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How Managers Should support Young People in their Early Careers


July 18, 2018

Joining a new employer provides challenges to even the most seasoned employee. New commutes, work patterns, responsibilities, cultures, decision-making and colleagues cause us to make adjustments and take time to get used to.

At this time of year organisations get ready to welcome cohorts of new starters. Many of these are young people who are setting out in their first job of their chosen career and are joining as graduates, apprentices, interns and ‘sandwich’ students on industrial placements. They may well already have had jobs in, for example, bars, restaurants, retailers, warehousing or childcare but are now facing the challenges of settling into workplaces full of appointments, meetings, local jargon, culture, new hierarchies and technical specialisms.

Mixed Emotions

This arrival into the world of a new employer can be exciting, disorientating, disconcerting and confusing all at the same time. No matter how well a person has performed in their previous studies or job roles, their confidence can be shaken as they find themselves in that very uncomfortable stage of being ‘consciously inexperienced’. To illustrate this, one new graduate employee in an engineering company I met with recently described her first day (with a lump in her throat) by saying,

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do and when I’m supposed to do it. I’ve been given an email account and, when I eventually worked out how to log on, I found over 50 emails already there! When am I going to get time to read them all? And I went to two meetings with my line manager and I hadn’t a clue what everyone was talking about and I felt useless”.

The Usual Welcome

When planning the induction of a new employee, consideration is usually given to the routine items such as (in no particular order):

  • a glossy ‘welcome pack’ (see many photos on LinkedIn as evidence)
  • meet your line manager and immediate team colleagues
  • your job role and a task to get you started
  • H, S, and E rules, routines and guidelines
  • receive IT equipment
  • local desk space arrangements
  • familiarisation with the buildings etc etc…

The Useful Welcome

All of the above serve a good purpose. But how about providing a really useful welcome to all new starters – especially to those young people new to the world of work – that includes the following 10 ideas:

  1. How to use time really well: For those in their first job there’s now a work life and a home life. For those moving jobs, there will be pressures to use time differently. Provide guidance and information about how to view and use time effectively. Support employees in identifying their priorities, clarifying the roles they perform in life, their aspirations and goals. I recommend finding out about Franklin Covey’s programme called “5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity” which has really useful content. As a licensed facilitator of this programme, I’d be pleased to answer your questions.
  2. Learn the full functionalities of your email and calendar software: It’s easy to assume that everyone is comfortable and confident in using the IT we provide for them at work (especially our younger new employees). In my view this is a risk because many of us are self-taught and therefore might not know what we don’t know! Young people are suddenly faced with emails, meeting requests, tasks to perform, interruptions from colleagues, training courses, brochures to read and, even though they’re ‘tech savvy’, they’ve not had to use it in this work context yet. Productivity software such as MS Outlook has a wide range of useful functions to help us filter the unnecessary, prioritise what we see, store useful contacts, group project information and file what we need to retrieve efficiently. As organisations, it’s powerful to have protocols, common standards and systems of established practices. However, many employers leave their individual employees to find their own way, automatically reducing the efficiencies and effectiveness. Educate your employees in their early days to use the software and to develop common working practices.
  3. How to respectfully use the in-house instant messaging system: Instant messaging is part of daily life. In the spirit of communication, collaboration and engagement many organisations use MS Lync or WhatsApp groups. However, again, there is little thought given to planning how the tool should be respectfully used at work. I say ‘respectfully’ because it is very easy to use instant messaging in a way that is disrespectful of our colleagues’ use of time. For example, instant messages are sent instead of emails in order to apply pressure for a speedy response. Or, even though the receiver is displaying a ‘busy’ notification, the sender then gets up and goes to the receiver’s workstation to interrupt them. Or the receiver deliberately leaves their notification as ‘busy’ even thought they could be interrupted (similar to some employees leaving headphones on to avoid interruptions). Organisations need to have the protocols and educate new starters in how the instant messaging system is used respectfully at their workplace.
  4. How to contribute at the meetings you attend: The first point here is to provide guidance as to which meetings are useful to attend in the first place! (And that’s a whole other topic in itself.) For new employees, learning how and when to start contributing at meetings, putting forward their perspectives and ideas, asking questions and influencing the outcomes is really important. It is rare for employers to provide learning in this subject but it could make a massive positive difference to the effectiveness of the meetings and to the confidence and contribution of the new employee.
  5. Working in a ‘matrix’ structure: Organisations vary in complexity. Some employees will not have worked in matrix structures previously. Certainly, young people who have only worked in hospitality and retail for example, will not have experienced the challenge of reporting to a line manager and a project manager simultaneously. This can take adjustment. Understanding why you sometimes can feel pulled in two (or more) directions is really useful. Build this into the induction for new starters if your organisation has such an operating model.
  6. Working effectively with different personalities: regardless of someone’s stage in their career I believe it is powerful and useful to provide information, education and development about personality types or traits or preferences. This helps self-awareness and enables colleagues to identify, accept and work with the differences and similarities they will come across in each other. For young people, starting out in the world of work, arriving in teams comprising a whole range of personalities, it would be really useful to support them at this early stage.
  7. Who’s the boss? I don’t mean to question who in the hierarchy has the ‘power’. What I’m identifying is that it’s important to find out about your leader so that you can view her or him as a human being. For younger employees, the manager can seem to be clever, powerful, aloof, and, at worst, intimidating – even though that manager is not trying to come across like that. My advice is for the new starter to treat the manager as an equal and for the manager to be as ‘human’ as possible – putting the new starter at ease as quickly as possible while maintaining the culture of ‘professionalism’ espoused by the organisation.
  8. Using the Internet and Social Media for personal use: In my experience, this is causing dilemmas for managers. Some employees are flicking between work tasks and checking their phones for messages. Managers are concerned about the effects on productivity, some employees are saying that they’ve never considered this as a problem. At the very least, I believe that this needs to be openly discussed during induction periods so that expectations are set and can be managed.
  9. It’s OK to ask for help and to make mistakes: In my view, these are vital mindsets to have at work. For new starters, adopting these mindsets can be empowering and have the propensity to reduce the discomfort anxiety related to learning a new role. New starters are then more likely to perform and contribute. The first people to greet the new starters in your organisations need to reinforce this and demonstrate it.
  10. Give yourself time: It’s easy and natural to want to feel settled and competent as soon as possible. I urge new starters to be kind to themselves in this regard – and for their employers to be kind to them too…

Rob McWilliam is a Coach , Facilitator and Consultant for Change Formation. He works with people so that they and their organisations are assured, bold, competent and determined to succeed.

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