Research: Do early career professionals feel disconnected?

As 2022 kicks off in earnest and many continue to yo-yo between full time working from home, working in the office and hybrid working, we consider how this has affected and continues to impact early career professionals (ECPs) who have joined new teams remotely during the pandemic.

In September 2021, Cappfinity Principal Learning Designer, Lucie Coudret concluded the analysis of her primary research interviews with individuals in their 20s, who had started a new role remotely in a variety of organizations from the Big Four, to private and public organizations and charities.

This analysis revealed that many ECPs feel disconnected from their teams and suggests that a tailored approach is needed, that focuses on the themes of perceived age inequality, confidence, wellbeing, and effective learning in a hybrid world – with managers being at the heart of helping ECPs to feel engaged.

Perceived inequality due to age

The group of individuals who took part in this research were concerned about issues with age equality which could affect their career progression.  This was a result of joining an organization remotely and a feeling this would put them at an unfair disadvantage in comparison to other colleagues who had benefited from real life engagement with their bosses and colleagues in a face-to-face office environment.

Strong concerns were also voiced about not knowing if their boss likes them, with some even convinced that their boss hated them.  Participants generally had low levels of confidence to speak up, and contribute, because of spending so much time behind a screen with no camera on, rather than attending face to face meetings.

Research participants spoke in ‘them vs. us’ language regarding working with older colleagues and expressed feelings of being taken advantage of or lack of power due to being “in the minority, the young people here”.

Inequality was also highlighted through the perceived lack of possibilities for career progression and feelings of missing out due to being new and remote and therefore not having the relationships that others have already created within the organization.

The feelings of low confidence were at times linked to their lower levels of experience of workplace ethics and politics; but were mostly attributed to the lack of feedback given. This was exacerbated in a virtual environment where instant feedback or reading cues from managers and colleagues is harder than when face to face.

Would you know if your ECPs are also feeling this way?

A spotlight on wellbeing

Everyone’s wellbeing has been tried and tested during the pandemic. Participants expressed feelings of isolation, working like a machine and being trapped in a cage as well as the distance building between colleagues through not seeing how someone is ‘really’ doing behind their screen.

One participant said: “[It] feels like you are a freelancer, you’re working for the client that you’re on, you’re not working for your company” – This highlights the disconnect between the employee and organization.

Expectations were also shifting as meetings were set-up at 6pm when typically, everyone would have left the office by 5.30pm.

Generally, from the participants, there was a feeling of reduced amounts of connection points and opportunities. Instead, one individual refers to “a million emails flying around” whilst others mention not having any ‘work friends’. One individual was thankful for connections they had made previously to bypass some of the slow processes related to IT.

Observations were made on only being able to connect with those you work with directly. Some organizations organized ‘coffee catch-ups’, online quizzes and informal catchups in the park when restrictions were alleviated to meet with colleagues. These initiatives were helpful and alleviated the feeling of being a burden by asking for help formally, for some, and felt awkward and forced for others.

Managers at the heart

Managerial support appeared to have the most impact on an individual’s experience of being new in the role, working remotely and being from the age group in question. The research showed a clear correlation between managerial support and engagement and the participant’s narrative on their experience. Those with supportive and engaged managers talked about their experiences more positively than those with little or no managerial support and were more likely to express issues with their wellbeing.

In terms of working preferences, all research participants have expressed wanting to go back to the office but would like a balance and flexibility to go in the office when they wish and not to have specific rules around attendance on certain days.

Our next blog will explore the final theme identified in the research: effective hybrid learning for newer ECPs and the boost in soft skills they’d value most.

What can I do?

Cappfinity offer a range of simple-to-implement packages to help managers engage and inspire their teams in a hybrid world, help each individual feel like they belong; and those earlier in their career to make a positive early impact. For a deeper conversation around these themes, do get in touch to set up a call via