In growing companies, business owners will often need to hire early-career applicants, usually employees that are fresh out of school with little work experience. While having a young workforce holds many advantages—including a lower pay scale, fresh ideas and perspectives, and native technology skills—one of the biggest complaints we hear from business owners and senior managers is that younger employees tend to be difficult to manage.
Common complaints about working with junior employees often fall into one of three major categories: 1) not completing work as requested; 2) not adhering to work culture norms or etiquette (e.g.arriving late, dressing inappropriately to a client meeting); and 3) oversensitivity or entitlement (e.g. not responding well to criticism, wanting more recognition for their work). When these scenarios arise, it’s easy to get frustrated and blame the “entitled narcissists” of the Millennial generation, but buying into those stereotypes will only perpetuate the problem. (Also, the first crop of Generation Z will be entering the workforce in just a few years—they won’t be drastically different!) Many managers don’t realize that most of these common complaints can be curbed significantly when the right employee onboarding and training programs are implemented.
Companies should reevaluate their training processes to ensure that new team members aren’t just learning the aspects of their daily role and responsibilities, but also have the opportunity to refine their professionalism and business acumen. By doing so, you can address many of the complaints about managing junior staff. Some of these key issues include:
Learning “how” is not enough—you need to include the “why”
Employees that are only told how to do something, without really understanding why they’re doing it and how it fits into the overall strategic plan of the company, can often end up being sloppy or careless with their work. Or in the case of some creative businesses, some junior employees may end up taking creative liberties that don’t align with business goals. For one example, a florist expressed frustration at a junior staff member for not building bouquets exactly as instructed. The junior staff member was also upset because she felt went above and beyond what was required. Unfortunately, her additional flourishes brought the project over budget and ended up costing the company money. If the florist had explained budgeting beforehand and taken the time to explain why she wanted the bouquets built to exact specifications, she may have avoided the later confrontation and frustration.
Don’t assume that employees will somehow figure it out on their own, especially if they’re new to the business or industry. Taking time to explain the “why” trains younger employees to think about the bigger picture, particularly for tasks that may otherwise seem repetitive or mundane: “This weekly report you’re responsible for ensures that we’re on target to deliver this $2 million dollar project on time, which could potentially lead to another $8 million in future projects with this client.”
Set work culture expectations from day one
Though older generations may cast Millennials off as lazy, the reality is that they are the most educated generation of our time, with 36% of Americans aged 25 to 34 holding a college degree or higher. However, all that time spent at college and graduate school means that more young adults are entering the workforce with a lot less time spent at summer jobs or part-time jobs, where they would have gained experience and learned about typical work etiquette.
On top of that, the media’s glorification of startup culture, with its open-floor workspaces, lax work hours, casual dress, and maybe a ping pong table or two, has played a large part in cementing the idea of what an “ideal” workplace should be. It’s no wonder that some young employees feel they can come into the office whenever they want or wear whatever they like, or at the worst end of the spectrum, lie about attending a funeral and then publicly blog about building a treehouse instead.
Whether your business is more traditional or more casual, it’s important to set those expectations with new hires on the first day. Formalize communication of all your benefits (such as payroll, insurance, vacation policies, and sick leave), as well as your HR policies (including workplace health and safety, employee code of conduct, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, and disciplinary policies) in writing. If you lack an HR department to do training and answer questions, consider inviting experts from your company’s PEO or payroll organization to host seminars or “lunch and learns” so that everyone gets on the same page about policies and no one spreads misinformation.
For less formal or “unwritten rules” such as dress code, work hours,work-from-home policies, or personal devices at work, make sure that these policies are communicated clearly with each hire. Again, it helps to include the “why” when you explain the rules. For example, instead of just saying “I expect you to be in the office promptly at 9am every day,”explain that the clients also start work at 9am and expect you to be responsive if they call with a question. This helps to get rid of any ambiguities, and also trains new workers to understand the impact of their own behavior to the organization.
Set milestones and teach them how to measure their own performance
Millennials care deeply about professional development—87% of them rate “professional growth and development opportunities” as important compared to 69% of non-millennials. Unfortunately that translates into what some managers feel is a nagging need for feedback, particularly positive feedback.
While offering consistent feedback at specific intervals can be constructive, it’s important to not allow junior employees to get distracted by the need for constant feedback. Set expectations early by using the employee onboarding process to be very clear about what success looks like, and at what timeframe.
During the training, set intervals with milestones that employees can use to parse their progress and track their own performance. We recommend 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins, but depending on the nature of the work, the intervals can be spread out accordingly. The milestones should be some measure of work responsibility that they can now “own.” For example: At the end of 30 days, you should be able to fully respond to level 1 customer requests without manager review and know how to escalate level 2 requests to the proper supervisor. At the end of 60 days, you should be able to oversee our online chat help line and manage all incoming Twitter direct messages.
Be realistic and honest with your young employees about their potential career path. There are always eager achievers that can get easily frustrated when they feel they don’t have enough high-level responsibility as a junior employee—don’t be afraid to start an open conversation about the nature of the role. For employees that quickly prove their mettle, also consider finding smaller projects that they can own from start to finish during their downtime.
Growing young talent into future leaders
Starting junior employees off on the right foot is the best way to help them grow into future leaders at your company. By taking the time to develop a proper onboarding and training program, instead of just throwing them in the deep end, employees start off with a clear purpose and know that the company is invested in their success—and in return, they’ll do what is needed to help the company succeed.