for how many people that are listening if you are parents, most of you, but at our house, it was always the dishes that were never done and was the biggest headache for everyone because it would always fall on me or my brother and … Come on doing the dishes is just not fun.

Tony: Yeah, look I’m smiling here.  I had fights with my sister about who’s turn it was to wash and who it was to dry (laughs).

Eva: Yeah, so I think my parents, they never bought a dishwasher because they thought, I’m not sure, maybe it was some sort of torturing parenting technique they read about but we never had the luxury of doing this so everyone that has a dishwasher at home, you’re very lucky, your kids are very lucky.

Anyway, so my dad would try and come into my room and he would sort of stand there while I’d be on the phone or reading a book or something and he’d say, “Well, I noticed that the dishes were dirty in the sink.” and for me, at the point in time, it’s not because I was stupid or anything, but I think that this really sort of reflects how young people can be like in the workplace, for me that meant nothing.  For me it was like, “Cool, Dad, can you go away?” (laughter).  At that point in time it wasn’t really important to me whether the dishes were done or not and I was doing my own stuff; “That’s cool, Dad, thanks for letting me know.  Thanks for dropping by.  See you tomorrow.” But really, obviously, what does he want me to do?

Tony: That’s probably a young person’s thing.  My wife has learned to be very specific when giving instructions to me otherwise I’m sort of like, “Okay, and … ?” (laughter)

Eva: Maybe we have the same personality type but I do think from a lot of research that I’ve done with young people, whether it’s because they are trying to play stupid or whether … And it’s the alibi that they never actually got told to do something, or whether they were in that exact same position as I was with the dishes, I think it’s very, very important to clearly communicate and a really good technique to be able to do that is having a very set code of conduct in your workplace, especially around health and safety because … It’s kind of like in the army, there’s certain rules around how you’re supposed to do things or what you’re supposed to do and every time you’re given an order you have to sort of repeat it back to make sure that you understood and heard it.  I think it’s quite an interesting concept and I think for teenagers especially, it can really help them understand more what is expected of them because if you have a code of conduct you can’t really stray away from it.  If you break the rules you break the rules and when you’re communicating to young people, if you’re kind of not sure whether they understood what you were trying to say or not, ask them to repeat it back.

One of the girls that I interviewed before doing a presentation recently, I asked a number of young people around, “What could your employer do to make you more aware of the workplace health and safety policies?’ and one girl, Natasha, but there were a couple of other people from within the research that answered in a similar way, and her answer to this question was “Actually inform the staff members of the procedures.”

Tony: (laughs) Seems pretty obvious.

Eva: Natasha’s 19 years old, she works as one of the, she’s not like a sous chef or the chef but she’s in the kitchen.  She’s not the dishwasher or anything like that but she’s … she’s got a good job and things like that but I think it just goes to show that sometimes even young people are saying “We don’t actually know the rules.” and some managers might think, “Oh, my gosh.  We always tell them about this, why are they not getting this?”  But maybe this means … It’s an opportunity, maybe this means that actually there’s some opportunity to be able to communicate with them better or maybe present some other ideas in a better light for them so that they actually hear what you’re trying to say or what the rules are.

Tony: Okay, I relate to that around the code of conduct or clear instructions.  I used to be in the military so I understand that quite well; however, I’m just wondering, my thinking would be and you’ve got to challenge me on this, which is what this is all about (laughter), that if you took that too far and you’re almost instructing in a autocratic manner, that that would be to any rebellious young person, it would actually turn them off and make them go the other way.

Eva: Yeah, absolutely; I totally agree with you there, but I guess two things, one is when you’re communicating with them and when you’re actually spelling something out, when you’re trying to get things listened or to understand what you need them to do, I think that the secret to helping them to understand and actually listen to you, no matter how you’re communicating it, whether it’s in a demanding way or not, is always to back it up with some sort of reason.

I think the mentality that young people have, usually being brought up with is, it’s the old “Mom, Dad, can I go to the party?”, “No, you can’t.” “Well, why not?”, “Well, because we said so.”  I think young people are often faced with the situation where, while they were growing up parents they were tired or they  didn’t really want to cause a fuss so, “Because I said so.”  Young people are still quite close to that age when they had to experience their parents, hopefully not too many of them, but it’s the reality for a lot of young people and whenever they hear someone or see someone who is above them in terms of hierarchy in the workplace or someone that’s older than them and they’re getting told to do something but there’s no reason behind it, it kind of goes back to those days when, “Can I go to that party?” “No, you can’t go because we said so.” and there’s no reason for it.

I think backing it up with a reason so, you need to wear the safety gear, going back to the example of that lady, perhaps the way that she can explain it isn’t “You need to wear the safety gear because it’s written here in the rules.”  That might not actually be enough for young people.  Maybe saying “You need to wear your safety gear because … “ and maybe giving an example of what happened when someone didn’t wear their safety gear or giving a reason around, well actually, when the planes are flying down, I don’t know, they can only identify people with yellow vests and if you’re not wearing a yellow vest the plane is going to land on you or something because you’re going to blend into the runway.  I don’t know, I’m thinking airports.  So giving them, even if it’s the stupidest reason in the world, just giving them a reason; because that is perhaps what works for them in some senses.

I guess the second point is when you were saying the autocratic  manner maybe is it too harsh?  When do you know when to stop?  I think another property of this generation of this generation is that we were born to parents that were always trying to fight for their rights.  My parents’ generation they were fighting for women’s rights and there was the hippie movement and then there was the sexual revolution and all of these things, and a lot of peace activists and I think our parents really tried to fight for their rights so that we came into this world where we were allowed to be anything.  We didn’t have to fight for any rights, we were allowed to … In today’s world it doesn’t really matter whether I’m a woman or a man, I can apply for any job.  There’s no stigma tied to as many things, I guess.

