Note: This article originally appeared in Emily’s Inc.com column, Own It.
Despite the common stereotypes you often hear about Millennials in the workforce, I’ve had success hiring new graduates and young people for my small business. I think Millennials can be great hires because they’re usually eager to learn, open to feedback, and generally willing to trade a higher salary for a foot in the door and training opportunities. However, managing a young team has some unique challenges.
For starters, they have little or no experience when it comes to certain social and professional norms. They may not be prepared for simple tasks like client interactions and writing business emails, and may not even understand how to properly dress in the workplace. It puts more pressure on you as the business owner to get them started out right.
The best way to prevent awkward situations is by being proactive. It’s worth investing the time to define your company culture for your team, even if your business is small or just starting out.
Creating an employee handbook that proactively outlines how to handle blurry situations will be useful as your business and team grows, while also saving you some difficult conversations.
Here are five potentially awkward situations that need to be addressed with new hires, especially those just starting out in their careers.
Small talk with clients
This might seem unnecessary, but many young professionals entering the workplace have had very little experience communicating with clients. Millennials are more comfortable communicating via text message or social media, and struggle with basic conversation techniques.
Outline your expectations about what is appropriate and not appropriate when speaking with clients. Suggest conversation starters like, “How is business lately?” and have them keep up with industry trends so that they have topics prepared to discuss with clients. Offer subscriptions to local business journals or trade newspapers and have them available in the office or sent to your team’s inbox so they can be read by everyone.
Casual dress code
Even if you have a dress code in place, constantly changing fashion trends can make it difficult to define what is appropriate and what isn’t. I’m pretty sure the legging trend snuck up on employers everywhere and I know I am not the only one to have had an awkward conversation about why they don’t count as dress pants.
Avoid this problem by being specific about what is appropriate workplace attire. Consider current fashion trends and your various workplace settings. Are leggings appropriate to wear in your office with a longer tunic over them? If jeans are allowed, does that mean regular fitted, dark denim only or are light-washed cropped skinnies okay? Are sneakers okay or should employees wear dress shoes–and what does “dress shoe” mean for your workplace?
Add visuals in your handbook so that new hires can see what types of clothing are appropriate in your office for both men and women.
Personal social media
There is no clear line anymore between work and personal life. You want social media-savvy employees who can use it to effectively promote your company, but you don’t want their personal profiles to bleed into their work, especially if their style doesn’t line up with your brand.
One easy way around that is to require that employees set up work profiles on various social media sites appropriate for business contacts. This builds your brand’s social media footprint without having to also give your audience a look into your employee’s vacation photos.
Sick policy outside of work
I once had a team member call in sick and then show up at a work happy hour later that day. To avoid awkward situations like this, you need to be upfront about what you expect when employees take a sick day. Employee handbooks often state the number of sick days an employee can take and when advance notice is required, but that is usually where it ends. Take the time to state your specific policy on sick days and ask if they have any questions so that there is no ambiguity.
You may have asked new hires for writing samples or even given a writing test, but chances are your employees are going to communicate with your clients and customers via email more than any other method. What happens if you discover that their email habits reflect poorly on your company?
Save yourself the potential embarrassment of any email faux-pas and create a writing manual for new hires that covers email etiquette, tone, and style for different groups with which they might communicate. You may even want to implement a short probationary period where you approve emails or are copied on client communications so you can give feedback when needed.
Being proactive in sticky situations is key in retaining new or inexperienced hires and creating a workplace where everyone is comfortable. It’s impossible to plan for all potential circumstances that may occur, but addressing awkward situations like these before they happen can save you a lot of time–and uncomfortable conversations–in the future.