“A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts breathing dreams like air…” from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who emerged as a celebrated American author of what became known as the ‘Lost Generation’.
One hundred years ago, in the 1920s as the Spanish Flu pandemic eased, the Lost Generation wrote literature that was typified by disillusionment, cynicism and aimlessness.
Today, as we enter our own 21st-century twenties, we are faced with a new lost generation. Entering the market, in the midst this pandemic, university graduates are faced with limited job options as businesses scale back graduate recruitment or ‘right-size’ their workforce, leaving few opportunities for young people to get their feet on the first rungs of the job ladder.
In last month’s Guardian article entitled ‘Recruitment is on hold’, a student-focused market research firm Trendence study was quoted as revealing that 40% of all students emerging into the jobs market this year are uncertain that they will secure a job at all.
Last week, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, noted in a recent television interview, that there was no obvious bounce back in the economy predicted now, and that we were entering a serious recession and that the recovery would be counted in years rather than months. Not the most welcoming conditions to find your first job.
I must declare that I have a personal interest in the welfare of this generation. Both of my children are completing their degrees next month and are looking for work. I am not sure I can advise them any longer to pursue their dreams and find that sense of purpose to drive them through their working lives.
I suspect my advice now will be more like that of an arranged marriage, along the lines of ‘don’t worry, you’ll learn to love it’. My advice to them is seek any opportunity and to give it a go. You never know, you may learn to love it.
As business leaders, we have responsibilities to not only our clients, staff, shareholders and the success of our plans, but (in my humble opinion) we also have a wider responsibility for the welfare of community and to society as a whole. We have, therefore, a duty to help this new cohort of job seekers.
With our world of work adjusting to the new office space post-lockdown, we need to think more deeply about how we bring these bright young things with bubbling ideas and enthusiasm into our working lives.
Assuming we have figured out the new post-lockdown configuration and applied new rules for use of our offices, we need to consider whether our approach to management is to adjust. In our case, I imagine we will continue to encourage graduates and interns to work at Dunstan Thomas. Conscious that the returning workforce will simultaneously be looking to leadership for clarity, guidance, safety and meaning.
If management style can be described as a grip, you the manager must be aware of how tight or lose your grip needs to be. I suspect my grip may tighten somewhat in the forthcoming months to blend the support that more senior staff will want with bringing on some of our newer and younger recruits to help them make more meaningful contributions.
I am reminded of the Tannenbaum and Schmidt management continuum which describes seven different management approaches. This ranges from ‘tight grip’ management styles, characterised by lots of engagement and more autocratic in nature, to looser grip styles of delegation and empowerment. Incidentally, the last of the seven styles is an Abdication style, in which the leader has lost grip – probably not the recommended approach in the post-lockdown world.
To quote another of the Lost Generation, Ernest Hemingway, from the Old Man and the Sea: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”.
To apply Hemingway’s philosophy into today’s challenge: go on trust yourself, give it a go, take on a graduate or two. Use your potter’s wheel to mould and craft something of beauty and value.
Chris Read is group CEO at Dunstan Thomas