Graduate blues...and what this means for employers.
Next month marks the start of when we’ll see posts and attend celebrations for the Class of 2017. Amidst the excitement of completing a 4-year journey successfully, for many recent grads, there, will most likely be a hidden elephant in the room: graduate blues, also known as depression.
By the time I attended my NYU Stern Convocation in May 2013, I had already secured my full-time opportunity the previous November. With a start date in late August 2013, I had plans for international travel and serving as a teaching fellow for two marketing classes during the summer. To everyone around me, it sounded like the perfect post-grad scenario: having my own apartment in NYC, 3 months to enjoy new grad freedom, a job lined up (i.e. less stress about how to pay for those pesky student loans), etc.
However, something felt strange and odd about this new phase. With all this newly-acquired time and preparation to transition to working full-time, I suddenly missed the packed schedule and the group projects (which at one point I disdained) of undergrad. My mind was perplexed by this reality. But HOW? You have everything lined up. The “perfect” scenario.
After speaking to a therapist about the shift, it was confirmed. I had the graduate blues. Her recommendation was to incorporate a bit of the structure I developed in school into this new phase of young adulthood — also known as adulting.
Looking back at this phase in life and recognizing it’s a common stage that recent grads experience, I think it’s a reality that creates an opportunity for employers to foster a holistically healthy culture for entering millennial employees from Onboarding Day #1. Why should this matter for employers? “The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020, depression alone will cause more days of work loss and work impairment than any other illness.” — the same year that millennials will make up more than half of the global workforce. Ultimately, being mentally healthy is critical to optimal employee performance. As entry level employees are most impressionable during their first years out of school, they may attribute lack of effective performance to their abilities instead of on recent major shifts that have an effect psychologically — a perception that they could carry on for the rest of their career.
Below are some tips on how employers can embrace this phase of their new employees’ lives for the benefit of their employee culture.
- Address this reality head-on. The most opportune time is during employee onboarding and training. Along with trainings on “how to be an impactful leader” and “dealing with team conflict” incorporate the importance of holistic employee well-being. Bring in a mental health professional (therapist, breathing coach, meditation instructor) to share more information about “graduate blues” and the psychological shifts that may occur with the transition from student to young professional. It’s important to position your company as knowing there’s no expectation for students to suddenly have it all together when they reach your office… they’re learning (and no matter what we say in the interview, we don’t have it all together on day 1.) The more comfortable they feel in their environment, the better the chance of them being able to bring their full selves to work and exercise their gifts for the betterment of their team’s performance.
- Incorporate mental health throughout various employee engagement activities. From stress and change management tools such as yoga, mindful meditation practices, breathwork, don’t let the conversation stop at onboarding. Adaptation to full-time work life happens in phases and chances are, new hires may not feel 100% comfortable discussing these changes with their boss or immediate team. Having third-party involvements to facilitate these activities will be critical in shaping a culture that helps recent grads excel for the long-run by providing them with positive mental well being habits.
- Include managers and the rest of the organization in the conversation and trainings, especially if your company has a leadership development program. Having a holistic viewpoint of an employee’s experience better helps their managers and mentors to guide them. With the knowledge that these millennials are navigating major shifts, leadership development programs can be extra taxing on dealing with change as they are moving from one manager and team to another — just when they’ve gotten the hang of their previous team. While dealing with performance expectations, they’re also tasked with learning the soft skill dynamics of another team. With managers and program managers equipped with this information, they can promote the healthy change management strategies learned and incorporate alike activities in their team building sessions.
- Integrate these practices and learnings from one group — “millennials” — to any employees navigating change. Track employee feedback from the incorporated measures to then advocate for other employee groups that may be silently suffering from adapting to change. Whether it’s new moms re-entering the workforce, recently released veterans transferring their skills to a new environment or current employees moving from one country to another on a global assignment, major shifts tend to bring about psychological change and having resources available for employees to explore if and / or when need be will be beneficial to their performance.
To recent grads — you’re not alone in this new phase. To employers — I hope these tips provided insights to help you truly build a holistically healthy workforce and culture.
If you’d like to talk more about incorporating creative strategies for your millennial employees, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!