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4 Questions to Help Managers Help Young Professionals

A woman wearing a face mask in an office.

​Young professionals are struggling to start their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The young adults in your workforce may have waited longer than usual to land their first jobs and could be facing challenges you aren't aware of.

The unemployment rate for young adults was 11.2 percent in December 2020, which is almost twice as high as the national rate (6.7 percent), peaking at 25 percent at the height of the pandemic. Some young adults were offered a job only to have it rescinded. They are likely to experience lower wages, a slower hiring cycle and a "failure to launch" their careers. Additionally, some young adults are taking on caregiver roles during COVID-19, which can be stressful, and a few have been diagnosed with COVID-19 themselves. Many have had to move back home with their parents.

Recently, I reached out to over 160 young adults enrolled in my courses. From the exercise, I learned that young adults are resilient, empathetic and future-focused. Not surprisingly, they have a strong desire for more social interaction, which managers can capitalize on through one-on-one conversations. These conversations are crucial for young employees' success.

Most young adults said they miss not interacting in person with friends, peers, family and co-workers. Many have created temporary workarounds in the interim, including Zoom calls and connecting over Discord (a messaging app). Notably, social isolation can affect mental health, which exacerbates the pandemic's effects on young adults.

Lessons for Managers

During this pandemic crisis, managers are in a unique position to provide employees with individualized support. One-on-one discussions must go beyond work and focus on the employee's well-being. Try these suggestions to connect with young employees:

1.     Inquire about what they're reading or listening to.

Asking your employee how they are feeling might seem too personal. One way to connect with employees is to ask what books or blogs they are reading or what podcasts they are listening to. This can help you understand what's important to them in the longer term. Most importantly, it opens the door for future conversations about their well-being and career development.

2.     Acknowledge their multiple interests.

Young adults' interests are varied and continuously evolving. Don't assume they are all thinking the same thing—or that they are still pondering the same thing this week that they were intrigued by last week. During one-on-one conversations, managers can ask, "What's top of mind for you this week?" Or, "Is there anything you learned at work that piqued your interest?"

3.     Stress sensitivity.

Young adults will be feeling the effects of the pandemic on their careers for years to come. Be mindful of stress your new employees are experiencing and partner with them to manage it. Ask them directly what you can do to help them at work.

4.     Help them build relationships.

Because many young adults have a strong desire to connect with others, it's important they have opportunities to build relationships with their work teams and co-workers. That can be hard even when everyone is in the office. Building relationships virtually will require managers to create time and space for young adults to connect. Tell them, "I am happy to help you connect with people virtually. Here are a few people I believe you'll enjoy meeting."   

Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., where she teaches courses in training and development, as well as in staffing and managing the 21st century workforce. She also has served in lead HR roles at Pitney Bowes and Assurant.


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