When society is so connected by technology, it seems a contradiction to suggest that we are more disconnected than ever before. In reality, the communication gap between young professionals entering the workforce and their potential employers is proving difficult to traverse. To explore this problem, MDHUB’s managing director Fiona Shafer facilitated a peer learning session with experienced business owners and young professionals at the Futureproof our Youth Wildcard.
The panellists, Joe Mattelaer, Robyn Burgess and Millie Green brought a variety of experiences to the table. 25 year-old Robyn has worked in numerous jobs since she began working at 17, from starting out in an office to managing junior employees. At 23, Joe has already finished running his first business, a start-up that bought, repaired and resold consumer electronics. Millie is a freelance writer and illustrator and manages MDHUB’s social media presence (as well as writing an article or two!) Their perspectives, while different, highlighted a handful of key problems for young workers.
One of the most prominent themes was money. Young professionals from all sectors and backgrounds are struggling to make ends meet. The panellists could all bring someone to mind who was having to move back in with their family to start their first job, or having to leave a job they loved because it simply didn’t pay enough. The economy has changed in the last 30 years to such an extent that many young people doubt that they will ever buy a house. With rent costs so high, a future away from the family home can seem very distant.
While some young professionals struggle for cash, business owners are seeing others make demands for raises, or have a lack of appreciation for the time and money invested in them. Worst of all, a trend in recruitment appears to be a hit-and-run approach to training – once trained, some new hires immediately cut ties and use their often-costly training elsewhere.
Another issue making the new generation’s transition into working life difficult is the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Millie felt strongly that the pandemic affected the physical and mental health of an entire generation. “I don’t think you can overestimate how significant the impact of [the pandemic] is.”
Robyn has also observed “social anxiety and workplace anxiety… [at] an extreme high.” She noticed that younger employees found communicating their needs and worries extremely difficult. From Robyn’s perspective, this is a direct impact of formative years spent isolated from their peers.
These barriers also affect business owners. New employees who have never been in an office environment are often not informed about office etiquette and miss the mark with their attitude and approach to problems in the workplace. If this is not nipped in the bud, it can become a stalemate. Both employer and worker are dissatisfied, but can’t work together to find a solution.
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Hiring and retaining good employees is trickier than ever before. With all this in mind, how can bridges be built between the generations to forge stronger businesses?
For Robyn, her preferred tool is “a book, where [young employees] don’t have to talk to a human.” Ask questions on paper, then read the answers and use them to start a discussion. This solution makes it far less intimidating to share opinions and worries, as workers won’t have to deal with the intensity of a one-on-one conversation unprepared.
Even though it can be nerve-wracking, for Joe, one-on-one time is the key to developing good workplace relationships. Employers have to set aside time to talk not just to their senior and middle managers, but also to their junior employees. Setting a precedent for honest communication between manager and new starter establishes the expectation to be transparent in the workplace.
Another potential solution was the use of team days focussed on communication and conflict management. Providing employees at all levels with the tools for effective communication, as well as the language to express
their opinions and worries, makes it easier for teams to be honest with one another.
Using roleplay to simulate common issues was one approach suggested by Robyn. “Within that roleplay, do switch roles. Get the younger person to be the more senior person and assess from there.” She suggested that switching up roles would be a great way to encourage compassion between the different levels of employee. Fiona suggested that we all have preconceptions about the other people in our workplace at different stages in our careers. Understanding one another’s perspective in the workplace is key to managing and diffusing conflict.
Future-proofing your business is not an easy thing to do. Add in the Coronavirus pandemic and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands. The main take-away from the Wildcard was the necessity of compassion and communication: if you can listen to your junior employees, they might be more inclined to listen to you.
If you’re looking to really understand and get the very best from your relationships with your younger employees, MDHUB can help. We can provide mentoring, coaching and peer groups to help you work through this complex topic in relation to your business.