Directors! Your Graduates Need You…To Step Up

At the time of writing, I am just over 6 months into a new job at Nepean, a communication and reputation advisory firm. How would you describe starting a job in the middle of a pandemic I hear you ask? One word: FIMO (Fear I’ve Missed Out).

In many respects, at such a difficult time for the job market, I am extremely lucky to have found a job in such circumstances, especially with such a great team. And I am not just saying that because this is written in their name. However, as a graduate where everything is built up to be “working in the big smoke”, it was disappointing in many ways. No post-work drinks, no office gossip, no nervous meetings (somehow Zoom takes the sting out of things), no suit-and-tie, no… hype. I have felt like I am missing out.

When opportunities exist, the team has done its best to make the most of them. But there is only so much they can do. Even when we were going into the office, London had a distinct lack of its usual energy. And now that we’re back at home again, the personal energy levels can be even lower as we all try our best to wade through Lockdown 3.

So, with employee engagement still at the top of the agenda, and likely to remain there for some time, I thought I’d outline my top five experiences and observations, in the hope it might inspire others out there to do the same.

  1. Finish on time. Speaking to my friends, this is a huge problem. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all up for mucking in when it is needed. But finding that work/life balance is tricky. With little else to do, it is very easy to get sucked into working all evening. Having watched Social Dilemma, my boss began actively encouraging employees to switch off their notifications at 6pm. Should anything urgent come in, he’d call us. This has allowed me to switch off.
  2. Give praise where praise is due. Unsurprisingly, what leaders say can really motivate staff. In my experience, it has also significantly increased my productivity. Oftentimes, work is just ‘pinged’ on Slack and not spoken of anymore. There is no “cheers mate” or a positive glance. Without honking my own horn, I recently provided a piece of value-added work for a client. A simple “well done mate” from my boss was enough to brighten up my day and encourage me to work harder.
  3. Send a treat. Weekends aren’t really “weekends” anymore. The days continue to merge into one another. Try and find ways to make your employees’ lives less repetitive. I was recently sent a virtual wine tasting to do with my housemates. This provided a) something to look forward to, and b) a fun Friday evening. A work social with my ‘WFH colleagues’ if you like.
  4. Exercise is key. If you haven’t already done this, carve out time for your team to exercise. With daylight hours so short right now, it is easy to go a whole day being stuck inside. As we have done, set aside an hour where no meetings can be scheduled. Encourage your team onto Strava, as one client has done, or go for a bike ride with a local team member, as we do.
  5. Empathy. There’s no doubt this is tough for us all. And I’m certainly not about to espouse some snowflake Gen-Z gobbledygook. However, for many graduates, this has been a pretty lonely time. The more senior (older!) you are, the more likely you are to have your partner (and possibly children) for company. While this has its own challenges, there are many single early/mid-20-somethings, possibly living alone or stuck in a room with a house full of people they don’t like. At Nepean, we try not to make meetings just about work. Ask how your team is doing. Take an interest in others.

We’re all having to adapt and be agile. I don’t doubt this is difficult for everyone – especially if you’re juggling home-schooling too. However, this is really important stuff and as leaders you need to invest time in this. Failure to do so will mean you’re not getting the best out of people. It may also mean you’ll lose your best people. Not only will this result in further recruitment costs but may also impact client satisfaction.

With vaccines being rolled out, the end is in sight (although there will still be more bumps in the road). But even when we do return to the office, this experience will have shaped graduate expectations forever. Those who recognise this will be the winners.

Written by Harry Roxburgh