Addressing loneliness for entry-level employees

Laptop, plant and a green bottle on a desk beside an open window

Tristram Hooley, Chief Research Officer with the Institute of Student Employers, tells us why the best inductions for new staff include actions that help prevent loneliness. 

A laptop, bottle and plant on a sunlit desk.

Addressing loneliness for entry-level employees

Starting work is one of life’s big challenges. Schools, colleges and universities all provide forms of help and support for young people and, perhaps even more importantly, they also embed young people in a ready-made network of their peers. But once you cross the threshold into your first job you find yourself in a strange environment, with no idea of the rules and surrounded by older people who you don’t know.

A good onboarding process is crucial

Most organisations understand this problem and create onboarding programmes to support young people that they hire to learn the job and assimilate into the firm. At one end of the scale this can just be a walk round the firm, an introduction to a few key people and the opportunity for a meeting with your line manager. If nothing else, this gets a new hire started and gives them a couple of people to go to for help.

The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) is a membership body for employers. Many of our members are large organisations and all of them recruit lots of young people (typically graduate recruits and apprentices). So they are a good place to look if you want to understand what good practice in entry-level recruitment looks like. One of the things that we are interested in is how they induct and onboard new staff in a way that prevents young people from becoming isolated and which allows them to quickly become a functioning member of the organisation.

Before the start of the pandemic ISE research on onboarding found that some of the best firms reached out to new hires before they even started and organised events for them to come together and meet other new starters and existing staff. They tried to bring groups of new hires in together and then spent an average of six days inducting new staff once they actually joined the firm. These kind of arrangements help new starters to feel supported and build a network within the firm, but many of them have been severely disrupted by Covid-19.

The pandemic made us adapt

The pandemic has massively disrupted the way in which organisations recruit, onboard and develop new hires. During lockdown many of us started working from home, spending our time in Zoom meetings and engaging with our colleagues through a host of online platforms. This was challenging enough for experienced workers, with a stable home life and strong networks inside your organisation. So, imagine what it was like for young people, perhaps working from their bedroom in a family home or shared house. They begin work knowing no one and with the added challenge of trying to connect with people via video conference and email.

Given this it is hardly surprising the majority (61%) of ISE members reported that the demand for mental health support from new hires had increased during the pandemic. The pandemic was a really hard time to start a new job, and an even harder time to start your first job. Loneliness and a lack of purpose and connection were at the heart of many of these problems.

To address this ISE firms actively developed new forms of online induction. The majority of them (88%) switched to running their induction programme online with more running some kind of blended programme. This included running social events online, sending out company branded goods, building up shared Spotify playlists and a host of other activities designed to make new hires feel part of the organisation that they were joining and build real human connections within it.

Alongside these social activities organisations are running more typical training and onboarding activities. Helping new hires to understand the organisation and their role within it. They are also devoting time to helping them get to grips with the new technologies of remote working. On average this has seen the induction time go up to around eight days.

As a result of this experience most organisations (83%) report that they are keen to retain at least some of their online onboarding experience. While firms are generally keen to move back to a blended model as the pandemic ends and the lockdowns ease, the experience of online onboarding has made them rethink their approach and discover new ways to support young people in their first job.

We all need connection and support at work

The message from ISE members is clear. If you want to ensure that young people thrive in your business, you have to remember that they are human beings and need connection and support. Building a strong onboarding process, whether online or face-to-face, that pays attention to the need to develop new hire’s network is critical to this. Investment in high quality onboarding will pay off in a motivated, well-connected and highly effective workforce.


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