The team included a young woman on the NHS graduate development scheme. She had been working for the trust for nearly a year, and had never met her colleagues, or fellow grad scheme participants face to face. To many of us, remembering our first forays into work, this is an almost unimaginable situation. How can we help young people make progress, learn the aspects of work that can’t be formally ‘taught’ and engage them with the purpose, values and culture of our workplaces? Here are five simple actions you can start right now.
Probably the single biggest gift of support you can offer is that of time. Make time to catch up with young colleagues. Giving time can build trust and appreciation, so use it well. Have some notes about topics of conversation that might be useful to them, or prepare a couple of good coaching questions to help them reflect on their progress so far. You don’t need to be an expert coach, or source of all wisdom, just listen.
Networking isn’t easy even in a face-to-face environment. Make a point of introducing young people you know to others in your organisation. You could be part of the call initially if you think that will help. Find an area of their knowledge or interest where they can add value to a contact, and not just be seeking a network. For example, if your young colleague is an excellent spreadsheet user, maybe they might talk to one of your other colleagues to share tips on spreadsheet hacks.
In the ‘face to face’ days, you might have invited younger colleagues to join you for lunch or coffee with a wider range of people from across the organisation. Eating on Zoom is not a great activity – so offer something different. Perhaps a speed networking session where just three younger colleagues meet just three colleagues with more experience and invite each of them to take 3 minutes to share something of themselves, their ambitions, and their current project. The more experienced people might be drawn from your professions or area of experience, not just from your current employer. The whole event can be done in half an hour. Encourage the participants to connect with each other individually if it seems appropriate
Whether you like it or not, LinkedIn is the networking site for work. Encourage the young colleagues you know to sign up for the free version. They can post content and start building connections. Connect with them yourself. Even if you don’t use it – still encourage them to look at it – they need the contacts. There are lots of video tutorials about making the most of LinkedIn. I often advise young people with little work experience to first build a network within their organisation, then join a relevant group and start contributing. It’s also worth reminding your young colleagues that LinkedIn is very much about the world of work, even when people post personal content. If you are a LinkedIn user, make sure to respond to your young colleagues’ posts and share as much as possible.
We all made mistakes early in our career – we are all still making mistakes now. Stuck alone in our bedrooms, it’s easy to condemn people for talking out of turn, mis-reading the mood of the room, or not understanding the (sometimes bizarre) unwritten rules of organisations. If you experience a young colleague ‘getting it wrong’ in some area, do something constructive to help.
If every experienced colleague ‘looked out for’ a young newcomer what a difference we could make! The genuine challenges caused by enforced virtual working could develop into valuable personal connections as well as help build the talent we need from the next generation.
Hedda Bird, CEO of 3C Performance Management Specialists and author of new book The Performance Management Playbook: 15 must-have conversations to motivate and manage your people, Pearson, £24.99