20 Tips for Managing Young Employees

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We hire them for their fresh knowledge, strong technical skills, and growth potential, but managing young people effectively requires a different strategy than some of your other employees, given their lack of business and work experience. Here are 20 tips for managing young workers.

   1.  Help them transition from college to work. Transitioning from student to employee can be a time of confusion, anxiety, exploration, and excitement. Recognize that each employee handles this transition differently and requires a different level of support from your organization. Think of ways that you can support your new employee in this time of change, whether that’s help with relocation or financial support for continuing education.

2.    Assign them to the right manager.  A young employee needs the right type of manager – one that enjoys teaching, mentoring, developing, and spending time interacting with their employees, since this is the focus of their interests. They also need a manager who is a strong communicator, isn’t afraid to provide frequent feedback, and values employee ideas and suggestions. Your traditional or untrained managers may not be the right fit for a young employee.

3.    Create a good on-boarding program. While it may be tempting to drop your young employee into an assignment right away with limited training, young employees usually need a more detailed and lengthy on-boarding experience to get started on the right foot. Spend the time up-front to make sure they are well-trained to carry out their job responsibilities, understand the business and its products/services, and are comfortable with your operating procedures.

4.    Fill the experience gap by providing just that: experiences. Job experiences should be many and varied and the employee needs to be involved in actually doing the work. Some managers are resistant to putting a younger employee on a more challenging project because of their lack of experience; however, recognize that the employee will only be as valuable to your organization as you let them be. With the right amount of task structure and supervision, potential risks can be minimized.

5.    Invest in them early. Make sacrifices in productivity early on to develop skill gaps in your young employees. Top organizations invest in young employees early in their career – and oftentimes right from the day one. They assess skill gaps right away, lay out structured development plans, and focus heavily on training and development in their first few years – sometimes even in lieu of a full workload. Once the right foundation has been laid, these organizations find that young workers are better equipped to contribute at a higher level later in their careers.  

6.    Give them attention. Young workers know that they have a lot to learn from others and expect more attention from their boss as a result. They don’t necessarily want autonomy, especially if they aren’t skilled yet at their job tasks. Once they become skilled, autonomy may become more valuable to them. They do expect to be heard and want their employers to listen to and value their input.

7.    Provide constant feedback. An annual performance review is not enough performance feedback for your young employees. They like and will need constant feedback as they navigate their tasks and responsibilities. They will also need affirmation as they progress. Managers should meet with young employees often for these purposes.

8.    Re-think how work is done. Younger employees don’t always approach work and life separately and may see these as blended and integrated. This may result in use of work time for personal affairs and use of personal time for work. As a result, they may be more productive working at home or using a flexible schedule.

9.    Provide variety. Young workers typically have a short attention span. They thrive on variety and change and may be your strongest change-agents.  They are usually most productive when working on short-term projects and quick tasks, or longer projects that are broken down into smaller tasks or phases.

10.  Use them for their strengths. They may not be your most perfect assets from the start. They’ll make mistakes and you’ll see the effects of their inexperience over time, but their energy, fresh knowledge, willingness to learn, growth potential, and creativity are all valuable to your organization and likely reasons for which you hired them. Use them with these strengths in mind, and over time with good direction and development, the rest with usually come.

11.  Offer “intrapraneurship” opportunities. Growing research shows that many young people want to be entrepreneurs. To keep their fresh, new, and great ideas inside your organization, allow or offer “intrapraneurship” opportunities – projects or opportunities that allow them to create or be involved in the creation of a new product, service, or start-up scenarios. Use their entrepreneurial spirit for your benefit.

12.  Be or give them a mentor. An experienced mentor can help young employees learn from experiences that they haven’t had and provide an objective sounding board for career discussions and work problems. They can also suggest or help facilitate developmental activities. A mentor could be another individual in the organization (perhaps a top performer), a leader, or the employee’s supervisor. Typically a mentor is 1-2 levels above the employee.

13.  Show them clear, defined career paths. Young employees are focused on advancement. They want to know their career options and work towards a specific career goal. If your organization doesn’t have clear career paths, discuss alternative career and developmental opportunities in the organization and show examples of how other young people have advanced.

14.  Monitor workload. Young workers don’t know what their limits are yet and are eager to take on new projects and responsibilities. They also don’t feel as safe saying no to additional responsibilities because they lack experience. Similarly, keep in mind that young people are not always skilled at managing their time and prioritizing work.

15.  Emphasize professionalism. Young employees may not be educated on the right ways to conduct themselves in a workplace setting. Expect that they may not know the basics like how to lead a conference call, create a meeting agenda, network, manage a project, general business/email etiquette, or more touchy subjects like handling emotions, hygiene, and dress in the workplace.

16.  Choose and monitor work events carefully especially if there is alcohol involved. After-work outings, happy-hour events, and other social gatherings are a great way to attract and engage young employees, but consider limiting alcohol consumption, choosing locations that minimize risk, setting ground rules, and dealing with inappropriate behavior on-the-spot to avoid liabilities.

17.  Differentiate between friends and coworkers. It’s not that friendships in the workplace are bad (in fact, they can be very positive), but young workers have a tendency to view their coworkers as friends more than other employees. These relationships can get too personal and may be inappropriate (i.e. dating relationships), depending on your policies. Plus, when friends start getting promoted and managing one another, these relationships can pose problems.

18.  Explain key policies. Hone in on certain policies with young people such as dress code, attendance, harassment, substance abuse, and social media/internet usage, and specifically what actions are unacceptable in the workplace and the consequences of those behaviors.  What was acceptable in college isn’t always acceptable in the workplace, and some young employees miss these differences.

19.  Provide benefits education. Young workers usually lack knowledge about their benefits – how health and dental insurance works, how much to contribute to their 401K, if they should use a flexible spending account, what an employee assistance program provides, etc. They may also need some help with financial planning such as paying off student loans, saving for a house, budgeting, to name a few. Spend additional time discussing benefits with your younger employees and provide financial planning resources.

20.  Be an example. Young people will emulate who you are. They will view you as a model for their behavior, copying your actions and words. In their first days and months, they are attuned to the norms of workplace behavior and will take on positive and negative behaviors they observe in their work environment. Recognize their malleable nature and use this time to mold them in positive ways.

Additional Resources

 Training for Your Young Professionals

This can’t-miss, two-part series for your organization’s young professionals, covers communication skills, professional etiquette in and out of the workplace, and the traits of a strong leader.

Mid-Level Manager Training

Career Centers: Key Stop for Internship Seekers

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Results from the 2011 ERC/NOCHE Intern & Recent Grad Pay Rates & Practices Survey indicate that career center services at colleges/universities remain the top resource utilized by Northeast Ohio companies to advertise internship opportunities.

According to the survey, which is conducted annually by ERC in collaboration with the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education (NOCHE), since 2009, over 60% of organizations consistently prefer the use of career centers compared to other sources utilized.

Other sources cited as commonly used include campus outreach (ex. career fairs, advertising), building relationships with college/university professors, as well as alumni contacts within these colleges/universities. 
This suggests that not only do college/university students dominate the internship workforce, but that utilization of their career centers is key to obtaining the internships they seek.

Research done here at ERC shows that career centers provide many benefits for both the employer and the potential intern.  For the employer, at minimum, most career centers offer job boards or an internal website to post internship opportunities.  For students, there are often a myriad of other services their career center offers to both help in their internship search, and in solidifying a career choice.