The impact of the pandemic on our young adults, all relatively new to the job market, cannot be underestimated. These youths have entered into a space void of personal contact – things such as lunchtime conversations and open-door policies – which would have provided the opportunity for natural development within a career and workplace. Things such as peer learning, encouragement and growth; and building confidence by asking questions on the go; as well as informal mentoring by supervisors, managers and leaders have all been lost due to working from home. The move to hybrid is in some sense perpetuating this new culture of ‘fake it till you make it – on your own by not acknowledging the need for employee support in and of itself. One of the first things we know about trauma or traumatic experiences, is it’s not the experience itself, it’s the being alone with it that causes the trauma to perpetuate, linger and do more damage.
To have a development or coaching programme in place is one thing, but leadership should be actively engaging in it, and they should be intentional about creating a culture where people will feel psychologically safe to be coached/mentored. If the conscious invitation is ‘here is a coaching/mentoring programme to help you ‘fill the gaps’ for hybrid, join now!’; but the unconscious message is ‘if you need coaching you’re not good enough for us’ or ‘only the weak need coaching’, then people will never participate and all the HR and communication efforts in the world won’t get them there.
In learning and application, there is a golden rule – I call it the rule of enablement: If you (manager/leader/supervisor) expect someone (employee) to do something, the employee needs to be enabled to do it, otherwise it is an unfair request. As leadership, assumptions become the biggest blind spot. The question to ask yourself is “Are we genuinely enabling our youth to deal with a hybrid work culture?” Perhaps go further: “Do we really understand what is needed to enable a hybrid work culture”. My prediction is it will be the organisations who are willing to do the hard work, who will get this hybrid working thing right. And to know what the work is, you must be willing to face the reality of the situation in front of you, without an ego.