You can almost immediately identify the fresh-off-the college joinees in your team. They pretend they’ve understood what they’ve been told, even if they don’t. They walk on thin ice until they find their groove, and unexpectedly come up with impressive insights or perspectives. They tend to stick together. Employees in their early twenties, a part of the millennial workforce, are the generation that has grown up with new media as an indispensible part of their lives, and consequently has grown to be different than their preceding generations. Assumed to be aloof and complicated, this particular set of workforce, can transition into a force to reckon with, provided they are nurtured, guided and mentors by the leaders of today.
The scope of this text focuses exclusively on the employees who have recently joined the workforce, and are new to their job. As opposed to clubbing them with the broader definition of a ‘millennial’, the writer is of the opinion that exclusive attention needs to be paid in the growth of such young employees. Young employees, who are just starting their career, come with a clean slate, with few biases and judgements. They are ready to learn at every opportunity, and embrace their first chance of contributing to the society by being productive. The zeal to succeed, and the bright-eyed optimism, which eventually tones down, and diminishes, is paramount at these formative years in their career, and this quality sets them apart from everyone else. Unfortunately, even as organisations are busy wooing young employees to join them, the writer opines that they are not able to fully capitalise on this drive of the young individuals, and turn it into something more and better. Remember back to when you were a fresher. You probably have a different sense of understanding about your work, and a different set of priorities, but introspect a little, and answer to yourself, which of these changes are compromises to your younger self, brought upon by the external environment that you exist in?
Sure, savvy induction and training programmes in every organisation introduce young employees to the future that awaits them, but isn’t that akin to moulding perfectly different individuals, who have different approaches to work, in a single pre-defined mould, virtually undistinguishable from each other? In such a background, the role of the team, and the leader of the young employee has a very critical role to play. It is these individuals, who will shape and form, the basis of understanding of a new career. Support for growth, and mentoring at this stage, if done well, and in a planned manner, can last way beyond switching jobs, and careers, and often results in great professional and personal relationships.
Although these pointers can be used to help any new team member grow, they hold special relevance to young employees joining a team:
In fact, over-explain. Give a short yet informative description on even the smallest of processes in your organisation. Make sure you tell them, not only what is to be done, but why is it being done in the first place. You surely cannot teach young employees how to think, but you can explain to them what you think, and help them develop from there on.
Be generous when giving a feedback, especially when praising. You might have grown accustomed to the ‘Good Job’ you get from your boss, or the copy-paste template appreciating your role in a certain project from senior management, but remember it is all new to them. Praising their idea or performance in front of the team will send them over the moon and push them to do better. Take into consideration that they have been in a stick-and-carrot based system all their life up until now, and if they think they are doing well at their first ‘real’ stint in the world; it will just bolster up their confidence.
Do not go soft on them, more than needed. Devise challenges to up their tasks in an organised manner, and keep an eye on their progress. Question them, for small and big things – not to come across as a know-it-all – but to genuinely challenge them to know better. Let them err, but be cautious that those mistakes can be reversed with minimum or no impact.
Treat them as equals, despite your age difference. Do not assume their casual lingo or body language is undermining your authority, but genuinely make an effort to understand what they think about things – both inside and outside the office – basically trying to understand the kind of person they are. Make sure they interact with other employees and leaders at events.
Invest time, resources and money in really understanding the brightest of the lot. Watch out for the ones who are always willing to learn, who find lessons even from their own failures, and those who are up for any challenge you throw at them. They will be easily identified, but how you choose to hone them, will decide their future.
Know when to allow them to transition from hand-holding to independent decision-making. Support them, nurture them, enable them, and then let them take on the world. Do not create a system where they need to run everything by you, and keep second guessing their work. Enable them to be independent thinkers, decision-makers and problem-solvers, so that they can tackle the challenges thrown at them.
Last, but far from least, drop the insecurity and threat, of someone younger taking over your job, and earnestly teach them. Do not preach the ideal, or repeat what you have been told – but actually teach what you do, and how you do it. Many might go onto do different jobs, open their own businesses or ventures, but they will all base their future on the fundamentals – and their utility – you teach them in this short span of time.
Thus, the colleagues and people a young employee interacts with regularly are in a unique and powerful position, and they probably do not even realise so. The onus of shaping the understanding of a young employee rests with the team, and the leader, as much as on the organisation as a whole. Even if you have to go out of the way to help a fresher in your team, you should do so, for it is a gesture that is bound to have several positive repercussions. Helping young employees to understand their work, skills and self better will not only benefit the organisation, but also help you be genuinely proud at contributing toward somebody’s success.