Job satisfaction and feedback are important to young people
Young people want to get feedback about their work, as well as the support of their supervisor and work community in order to cope at work. The work guidance of young employees is being revised at Fortum Co. as the enterprise culture is changing.
This is the first summer for Tea Kaikkonen and Anna Mali as work trainees at Fortum. They do mainly bookkeeping tasks. Kaikkonen, aged 21, is studying taxation law at the University of Tampere. Mali is 24 and she is studying accounting at Aalto University.
Both young women have had summer jobs for several years. They have now been about one month at Fortum, and enjoy working in a big enterprise.
– I have already learned a great deal here. The work guidance has been very useful, says Kaikkonen. The numerous systems of a big international enterprise can’t be learned in a few minutes, and formal education doesn’t give readiness to master many different programs and systems.
– More work guidance is still needed, as it isn’t possible to manage a new accounting system by going over it once, says Mali.
Thorough work guidance
At the moment, several specialists provide work guidance to new employees and orientate them to the workplace.
– We have been given specific responsibilities, and each topic is taught by a specialist who knows that particular task best, explains Kaikkonen.
About one or two hours are devoted to work guidance on each topic. The rest of the time we study independently, or move on to learn about another topic. A special training day was organized for all summer trainees. Basic information about the enterprise was provided, and we had more in-depth discussions in small groups.
– It was a very nice day, we had a chance to get to know other summer employees. In a big workplace you wouldn’t otherwise get to meet them, Mali says.
Working in a modern multi-space office
Fortum’s new building in Keilaniemi, Espoo, is a modern multi-space office with huge windows. The seven stories and 14,500 m² of floor space consist of open spaces, areas for project work and innovative work, as well as quiet nooks. Each employee has been assigned their own ‘home floor’, but otherwise a person can choose one’s work site every day wherever one wants. Smart boards on the walls of the work spaces show who is working there at the time. The working hours at Fortum are flexible, and there are also possibilities for telework.
Each work site has an electrically adjustable work desk and chair, as well as communication facilities and two large screens. The employees are not stationed in teams or near their supervisors, but are spread all around the building, and even in the café, if they prefer. Contacts with other summer employees are possible with Office365 tools, Skype, e-mail, phone, and also with Yammer social network.
The newcomers don’t have their own personal mentor, instead, they have been told who to ask for help with specific topics. This practice is nevertheless being renewed after the summer.
Work guidance practices change as work culture changes
Team coordinator Riitta Penttinen is 36 years old, and she has worked in financial administration at Fortum for seven years. Her task is to support the team leader and to take part in the work guidance of newcomers. She is participating in a project that is developing the guidance process.
– At the moment, the persons who teach and coach the newcomers are those with the best overall picture, experience and know-how of their own specialty. Although there are now several persons providing work guidance, the plan is to name a personal coach or mentor for each newcomer. He or she will show the new person around, and offer help whenever any questions arise, Penttinen says.
– Now the members of the team possibly work in different parts of the building, so a new employee won’t get to know them easily. It may therefore be easier for a newcomer to have a person nearby who can be asked about even simple things, and who will take care of daily matters, like for instance going to lunch.
According to Penttinen, this kind of practice was in use sometime in the past. But then the team members were sitting close to each other, so there was no need for a personal mentor. The teams were tightly knit and fairly permanent.
– Now that the work spaces and ways of working are new and different, it’s time to alter also the work guidance practices.
Anastasia Ostonen is the head bookkeeper and employees’ chief trustee. She feels that there is a need to develop the work guidance practices, but she sees some justification also for the present practices.
– If the new employee has only one work instructor or mentor, it’s possible that their ways of operating and person chemistries are not in harmony. It can therefore be justified that several persons provide work guidance. The benefit of having more instructors is to give the newcomer a broader picture of the enterprise, and of what other employees are doing. The future practice is to have several instructors and, in addition, the newcomers will get their own personal mentors.
Investing in work guidance has many advantages
The work guidance of a summer trainee and a young employee at Fortum differs from that given to a new employee who has already been in work life longer.
More time is reserved for the work guidance of a young person, says Riitta Penttinen.
