HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

Lack of professionalism among new hiresAs those of us in the world of business begin to add years (or decades) to our tenure, it becomes easier than ever to look at the younger crop of workers coming onstream and see traits that don’t align with our worldview about what is acceptable, “SFW” behavior.

Perhaps we’re too set in our ways. Maybe we’re not being flexible enough or making a sufficient effort to keep an open mind about proper office professionalism and etiquette.

But maybe we’re not offbase after all:  A new survey of HR professionals suggests that others have also noticed — and they’re not very forgiving, either.

In fact, this survey of ~400 human resources managers, which was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, found that opinions of recent college graduates in the workforce have grown more negative over the past five years.  (The survey is conducted annually.)

When asked about their experiences in recruiting and hiring recent college graduates, these HR managers were pretty unsparing in their criticism. Here are some of the opinions the survey uncovered:

  • More than one-third of HR respondents felt that the level of professionalism among new college-educated employees has worsened over the past five years.
  • Nearly half believe that the work ethic of new employees is worse today than before.
  • More than half of the respondents feel that new workers come into the workforce with an unrealistic air of entitlement.

What are some of the specific areas where HR managers see new hires failing to measure up? These were the most prevalent mentions in the York survey:

  • Appropriate appearance and dress
  • Punctuality and workplace attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • Staying on-task through to completion of assignments
  • Honesty

And that’s not all.

The human resources professionals in this survey reported that younger employees “appear arrogant” during the hiring process and once they come on the job.

Moreover, these HR professionals contend that new employees aren’t taking proper cues from older, more established workers in the office, but instead from their peers and friends.

A manifestation of this is the predilection to text co-workers rather than to communicate via e-mail messages, or through personal conversations and interfaces.

The basic problem with the attitudes of new company hires was pointed out by Deborah Ricker, director of the Center for Professional Excellence: “Acceptable behavior among peers is not necessarily acceptable among coworkers and superiors.”

Amen to that.

[Click here if you’re interested in downloading a full summary of the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey results.]

Most of us can probably think of one or two examples of employees who personify many of the issues brought up by the HR managers in the York survey.

One example that comes to my mind from our own office’s experience was a young worker who decided she needed to take short naps during her lunch periods.

Nothing really wrong with that, except … she did so by lying down on the floor next to her desk — which was directly behind another worker’s cubicle. Imagine trying to do your work while having someone snoozing (snoring) at your feet!

If you have similar anecdotes about some of the younger hires in your office, feel free to leave a comment. It’ll be good for a chuckle or two – even if there’s an underlying context that’s way sober.

2 thoughts on “HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

  1. On the one hand, in view of today’s utter void of feasible role models or credible future outlooks, I understand the lack of motivation. I wouldn’t want to be 20 today – unless I knew what I know now. No one is modeling responsibility — it’s all a conditional ‘getting by’ attitude.

    On the other hand, we had an ad out for ‘Vacation on the Farm’-type trainee positions through a number of organic farm network. And the result matches the survey to the T.

    When we said – which we do – “no drinking, no smoking, no drugs” and people show up with six-pacs because they didn’t read down to the second paragraph or insist on smoking in high fire season, one really wonders.

    When we set out work start times – easy stuff like 8 am – we could be certain that the ‘crew’ showed up at 9:30, barely awake, in pajamas and wanting breakfast. And when questioned why they didn’t show up at 8 am, the answer is “it got late last night” without an explanation of “what (or who) is ‘IT’?”

    Another whopper was the 20-year-old with “tennis coach” on his resume but, due to an orthopedic shoe, unable to stand for long or walk well on uneven ground like our non-paved rocky farm/forest territory.

    Instead, he operated on the basis of “I love work! I could watch for hours!”

    Another problem is that they don’t want to be told how to do things … but don’t know how to do things. And when given a project of their own with plenty of time to figure it out and the opportunity to “come ask if you don’t know something,” they often end up having a two hour lunch next to an unfinished project because “we didn’t know how to . . .”

    Needless to say, they do not want to be supervised.

    “Completion” is a foreign language word for them, except for breakfast and the above-mentioned six-pack.

    One does spend a great deal of time preparing assignments and tasks and tools for them … and then spends some more time fixing it when they are done.

    And then some days, they “drive into town” and never come back.


    Do I sound old?

    Nope. Even the “kids” admitted that we were the youngest and most interesting adults they ever met. But that, too, apparently was no reason to take responsibility — no reason to stick around.

    The solution?

    Maybe set boundaries and be role models … instead of wanting to be “liked.”

    Maybe be honest … instead of playing the “certainty pretense game.”

    Maybe stop whistling in the dark.

    I don’t know. And no one is asking me.

  2. Thanks so much for passing on these survey results. Being a Baby Boomer, I’ve noticed differences between my generation and the twenty-somethings I’ve worked with in the office and have met in passing in the industry.

    The trouble was, whenever I shared my observations with friends, some seemed to doubt my judgment, implying that it was I who may not be seeing things clearly, perhaps viewing the past through rose-colored glasses and making unfair comparisons. Thanks to your blog post, now I have confirmation that I’m not crazy or senile!

    Just today, I went to tour a showroom and a fellow editor who looked to be about 25 years old breezed in just as the public relations person was about to show me the new product line. The young editor introduced herself to the PR person, making eye contact with her and ignored me completely. So I introduced myself to the editor and received a near-blank stare in return.

    The PR person toured us both through the product line together and at the conclusion, the young editor was the first to say goodbye to the PR person and, once again, ignored me completely, and left. Eye contact and a simple “Nice meeting you” or “Goodbye” to me would have sufficed.

    The impression of arrogance or lack of respect I felt could have been the result of lack of good manners, but I’ve encountered this insular behavior, in which the younger generations seem to be comfortable with and focused on speaking only to each other, many times before.

    I have gone to other press events where the twenty-something editors chat among themselves and ignore anyone who is over 40. What puzzles me is this behavior is so opposite to the seemingly inclusive networking and social media mindset so associated with their generation.

    Older editors in many cases have higher positions at their magazines and may know more people in publishing than the 25-year-olds do. From a professional networking point of view, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t get to know an older editor who might help them get another or better job someday. Or who could become a mentor.

    I have gone through the experience of working in one big room with two of my editors, who had desks 6 feet away from me and having them e-mail each other for advice and information, after I would tell them to ask me for help. When mistakes would surface, I’d reiterate that they need to communicate with me, but they would fall back into talking only with each other and the cycle would begin again.

    It led me to believe that they saw no value in my experience or accumulated knowledge–so different an attitude from when I was beginning my career as an editor and saw qualities to be admired and emulated in my older, more experienced supervisors.

    Perhaps it’s a reflection of society’s broader attitudes towards aging. Boomers who so passionately embrace botox and plastic surgery, and “young” thinking and “young” dressing, may have hoisted themselves on their own petards, leaving little evidence that the benefits of passing time can include the acquisition of wisdom.

    In addition, technology is changing how we do things so quickly that I suppose it’s tempting to the young to discount the value of anything from the past–even when it comes to things that don’t change…like how to treat or work well with others.

    Oh well, we all soldier on and cope as best as we can. Thanks again for the great blog entry.


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