March 1st, 2024
People were disoriented, disillusioned, alienated
The ‘lost generation’ was a term coined by psychologists referring to the generation of people who reached adulthood immediately after World War I. They felt disoriented, directionless, and haunted as survivors of what had been one of the most horrific wars in modern history. In the United States, President Warren G. Harding’s announcement of a “back to normalcy” policy, which called for a return to the way of life before World War I, just left the ‘lost generation’ even more alienated. Disillusioned, they rejected the traditions of the older generation and sought a new way (Langley, 2021).
A cohort of people who are disoriented, disillusioned, and to some extent also alienated from the rest of their company.
Research conducted by Innovisor shows that the pandemic has created a similar ‘lost generation’ within companies around the world. A cohort of people who are disoriented, disillusioned, and to some extent also alienated from the rest of their organisation.
COVID and the lost generation within companies
In March 2020, as the world locked down due to the COVID pandemic most organisations moved as much work as possible online. However, as we followed the daily updates of infection numbers, companies continued recruiting and onboarding new employees, as if nothing had happened.
The consequences for those people who joined a company in the initial six months of the pandemic are now evident. In the very recent months Innovisor has analysed the collaboration networks of five companies from four different industries, headquartered in three different continents, and has found evidences of those consequences.
Collaboration network research: 5 companies, 4 industries, 3 continents, 15.000 people
In our research, we analysed the collaboration of about 15.000 people from those five companies through an organisational network analysis approach, where people nominate the peers they have a strong collaboration with (We only registered the collaboration when both people confirmed it).
Of those 15.000 people, more than 1.000 joined their companies during the period when the pandemic hit the hardest. This enabled us to research the time (measured in months) it took for individuals hired right after the outbreak of the pandemic to reach productive levels of integration, and of course, compare those figures with our historical data in Innovisor. And we have learned this:
People who joined a new company 18-24 months ago are significantly less integrated into the informal organizational networks than the ones who joined 12 months ago.
People who joined a new company 18-24 months ago are significantly less integrated into the informal organisational networks than the ones who joined later, 12-18 months ago, and in some of the companies they are even lesser integrated than the ones who joined more recently, only 6-12 months ago.
What explains this drop?
What explains this drop in the level of integration of that group? – We believe that right when the pandemic hit most organisations had no practices in place for the onboarding of employees in a 100% remote work setup, so newcomers were integrated with the old practices designed for a world of face to face employment relationships. Time was spent on introducing people to the employee handbooks and the internal IT systems and processes, but there were no chit-chat, lunches etc. which would allow a new joiner to be integrated into the informal networks. The networks where people refuel energy and ask for help when they don’t know how to solve problems.
Two groups of people were hit particularly hard:
- Young people, who joined the workforce for the first time
- Experts, who are assumed to know everything from day one in their new job.
Six months into the pandemic most organisations had found their new way to integrate employees. New practices had been developed, even for socialising with new colleagues. Yet, the ones who joined in the first six months of the pandemic were left out of the informal networks, as we can see from the drop in the illustration above.
What are the consequences of the drop?
The financial consequences of this drop for the company and its consequences for the mental health of the new joiners are equally dramatic:
- Mental Health: Lower morale and work engagement in general.
- Financial: Time-to-Value-Add takes longer when new joiners are not connected to the collaboration networks of their organisation.
- Mental Health + Financial: People leaving, as they feel isolated and lonely. Replacement costs as their positions need to be refilled.
Three practical pieces of advice for any leader who wants to act on this situation
So, is there anything you can do to improve the connectivity of your ‘lost generation’?
Yes, there is! – at the organisational level, and at the team level. And you should do it right now! – Before you lose them forever:
- Firstly, acknowledge the issue openly. Communicate to the organisation – and especially this group of employees that you want to make up for their poor onboarding experience
- Secondly, facilitate 1:1 ‘stay on conversations’ between the leaders and employees with a focus on the long-term productivity, well-being, and connectivity of the employee – not on orientation!
- Lastly, make sure you discipline the connectivity of the new joiners to your shadow organisation. If needed, establish mentoring and/or reverse mentoring relationships between informal go-to people and this group.
- Longley, R. (2021): The Lost Generation and the Writers Who Described Their World. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-lost-generation-4159302
- Business News (2021): https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/9936-consequences-poor-onboarding.html
- Hansgaard, J. (2019): https://www.futureforwork.com/en/the-next-tsunami-hitting-corporates/
- Hansgaard, J. & Kønigsfeldt, C. (2019): Ignoring the Social Structures Comes at a Price. https://www.futureforwork.com/en/ignoring-the-social-structures-of-your-organization-comes-at-a-price/
- Stein, M. & Christiansen, L. (2010): Successful Onboarding, McGraw-Hill
This article was written by Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard, CEO, Innovisor and Hannah O’Connor, Client Enabler, Innovisor