– Time is needed for teaching different systems, programs and practices. Nothing can be taken for granted, so it’s best to teach everything thoroughly and to explain why things are done in a certain way. There are so many different systems, that they can’t all be taught in detail in formal education.
Penttinen emphasizes that also a wider understanding of processes and backgrounds is important. When processes are described thoroughly, and the background to ways of acting is explained, the employee will understand the details as part of a bigger picture. That facilitates learning and working in the future.
– If an employee has work experience when he or she comes to Fortum, he or she can be assumed to already know many things. The strength of young newcomers is their capacity to learn new things quickly. Young people today aren’t shy about asking questions if they are not sure about something, but of course it’s also a matter of personality. And they have a positive attitude to work, Penttinen adds.
According to Anastasia Ostonen, newcomers are also told the basic house rules of communication and behaviour. It is important to understand the rights and responsibilities in work life, she points out.
– In this respect there is a big difference between an experienced newcomer and a young person. An experienced person knows about collective agreements, work contracts, and understands differences between workplace cultures. A person starting work life doesn’t necessarily know about employees’ rights and what they are based on. They have to be told about the underlying legislation, and also that different lines of work have different collective agreements.
– Young persons as well as more experienced ones bring new points of view, and they are eager to suggest improvements in ways of operating. Youth brings enthusiasm in a good way, says Ostonen.
Energy for coping at work?
Summer trainees work during the summer, and in winter they are busy studying. Kaikkonen gets energy from a good work climate and a pleasant work community.
– It’s also important to keep work and leisure time apart. Sometimes there may be problems with studies, but in college it’s possible to plan your courses so that you don’t take too many. I go to the gym nearly every day, and that’s a good countermeasure for work and study. You also need the right kind of attitude to protect yourself: being at work doesn’t mean that you work 100% all the time. Now and then it’s good to go on coffee breaks with workmates and chat about all kinds of things.
Mali plays basketball and she too goes to the gym often.
– Last year I did take on too much to do, as I worked part-time, took many examinations, and trained at full steam. That was too much. I was nevertheless able to plough through that hassle, because I knew it was just temporary.
Anastasia Ostonen also has experience of an overly heavy work load.
– When I was younger I wasn’t able to say no, and so I was continuously given more and more responsibilities. I kept wondering whether I was slow, a poor learner, or otherwise incapable of coping with everything. It takes time to get to know your own limits.
Many kinds of support available for symptoms of burnout
If an employee at Fortum develops symptoms of burnout, help is available from the supervisor, the extended occupational health service, the occupational safety delegate and the employees’ trustee.
– The occupational health physician is present every day in the building. I do my best to make sure that it is easy to ask for help from the employees’ trustee. I want to be there every day to support people, and not just when a crisis comes up, says Ostonen.
– If people start to whisper in the corridors that something is wrong with the working conditions, it’s my duty as a trustee to be there on the spot to tackle difficulties as soon as possible. First we try to find a solution to the problem by negotiating. If necessary, I take the matter to the occupational safety committee and maybe other levels as well.
Ostonen is disappointed that people don’t seek support from the employees’ trustee often enough. People courageously try to tackle problems by themselves, even though help is available.
– I get to offer help only when the situation has become overwhelming. The trustee is a strong actor in improving well-being at work. Although being a trustee is not my main work, I can use as many working hours as needed to resolve problems.
– We work closely with occupational safety personnel to promote the well-being of the work community, and we have many means at our disposal for dealing with problems. We can ask the occupational psychologist for help, and we also get useful information from the trade union. In order to negotiate with professionals in various fields of expertise, I have to be familiar with the legislation, the collective agreements, and I have to consult specialists. Careful preparation is a prerequisite for successful negotiations.
– Nevertheless, we just don’t see everything. The employer’s side is willing to do a great deal, but the main responsibility rests with the employee. No matter how hard we try to keep our eyes open, we can’t always see an individual employee’s situation if he or she doesn’t actively bring up problems.
To support the employees’ coping at work, there is a gym in the building, a number of different physical activity groups, and vouchers given for participating in physical as well as cultural activities. Additionally, strategies are drawn up every year for supporting health and well-being.
– The employer is perfectly aware that the better that people manage mentally and physically, the more energized and motivated they are to work, summarizes Ostonen.