It seems much of the conversation around generational differences or ageism typically focuses on those of “retirement age”. This group is nearing the end of their professional career and may be facing discrimination because of it. But what about those just beginning their professional career? Why don’t we focus on the discrimination or conflict they may face?
Your Clear Next Step has utilized interns and young professionals for years. In fact, we’re currently experiencing a wave of new and returning faces. We’ve found an eagerness and an abundance of fresh ideas to help propel YCNS and their careers forward. But there’s more to it than just hiring and throwing projects at them - bringing on young professionals takes guidance, encouragement, understanding, and investment. Not unlike most other professionals, right?
However, the way to provide these things to young professionals is a little different. It requires an understanding of the generation and the specific challenges they face. So, let’s take a look at how to support your young professionals.
Well-being first and foremost
Prioritize the well-being of your junior employees. It's the right thing to do and it’s good business. Employees are there for the benefits the job provides. This doesn’t just mean financially (although it’s important to be fairly compensated, of course) - it also means socially. Employers have the opportunity to provide employees the chance to connect and build meaningful relationships. The relationships they are building now will have an effect on the kind of relationships they build in the future - and how they do so. YCNS organizes celebrations for interns, such as for graduation, as well as getting together once a week for coffee. Try finding some ways to spend time together that works well for your group!
Plus, the happy employee is the productive employee. Engagement increases when an employee wants to be doing the work they’re doing. If they feel connected to the project or the goal of the organization, they’re likely to give more effort in pursuing it. Sharing the "why" of a project can help a junior employee feel more engaged in the "what". If they feel connected to the work and their peers, they’re more eager to complete the tasks given to them or volunteer to fill in gaps.
Who’s in the driver’s seat?
Understand what drives junior employee engagement. Do their special interests align with a project? Do they thrive on a little competition? Are they energized upon receiving feedback? Get to know your junior employees and find their individual motivations. YCNS has found our young professionals to be eager to complete the work asked of them, and they tend to go above and beyond. They are driven by a want to prove themselves - coming fresh off of a degree or valuable work experience, they’re thinking, “Let me show you what I can do.”
Additionally, any employee feels more engaged when they have a sense of belonging and feel cared for. If the employer has set a welcoming environment and considerate culture, employees feel essential and want to contribute to the bigger picture. Now, it’s not only, “Let me show you what I can do,” it’s “Let me show you I belong here as much as the next person.”
Checking in or checking out?
Create an environment that’s open to dialogue surrounding issues. When leaders and employers are open to feedback and can create a safe environment, young professionals - as well as all employees - can feel safe to share their opinions and thoughts, free from the fear of any repercussions. Offer up a forum or another way to provide feedback, it can even be anonymous! Then, make sure action is taken to address the concerns or suggestions.
If the environment doesn’t feel safe, employees may either turn to “echo chambers” - places such as social media where they can rant to people experiencing the same issue - or bottle their feelings up and grow increasingly upset. Either way, fuel is added to their fire, and it can become more and more difficult to put it out. Providing a safe space for open dialogue can build trust between employer and employee, and improve the working relationship overall. A great way to show a safe environment is being careful about how you receive feedback. Check out this blog to learn more about how to do that.
Empathy, empathy, empathy
Be empathetic to the day-to-day struggles and frustrations of junior employees. Many of them are just now facing what it’s really like to “be out on their own” and handle situations themselves. Having a job may be brand new to them, particularly a full-time gig with higher stakes responsibilities. Job stress could be additional to great stress in their personal life.
Employers of young professionals have a unique opportunity in helping them recognize and act on their professional hopes and dreams. You know the trend about switching majors 6 six times before you find what you really want to do? That can happen to a young professional starting in their first job too! An employer can provide a variety of projects or positions to find where they shine best.
In the long run…
Realize the long-term value of investing in junior employees. Interns can become part-time or full-time employees. Junior employees can work their way up to Executive and beyond. Employers can be thinking about a full-time position or promotion to provide to growing junior employees early on. Think ahead for what sort of future opportunities there may be for your junior employees. If employers are willing to invest in young professionals, pretty soon they’ve got a staff full of trusted, competent, and engaged employees. Not to mention it’s more cost effective than having a constantly revolving door.
Investing in young professionals is a part of realizing their worth. Employers can take a chance on a fresh perspective and new skills or tools. Everyone has to start somewhere, and when given the chance, young professionals are eager to show the world just what they can do. Investing in them is just good business sense - they are the future after all.
So, ageism doesn't always focus on those getting ready to cross the finish line, but also those in the starting line-up. How can you best support their takeoff?