So, you want to help your fresh-faced young hires perform better at your company. If they’re good workers, the biggest problems you’ll find will seem to be timidity, over-subservience and dependence, a lack of engagement, a lack of initiative, and a lack of clear, original thinking.
Do you remember being a young employee? If you do, you’ll know why.
If it’s been a while, here’s a refresher: young people in the workplace are scared. They’re scared s***less, in fact. I remember what it was like, and I can smell the fear in the 18, 19, 20-year old (and older) young professionals whom I’ve met.
Even though young people have access to more information ever, they’re wading into more complex and faster-moving workplaces than ever. They’re coming from schooled backgrounds which train them to fear failure like the devil. The combination of those two things will make them act quite often like deer in headlights when someone mentions a process they don’t understand, goes over their heads
But this fear – linked to a desire to please you – is not only counterproductive but also dangerous. It can cause your young people to seize up and stop when they need to act. It can also cause them to react out of fear instead of acting out of thought.
This is a very basic observation, but it’s so important to have empathy into this if you want to 1) understand and 2) enable your young employees.
Here are a few things you might consider doing to encourage younger employees, whether you’re a manager or just a more experienced coworker.
1. Let them make small mistakes in bounded environments. The best antidote for fear is exposure therapy. Give your young employees the safe assurance of the freedom to fail in certain small, bounded environments (for a web developer, think “one-time event website” instead of “main company website”).
2. Model the right behavior around failure. If failure is the fear, your young employees need to know how to act when failure does come for them. So it’s up to you. Take ownership of the responsibility for your failures. Treat your own failures as growth opportunities.
3. Don’t create an environment of expertise exclusivity. Reward results, creativity, and initiative – not past accolades, knowledge/expertise, or even intelligence and confidence. You want your young people to feel welcome and not ashamed that they don’t have all the answers yet. They will learn them.
4. Stick with them through fear. Perhaps the most important thing you can do for young employees is to show that you understand and accept their fear. Share your own fear and experiences of inexperience. Acknowledge the elephants in the room, be honest, and be kind.