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Carina Paine Schofield

Ashridge Business School

Research Fellow

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Lifting the lid on the reality of the workplace for graduates


Dr. Carina Paine Schofield, Research Fellow, Ashridge Business School explains their latest research on the gap between graduate expectations and the modern workplace.

Ashridge Business School and the Institute of Leadership & Management have undertaken research into Generation Y graduates and their managers, which reveals a clear and compelling picture of the similarities and differences between them.

Great Expectations: Managing New Graduates, the report highlights a lack of understanding between managers and graduates, which extends across many aspects of work, creating a potentially damaging disconnect.

Alarmingly, more than half of new graduate recruits plan to leave their current role within two years, with two-fifths hoping to find a new job within the year. Almost one in five wants to move into a new role as soon as possible despite huge competition for graduate jobs.

Commenting on the results of the research, Penny de Valk, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, says: “With the cost of graduate recruitment reaching anything up to £3bn each year, such high levels of attrition should not simply be accepted by employers.  Organisations put a lot of effort and investment into nurturing and developing their graduates in order to establish a pipeline of talent that will drive innovation, organisational effectiveness and competitiveness.  However, a widespread desire among graduates to move on within a few years undermines efforts to manage talent effectively and promote the long term success of the organisation.”

Kai Peters, Chief Executive of Ashridge Business School, backed this up, adding: “To succeed in an increasingly challenging economic environment, organisations must harness the best efforts of all their employees – not least their graduate recruits who will become the leaders and managers of the future. By bridging the gap between what graduates expect and what organisations provide, employers can pave the way for both better graduate recruitment and retention, and a more productive working relationship between graduates and their bosses.”

Due to the financial downturn, many graduates say they have opted to take any job, rather than their ideal job, some are working in the right area but not in their ideal job, or are staying in a job their don’t like. Nearly a fifth are in the right job but their career advancement is slowed.

Remuneration is a notable point of contention for graduates; a significant proportion think that their salary is below or greatly below expectations, while job status and achievement at work are other points of contention. Career advancement and salary prove the biggest disappointment with 80% unhappy with these areas.

When asked what they felt was important to graduates, managers underestimated the value of salary, career advancement and work-life balance, while overestimating the importance of good management and leadership. It is little surprise that over a third of graduates said they are dissatisfied with career advancement in their current organisation, while many managers say the greatest challenge when working with graduates is managing their expectations.

Despite high levels of ambition amongst new graduates, they do not appear to buy into the long working hour’s culture of their managers and are much less likely than their boss to take work home with them.

By contrast, the research shows that graduates feel comfortable spending company time on personal tasks, with over a third of graduates regularly undertaking personal tasks compared to just a quarter of managers.

Graduates want a boss that is more of a coach and friend than a manager in the traditional sense. The research also reveals a significant disconnect between graduates and managers over the type of relationship that exists.

Their ideal manager is a coach/mentor or friend rather than someone who directs or examines and audits. Most managers believe they are fulfilling the role of coach/mentor, but few graduates agree.

Graduates favour freedom and independence, rather than direction and control in the way that they work and are managed.

Dr. Carina Paine Schofield is a Research Fellow, Ashridge Business School

The full report, Great Expectations: Managing New Graduates, is available to download from ILM’s website:

One Response

  1. Graduate Recruitment – and ‘meaningFULness’

    Lots of useful food for thought here!

    I conducted a similar (if probably much smaller) UK survey some 20 years ago for a book I wrote on ‘Developing Your Career in Management’ when times were very different, and one of the most telling results for me even then was was a sense of ‘meaninglessness’ of their early work felt by many new graduates.  Some of this appeared to be undoubtedly due to the understandable transitional difficulties from student to employee; but much more to the lack of being given ‘real work and responsibility’.

    Since then, there has been an explosion in the number of graduates seeking employment, some of whom many employers might think were not necessarily best advised to defer entry to the world of work for another 3 or 4 years at university, nor as motivated, well-educated nor even as worldly-wise as some of their predecessors.

    However, I think that might be ‘Grumpy-Old-Person’ territory.  Social attitudes have certainly changed dramatically to both work in general and entering ‘management’ in particular.  And while ‘career-planning’ was seemingly quite an alien concept for many 20 years ago, it may be even more so now with even greater career and economic uncertainty. But what hasn’t changed is that employers still need new recruits coming through with both at least raw talent and potential for development. 

    For me that means even greater care by employers in graduate selection, perhaps with far more exploration of ‘attitudes’ (to work, learning, diligence, relationships, etc) rather than specific skills, for example; but especially even greater attention to proviidng meaningful work and opportunities for further development. 

    Plus ca change…?

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Carina Paine Schofield

Research Fellow

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