The Young and Inexperienced Employee

During their frequent visits to insureds, seasoned insurance loss control consultants begin to identify trends or patterns in their clients’ safety management systems. Some are above standard – such as formal hiring practices or routine workplace inspections, while others may be substandard – such as inadequate supervision or inconsistent new hire training. Identifying these trends enables the consultant to commend or offer correction to a business owner with the ultimate purpose of injury avoidance and increased productivity.

One such trend often involves young and inexperienced employees. Too often these employees are treated the same as other employees when it comes to occupational safety, but their “place in life” requires more attention. And if they don’t get this attention the results can be tragic! There are several factors that contribute to this higher level of risk. Review the three described below and assess whether or not your organization is exerting some control over this hazard.

Factor #1 – Age: This probably could be better described as “hormonal.” Regardless of their sex, young employees are impetuous – they take chances, and really don’t even realize what they are doing (read the paragraph below). In the world of safety, this characteristic is known as the Superman Complex. It can be very dangerous especially when the employee is using a tool that could lacerate or a machine that could amputate a body part. If we are older than 21, then we transitioned through this period of life, but did we make it with all of our fingers still attached? How about your back? Never forget that young employees bounce when they fall, but older workers shatter! However, young employees who bounce will get bruised and those bruises become cumulative injuries.

Factor #2 – Experience Level: This can be summarized in just three words – young and dumb. This is not meant to be insulting. The fact is that young employees are inexperienced. They do not have any work history. None of us did when we started. It is normal, but not safe. Do not assume that they are competent just because they are confident (read the paragraph below). The old saying that gray hair and wrinkles equals experience does have some merit. Young employees have neither, unless they have dyed their hair, and that does not count. By definition, a young employee is an inexperienced employee.

Factor #3 – Social Dynamics: This factor is linked to both of those described above. Young employees are young people, and social relationships are extremely important to them. They want to fit in and they want to make a good first impression. This needs to be controlled; otherwise they will end up hurting themselves or someone else. Two of the best ways to control it is by providing detailed instructions/training and by supervising them. Also, if you have more than one young employee then don’t let them work side by side. This invites “social/occupational” competition. Remember when you were young and someone dared you to do something risky? The only reason you would even consider doing it was if someone “witnessed” the event. If you have young employees then separate them so they won’t tempt one another to do something unsafe. No one ever jumped off a bridge unless someone else witnessed the event.

Summary: Young employees need more attention than do other employees. It is not insulting or degrading to initially “over” supervise them. Once they demonstrate competency and confidence in their job, then back off. But never totally ignore them. Remember what you did when you were that age? Incorporating young employees into the workforce is a wonderful opportunity to “train them up in the way that they should go.” However, while they are young and inexperienced they need and deserve additional supervision because they are different.