”Because of Covid, we’ve decided not to take on any interns or new grads straight out of school until we are back in the office.”
I’ve walked this earth for a long time and been dealing with customers in business for over half that long, so nothing much really surprises me. This comment left me gobsmacked. What did COVID have to do with the decision not to hire new graduates or people for their first real job, especially in a tight labor market?
As always, every decision makes sense to the person or people making it. So, what’s the logic behind such a drastic choice? It turns out there are two factors involved.
Because of the COVID pandemic, many companies have limited people in offices. Since hiring new people usually involves lots of one-on-one time and shadowing more experienced people. Not having those people physically in the office means it’s trickier to onboard new team members, and many organizations aren’t filling roles unless absolutely necessary.
But this is true of anyone you hire, and many companies have hired a lot of people during the last two years. So why single out the newest, youngest applicants?
No Office Experience?
The problem, it seems, is not that the “kids” aren’t educated or capable of doing the work involved. There’s another problem in the eyes of many hiring managers. As my client said, “These kids have never worked in a professional, office, environment before. They know the work, but not the invisible things that make work happen—especially presenting themselves in a professional manner.”
After some probing, the issue became quite clear, and the implications of this on hiring, recruiting, and team culture are enormous. The quote that stuck with me is, “The way we work remotely is really trying to recreate the office environment at a distance. But what if people have never worked in an office and don’t understand how things ‘really’ work?”
Here are some of the issues this HR professional was concerned about:
Getting to know teammates and building relationships
In an office environment, when everyone is in physical proximity, you meet and sometimes literally bump into people without much effort. New, nervous first-time employees aren’t often comfortable networking or building relationships with older, more experienced team members. This becomes even more difficult when you don’t share physical space with each other.
The definition of “professional behavior” is often learned the hard way.
Younger workers learn what it means to work in a particular environment as much by observation and exposure to the culture as by any explicit coaching or guidelines. When do you need to dress more business than casual? Why can’t you use the poop emoji in an email to marketing? Most of us have learned this by observation and modeling those around us. Which is great if there are people around us.
New hires and younger workers in general are often conflict-avoidant.
This is a problem no matter where they work, but it’s easier to hide, suffer in silence, or remain invisible when you work remotely. Some degree of conflict is necessary to make good decisions, and learning to deal with conflict, disappointing interactions, and tough feedback is a critical part of anyone’s professional development. We all need to develop a thick skin to survive work, and remote work makes it tougher and slower to develop the calluses on our souls we need to thrive in the workplace.
Younger workers are used to communicating in a casual text-first manner.
Older people (in general) have different communication styles and needs. This is more than simply adjusting to someone’s DISC style. The work that needs to be done should dictate how we communicate with each other. This means we have to get used to doing things in ways we haven’t before. In the office, these things happen in many ways. There’s explicit coaching and feedback, certainly. But part of our education and development as professionals comes through observation, watching how other people get things done, and listening to how others talk to and about each other.
This reluctance to bring in people who’ve never worked in an office or traditional business environment before stems largely from the fact there is so much tacit, invisible, and culture-building that goes into taking someone from a raw recruit to an integrated team member. It’s hard enough with all the verbal, visual, and non-verbal cues that come with working alongside others all day long. Without that it requires more work and patience.
How will your organization address the need to hire new people with the stress of helping people grow into their jobs?
Is avoiding taking on younger workers a sustainable option?
What are you going to do about it?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.