When my sister was about to graduate with her first degree from Stellenbosch University, she was not excited. I didn’t quite understand this at all because I recall my elation when I got mine some years ago. My sister did not want any celebration and was at pains to discourage everyone initiating any celebratory events. She did not want the family orchestra at the graduation besides her 2 parents. Thereafter there was nothing done in her honor to celebrate the achievement. Thereafter she basically continued with life, part of which included pursuing postgraduate studies full-time.
Some 2 years after the actual milestone she explains her reaction to me, a conversation that occurred purely by accident. She explains to me the feelings she had around that time, which were nothing close to exhilaration at the thought of accomplishment. All she felt was a sinking feeling of ‘anti-climax’ coupled with overwhelming pressure to launch her career and work. Yet after all the 3 years of undergraduate studies she felt ill prepared for anything outside of student life. While desperate to chill after the grueling years of full-time studies, she was not ready to get out there. Low confidence and self-doubt were her dreaded foes. She was unsure of what she could offer the world of work. She was utterly petrified at the thought. All that came to mind after getting the certificate was the “What now? (!)…” question that hardly ever has an answer.
Engaging with many young people I realize that this is a common problem, not just with graduates but also among young people who leave high school (before or) after grade 12 in search for opportunities. When a person eventually gets an opportunity to work, the transition from student life shocks their system. The structured (and sometimes highly regulated) environment of the workplace is like night and day to a carefree student. Time management for some becomes problematic, for those who are accustomed to sleeping later than 10pm. The pace of work and delivery deadlines is another. Organizational cultures can be intimidating and sometimes toxic. Often young people struggle to understand the transition, which on its own induces high levels of anxiety. While some organizations understand this challenge and they talk about it, many do not resource work environments sufficiently to support young employees entering the workplace for the first time. Soon enough we observe line managers and young new entrants at loggerheads when relationships take strains, parties not understanding each other.
More senior folk are quick to judge and label, or alternatively shock the young person to shape up or ship out (i.e. ‘Get with the programme’ so to speak…). While some may withstand this so-called baptism of fire, others who are less resilient may crack and crumble. This old school approach may not be effective in the long run, for the individual and for the business. Organizations should consider a phased-in approach that may enable young people to come out of their shell to be themselves, showcasing their talents more.
Consulting Industrial Psychologist