Young people want decent jobs. Jobs that are safe, meaningful, and inclusive. And while many organisations strive to establish youth-focused policies to meet this desire, a crucial tactic usually gets overlooked: setting up young employee networks (YEN). Employee networks create a supportive environment for employees to openly share their concerns with their peers, network, and build a solidary community based on shared experiences and interests. On top of this, it facilitates career development opportunities and fosters a culture of inclusion. It sends a clear signal to the employees that your organisation values their needs and desires and that they are listened to. So what happens when youth in your company feel engaged?
Research shows that high levels of engagement lead to increased productivity and motivation and a low turnover rate. To see how YEN works in real life, we sat down with one of our implementing partners (IP) in Jordan, Salalem. Salalem helped us understand the specific challenges they are trying to navigate in youth employment and how setting up an employee network helped them overcome those. Read more below.
1. Why did Salalem decide to set up a Young Employee Network?
YEN resonates with Salalem’s mission and vision, especially since it is a youth-based organization. Building such a network will help us overcome many challenges in youth employment.
High Youth Turnover: there is a general trend among youth workers to keep switching jobs. There are two reasons for that: 1) They believe that staying in the same organisation for a long period will not allow them to advance in their careers; 2) They yearn to work in an organization that offers a positive environment, which gives them a sense of belonging. Sometimes, high salaries are not enough to retain employees. So, companies need to find ways to motivate (entry-level) employees.
High Absence Rate: organizations struggle with a high absence rate among youth employees, especially after CoviD-19, as they lack a welcoming and interactive environment in the workplace with their co-workers.
Lack of Engagement: When employees (whether youth or not) do not feel appreciated or noticed, they put minimum effort into their work and do not go the extra mile to improve the business of the organisation they work for.
Lack of Motivation & Innovation: If an organization runs its business as usual, how can it innovate, stay competitive and grow? An organization needs to inspire its employees, especially the youth. It needs to create spaces and opportunities that allow the employees to be solution drivers to the company’s challenges.
2. How do you deal with the ideas/feedback raised by the employees?
In our Young Employee Network, we have design sprints every week where the young employees sit together and create their prototypes to achieve a specific objective. They lead that process, and this has been very successful. Youth employees need to feel part of the company if we want to avoid a high turnover and encourage them to innovate. Our young employees spend time together after work (mini gatherings) to play games or unwind. As an employer, we want to create another family for them. Many employees who have shared their ideas before have seen them become company standard procedures.
3. How does the network enhance employees’ personal/professional development?
Salalem has always been a place where youth can grow. There is a general impression that since young employees are relatively inexperienced, their ideas cannot be adopted, as they do not contribute to the success of a business. In Salalem, however, those with a ‘Millennial’ way of thinking look at things from a different perspective and can come up with fresh and innovative ideas. Moving up the career ladder has never been age or gender-biased. All that is needed is hard work and proving to be up to the challenge and responsibility.
We also genuinely care about the emotional and mental well-being of our employees. Building mutual respect is essential to us as it creates a positive work culture. This is why we regularly plan mini-retreats that promote teamwork and strengthen colleagues’ bonding. Employees need to feel excited to get in the office every day.
4. How does YEN enhance inclusion at Salalem?
Having a job should not only be about doing the work from 9-5, then leaving the office. The objective of YEN is to create a sense of belonging and a work culture where colleagues feel part of a community. After all, employees spend more hours a day with their colleagues than they do with their own family members. This is why Salalem tries to engage employees with outside-office activities, such as hosting mini-retreats that involve grilling in the garden or playing board games in the common room. Not to mention the occasional one-day retreats in a cottage in the woods. These retreats help co-workers to connect, become better collaborators in the workplace, and feel energized and comfortable at work.
5. How has YEN benefitted Salalem as an organization?
Employees feel more comfortable sharing their ideas and suggestions for improvement when they feel respected and valued. This environment has led to an influx of creative ideas, where team members felt encouraged to think outside the box without worrying about judgment.
Moreover, when teams work together, whether making decisions or putting together plans, they come up with a wide range of opinions and suggestions. And this is because of the diversity in their skills and experiences. This is the power of teamwork, and employee networks can become a breeding ground for creative collaboration.
Apart from fostering employee bonding, YEN positively impacts retention rates. Retaining employees for a long period of time boosts an organization’s profitability by cutting down on recruitment and training expenses. Salalem’s Young Employee Network has created an environment where people want to come to work, especially when waiting for their next mini-retreat!
6. Any tips for our partners who want to set up successful peer networks?
Believe in your young employees. Give them the chance to help your organization grow. Successful ideas that lead to a turning point for an organization do not only necessarily come from those with many years of experience. The most successful companies are the ones that regularly work on improving teamwork in the workplace and create the right conditions that promote collaboration.
As we continue strengthening youth-led approaches to creating value for CFYE, our Youth Champions have been working on a toolkit to help companies set up a YEN. We want to thank them for gathering the best practices on YEN that inform CFYE’s youth engagement strategy.
“There’s nothing more empowering as youth than being agents of change and contributing to a process that matters. I have enjoyed working on this toolkit, engaging with other youth and various stakeholders, and ensuring that we have holistic guidance. The toolkit looks at how young employees can set clear goals, objectives, values, and principles to benefit the most from the network.” Hannah Silas, Youth champion.
Do you also want to learn how to attract and retain women in your organisation? Check out our tips on gender-sensitive employment strategies here.