Helping younger employees succeed - and stay

As nonprofit entities, public power utilities are in a great position to benefit from the drive and energy of the emerging workforce. Younger workers will be the ones who will lead organizational and cultural change in our future, and if we want to be thoughtfully included in those changes, we first must embrace the emerging workforce into our organizations. By the same token, the individuals in this group need to understand how they can chart their own path, and why certain policies and organizational structures exist.

There are ways to tailor programs and organizational practices to be inclusive of the emerging workforce, without totally giving up core organizational structure and values – and without a heavy financial investment.

Create opportunities for feedback and coaching

It’s no secret that the emerging workforce wants feedback. Contrary to some beliefs, they aren’t being needy. They’ve often grown up this way, having had a lot more parent involvement, adult support, and feedback on school reports than previous generations. And many of us have grown accustomed to a culture where technology allows us to get anything at the press of a button, and then leave a review for it.

Some companies are abandoning the once-a-year performance evaluation in favor of systems that foster ongoing feedback. That may be a bold move for your organization, and that’s okay. It’s easy to find ways to fit in opportunities for ongoing feedback that cost nothing except the manager’s and employee’s time.  

As a manager, schedule frequent, short one-on-one meetings - thirty minutes or less - to touch base and to check in on the status of tasks, provide some direction, and give employees an opportunity to seek guidance. This paves the way for open channels of communication.

It also gives you another channel to recognize right away things they are doing well. Did your employee knock it out of the park on a project? Save the day on something unexpected or critical? Tell them so! People want to hear when they do something good, and lets them know their work is appreciated. The immediate impact is lost when you wait to tell them about it many months later during an annual performance evaluation.

It’s much easier to give positive feedback, but it’s equally important to provide constructive criticism to your employee. Failure to do so misleads the employee, creates inefficiencies, and can lead to resentment. Can’t you hear it now from the employee’s perspective: “Why didn’t someone tell me I was going about this wrong? Now I have to start all over!” Giving constructive criticism in a timely manner is not intended to be demoralizing; it sets expectations and should guide the employee to get back on track.

Show a path forward

One common misperception about the emerging workforce is that they don’t want to “pay their dues,” and they want a fast track to the CEO’s office. I will admit that I fall prey to this belief myself as a manager and an HR practitioner. I’ve seen it many times, and it can be frustrating.

But before I launch into stories of how things used to be in the olden days and how good they have it now, I stop and try to reframe my thinking and see things from their perspective. They are eager, excited, and have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Instead of saying “no,” it can be helpful to leverage this energy and show them a way forward.

Look at your utility’s job ladder and explain to them each level’s attributes and expectations. Tell the ambitious employee the things you would be looking for if you were hiring for the next level, or the level beyond that. Connect them with others who may have started at your organization in entry-level roles so they can hear about the paths to progression from those who have experienced it first-hand.

If your organization has a career ladder in place, then look for ways to build intermediate steps for progression in lower level positions. Finding ways to quickly recognize good work being done makes the employee feel like they are moving in the right direction and gain increased responsibility, while giving you some room to show progression without feeling pressured to promote to higher levels too quickly.

Take time to listen

The emerging workforce comes from more inclusive environments than the top-down, do-as-I-say environments that older generations grew up with. Even in elementary schools, young students are taught to participate in group discussions, present their case on a topic in Socratic seminars, and contribute to the rules and order of the classroom. To help foster this spirit, I recommend finding a balance between how you need to manage your organization while being open to the ideas and suggestions your employee may bring.

It’s easy to fall into a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” trap. But remember that new employees come with fresh ideas and a new perspective. Take a moment to listen, because they just might have ways to streamline processes, create efficiencies, and reduce waste.