Virtual work has adverse effects on young employees, HR expert suggests

Karen Brownrigg
Karen Brownrigg, CEO of Ottawa-based iHR Advisory Services, says new hires aren’t getting the support they need while working in a remote or hybrid workplace.

When 23-year-old Micheal Lemire was hired to work at Canada Revenue Agency, he was told he’d be answering about 25 calls a day from the public.

But as tax-filing deadlines loomed, the questions came flooding in. Lemire found himself fielding as many as 108 calls daily from Canadian residents who were angry, upset and anxious. “It was an endless queue of calls. We had people waiting for an hour and a half (to speak to us).” 

Throughout this time, Lemire never met a single co-worker, supervisor or manager in person. Instead, he worked from his bedroom. 

“It was definitely hard to do those 40 hours a week from home.”

He ended up leaving his job after a few months, frustrated by the relentless workload and, more importantly, unable to properly communicate his concerns to management in the remote work environment in which he found himself.

“I definitely think it had a huge impact on why I left,” said Lemire. “I feel like, if I was in an office setting, I could easily go to the person in charge. A little message on Microsoft Teams doesn’t work.”

For better or worse, the workforce is now in a digital age where many young workers have never experienced office life and, while some employees may prefer the convenience, human resources consultant Karen Brownrigg argues that the lack of in-person contact may end up harming a young person’s career if not properly managed.

“The hybrid and virtual model is something people are offering as a key component of their total compensation strategy because people are demanding it, but there is a cost to offering that and I don’t think employers are factoring that in enough,” said Brownrigg, CEO of Ottawa-based iHR Advisory Services, whose clients include small and medium-sized companies.

The traditional work experience is a “critical” time that helps young employees establish their professional relationships and networks, shaping them in a way that will have a lasting impact, said Brownrigg.

“You are gathering as much knowledge as humanly possible. You’re building the tools in your toolkit that will serve you throughout the rest of your career.”

The transition from post-secondary education to the adult workforce has been “an uphill road to travel” for many new graduates, added Brownrigg. 

“They didn’t even get to experience the relationship-building while they were in school; they were robbed of that,” she said of the online education that many post-secondary students were stuck with. “Now, they’re coming from that experience into another potentially virtual experience in the workplace, and I think that’s going to take a long time to recover from. In many cases, it continues to be very isolating.”

One of the roles of iHR Advisory Services is to conduct workplace assessments with its clients. Based on feedback, new hires aren’t getting the support they need while working in a remote or hybrid workplace, said Brownrigg.

She suggests employers add a needs assessment for new candidates joining the organization.

“As part of your negotiation or offer of employment, you should have pre-designed an onboarding program for the individual to ensure their success.”

She also believes that having mentors and professional networks are key to helping young employees navigate remote or hybrid work environments.

“If they’re fresh out of school, they’re going to need to build their networks and have mentors who can guide them. Employers haven’t turned their attention to that, and I’m quite alarmed by it, actually.”

Not only do mentors help to influence young workers, but they can open doors to new job opportunities, she said.

“It’s always good to have someone who can back you up. You might not have established your credibility because you haven’t been around long enough yet.”

She recommends employees who are new to the workforce find three different people who can guide them.

“Pick your mentors wisely and nurture those relationships. You can learn from them and they can help you now meet people in their network.”

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