18/08/2015

By Glen Parkinson, SME Business Director for AXA PPP healthcare

It’s summer. And that means businesses up and down the country, large and small, will be recruiting the latest graduates from schools and universities. The yearly intake of fresh talent is a time for businesses to embrace new ideas and perspectives and for new hires to show what they can do. While small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may lack benefits such as in-house catering and company cars that larger firms can offer, they do have the advantage of being nimbler, focused and arguably quicker to react to help new recruits to find their feet.

For new recruits, starting work straight from university or school can be a shock to the system. It’s a different routine with different dynamics, expectations and pressures. Deadlines aren’t just something for essays and exams – they’re all day, every day. Employers should therefore be aware that the change of routine can affect new starters and they would be wise to help them through what can be a tough transition rather than leaving them to sink or swim.

Here are some ways that SMEs can help new graduates to find their feet.

Don’t pile on too much, too soon

First and foremost, work requires application. Different kinds of businesses require different kinds of skill. Multi-tasking, keeping up the pace and juggling with deadlines may not come naturally to newcomers and, to begin, employers should gradually phase in new recruits’ day-to-day tasks. Giving them time to learn what’s needed so they get the hang of it will give them confidence, lead to fewer mistakes and make for better productivity. It’s an approach that will also leave them well placed to pick up the pace and progress without feeling overwhelmed and distressed.

Stress can have huge impact on productivity and, if SMEs want their employees to work to their optimum, they should keep an eye on stress levels. This can be done through regular catch-ups to see how employees are feeling as well as to see whether factors outside of work such as difficulties in their home life may be getting them down.

Don’t chain them to their desks

A good work/life balance is critical for employee wellbeing. Joining the world of work is a big step and new recruits often feel tired or run down as the intensity of full-on working days take their toll. Of course, the ebb and flow of running a business means there will be times when it’s vital to put in extra effort – and hours – to meet business critical demands and deadlines. Nevertheless, to avoid the pitfalls of overworking, try to encourage starters to work to their contracted hours – and leave on time in order to have time to relax and recharge. It will help employees to become more resilient and less likely to fall prey to stress and fatigue.

To work well, senior management needs to take the lead on creating a positive workplace culture where expectations and boundaries are clearly understood – if bosses make a point of leaving on time, others will follow suit. Ways to encourage a wellness culture include flexible working, encouraging people to take regular breaks (and their holiday), monitoring and managing persistent overtime and even having email ‘blackouts’ outside of working hours. It is good policy to encourage employees to do their best when at work but also to make the most of their time when they’re done for the day unhindered by workplace concerns.

Let’s get physical

While some may feel it’s not their place to lecture employees on their lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, factors such as these can significantly affect employee health and, in turn, performance and productivity. Poor health can adversely affect a multitude of factors such as psychological wellbeing and acuity, energy levels, endurance, resilience and recovery times. Sedentary employees who eat badly are more at risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and musculoskeletal problems.

Finding time for fitness and packing in a full working day may be challenging for new graduates who previously might have gone to the gym or for a swim between lectures or after school. To encourage physical fitness, businesses can introduce subtle changes or programmes such as cycle to work schemes. Other ways to encourage greater activity include making adaptations to building design or facilities. Even simple measures such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking to speak to a colleague rather than emailing can help. I also encourage employers to focus more on performance or output rather than on hours worked as this can help encourage employees – confident in the knowledge that they are on top of their workload – to stop for a lunchtime break and even get out for a walk.

The future’s bright

New graduates have the potential to help your business grow and become more successful. They are your future management and supporting their growth and development – and safeguarding their health and wellbeing – will not only build loyalty, it will enable them to contribute quicker and more effectively. Workplace wellbeing is a concept whose time has come and I would encourage all SMEs to ensure that it’s an integral part of their induction and development programme to ensure they get the best from this year’s crop of graduates.

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