But this means that our generation grew up with no boundaries.  Our parents grew up with boundaries that they knew they needed to push, whereas our generation, we have no idea where the boundaries are so for us, even though we’re getting told you can be anything, you can do anything, we’re just really lost because we have no idea how far we can aim.  We don’t know, why aim far when we can just stay here.  So putting those boundaries and actually giving rules is probably one of the best things I say parents can do in today’s world but I think managers, even more perhaps applicable, managers can give the imposed rules because we’ve always had this mindset that the world is our oyster and there is no end to possibilities but you do need to spell it out that there are actually certain rules and this is where you need to be.

It’s not so much suppressing personalities or skill sets or anything like that, it’s just about saying these are the boundaries and this is all the space that you can fill up with anything.

Tony: That’s fantastic.  Really good information there.  Related to that, are there any training models?  We’ve talked about clear communication and I’ve got a picture in my head of texting instructions to somebody, not a good model I don’t think; or iPads or we mentioned the Army, should we be barking at them like an army, we’ve kind of touched on that, but what sort of training demonstration, what sort of other training models that are more relevant and are going to make an impact than others?

Eva: In terms of health and safety?

Tony: Correct, yes.

Eva: In terms of health and safety I think young people really respond to peer recommendations.  So if it’s the peer that’s doing a presentation; so again going back to that example of giving the responsibility to someone from within the team.  I understand what you mean by training models.  I guess it’s not necessarily up to me because I’m not an expert in making these models, or necessarily making these training models but I think young people are a lot more visual in today’s world so, perhaps, the training modules that are online?  Giving them more pictures rather than text with quizzes that they can answer by clicking on buttons, but also a recent study that they did in one of the HR classes at Victoria University, they actually asked a group of third year HR students about how they would prefer to receive training in the workplace and a resounding number, a huge number of students said that they actually, whenever they’ve been in the situation where they were put in front of online or computer models or modules to learn, they, although they felt it was sometimes quite tough, it was the easier thing to do and they didn’t end up learning anything.  So they actually preferred to have someone at the front of the classroom or standing in front of them talking to them and giving examples rather than sitting behind a computer and reading information off there.

So in terms of health and safety and training modules, I think really, really important … I know that ACC has some fantastic models online and you’re going to download checklists and things like this but I think if you are able to do it, try and do an in person workshop or something with the younger people because you have the opportunity to be able to show them things; you have the opportunity to be able to get people to share information with each other and I think that perhaps it’s very interesting because I think young people today learn a lot more from each other than perhaps other generations have.  That’s sort of research that I’ve done in the past.  It would take a long time to explain but [crosstalk 00:27:40].

Tony: No, that’s correct, I was really interested about that, that Victoria University example; given that …

Eva: I actually thought that it would be the other way around, I thought it would actually be quite smart if a lot more workplaces were doing online stuff.

Tony: Oh, you love that word, SMART. (laughter) Hey, listen, is there anything else that we haven’t covered or not mentioned that you’d like to talk about?

Eva: Yeah, I think, just one last thing, relating to health and safety in the workplace.  A really quick example of when you were probably being interviewed for your first job, one of the questions that was probably bound to come up is where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Tony:  Yes.

Eva: And … Is that correct?

Tony: Well, I was rubbish collecting, so not that job interview, no.

Eva: (laughs) But would you agree that most job interviews [crosstalk 00:28:35].

Tony: Absolutely, yes.

Eva: Especially office jobs.  Perhaps today’s young people if you ask them that, the answer that will go through their heads usually is “Well I’m going to be old in five years.” So it’s not … I don’t think that that specific question is very relevant for young people.  I know we’re not talking about interviews here but to put it into context.  What I think young people really excel in is, if you were to ask them instead of where do you see yourself in five years’ time, to ask them “What do you actually want to achieve during your time here?” So my two cents here is that instead of giving young people timeframes, give them milestones and I think in terms of health and safety it’s very, very relevant.

For example, in your workplace you might say, “In two years’ time we want half the number of accidents, right?”  Some workplaces might set goals like that, but for a young person to actually get on board, get involved and really help make a difference, being able to actually put it in such a way as well, we want to halve the number of accidents in the workplace, I guess as soon as possible would be a good way to put it.  I guess what I’m trying to say is, instead of giving a timeframe, giving a milestone, a goal.  Young peoples’ nature of being more competitive or trying to do more and trying to use up their energy somewhere, I think that is something that they are more likely to respond to.

One of the biggest problems for employers is that young people don’t tend to come on board with organizational goals, they just clock in and clock out every single day but to really get a young person engaged it’s about setting those milestones.  So, I think, especially in terms of health and safety, instead of saying “Our goal is to do this in this many years.” or whatever, perhaps maybe setting smaller milestones for shorter periods of time and I think that the attainable stuff is going to come a lot easier to young people and they’ll actually want to do it faster.

Tony: That’s a great place to finish off.  That’s fantastic.  It’s sums up where we wanted to get to with the younger smart generation and to the listeners out there who want to try and make a difference with their younger workforce.

So if anyone wants to get hold of Eva they can do so through her website, www.eva-maria.co.nz. I’ll put the link also on the website.

Thanks Eva-Maria for coming in and sharing your thoughts.  I think that was really fantastic, thank you.

Eva: Thank you very much, Tony.  It’s been fantastic to talk to you.

Tony: Alright, see you.

Eva: Bye.

Please add and share your comments or thoughts below. Have you had a good boss? How was safety taught, discussed or enforced? etc