By Gordon Wilson, CEO, Advanced
Our business is nothing without its people. They, and their individual talents, are what makes us successful and we must be committed to supporting each and every one as best we can. Now more than ever, every member of staff wants the opportunity to choose their own flexible future.
However, this desire for flexibility goes beyond agreeing a hybrid work pattern with a stipulated number of days in the office each week. It is based upon the real and changing needs of employees. In our recent Workforce Trends Report, compiled from data collected in June 2021, we found young people in particular were hit hardest by lockdown and the necessity to work from home.
In order to make our businesses attractive to young new talent, leaders must engage with what this generation wants, it’s okay that we’re still learning about what makes them tick but we need them to work with us and provide those answers so we understand their challenges, only then can we adapt and evolve to help each individual fulfil their potential.
One of the insights we gained from the report was that 50% of the 18-24 year-olds wanted to return to the office, although for only 50% of the time. Remote working has offered many benefits, but there seems to be no replacement for the workplace when it comes to collaboration and social interaction. For those at the start of their working lives, they have already missed out on so much of the fun and rewarding learning experiences that should be part of working life. They need exposure to the learning-by-osmosis effect of watching and listening more knowledgeable colleagues and they also want a social aspect to their worklife. After all, we all spend a large part of our week at work and it should be enjoyable. These issues are proving critical in maintaining good mental health and keeping employees happy and engaged.
Younger generations are also techno-addicts. Digital technology is the great enabler, but it is vital that leaders provide the right technology to employees and we avoid them feeling overwhelmed by it. 32% said that there were too many distractions from alerts and notifications and 16% felt they had too many business apps.
Having an appropriate workspace at home was also a problem. A quarter of 18-24 year olds were found to be working from their bedrooms. This is not good for maintaining clear boundaries between home and work.
Leaders should be encouraging teams to set aside focus times, when they won’t be distracted by emails or unscheduled calls. They can also draw a line between work and personal time, both by making sure they take breaks throughout the day, and by switching off and not dealing with work tasks when they should be at home. We must also model that behaviour ourselves and empower employees to do the same.
Only 37% of this younger age group said that their manager had introduced regular check-ins during the pandemic. This can lead to isolation. Encouragingly though, we also found that many managers did change their leadership style to incorporate the challenges of remote working. Almost half said they were spending more time providing reassurance and feedback, and 39% said they were giving clearer direction on tasks and projects. It’s likely that communicating remotely takes more time than doing so face-to-face, where gestures and nuances of a conversation might convey meaning more quickly and explicitly, hence the disparity between what managers have been doing and how that has been perceived by younger employees.
This is a generation that is very clued-in to the wider world and asks questions around why they are doing something. They need to understand, ‘what is the point?’ of anything they do, particularly in relation to their career. Young people are looking for an employer that shares the same values that they do, that has an ethical approach to everything its involved with, and is making a positive difference in the world. Leaders need to consider how they present their own values in relation to sustainability and the environment and ensure that all company policies reflect these so that it is truly authentic.
We must also consider how we engage with young employees on a personal level too, offering the sorts of working conditions, training, career opportunities and company culture that resonates with this age group. D&I is much-talked about, but it’s important that these values of complete fairness are integral to the way we deal with everyone including employees, potential employees, customers and suppliers.
Whatever the challenges of the pandemic, now is the time to play catch-up where required and engage in a more productive way with younger employees. As our future talent pool, we think it’s important to consider how we speak to, and perhaps more importantly, listen to this generation. We can do this in lots of ways, using focus groups and forums for discussion, collecting anonymised data to reveal trends that shape new ideas, and by simply listening to young employees whenever we can. By giving them a voice we can better understand their motivations and expectations, helping them fulfil their own personal and career goals that will ultimately help our businesses to grow and thrive. They may also help us, as leaders, to achieve our own personal goals around ESG, D&I, and the legacy we are striving to build for future generations.