Steve sitting with a group of young colleagues

Earlier this week I met a group of young colleagues from across the Co-op, to find out what it’s like for them working here. The 15 colleagues were all under 26, from areas like marketing, HR, Digital, Food, Funeralcare and Logistics.

Apart from making me very aware of my age, this open and ambitious group gave me some great insights into what we need to do to keep them here. It’s really important we crack this if we want to keep their energy and new ideas, as businesses these days have a small window to make an impact on young colleagues. Far from seeking a job for life, they’ll give us a few years, and in that time they need to feel engaged, rewarded and see clear paths for progression.

Here’s what they told me:

  • We need to invest in them with training, both formal and informal. Things like secondments, mentoring and skill sharing were mentioned
  • A few of them had really benefited from apprenticeships and grad schemes, so would like to see more of these available
  • We talked about how managers needed to spot ‘honest talent’ and people who are Being Co-op, so that progression wasn’t just for those who shouted the loudest, as this doesn’t create a diverse or happy team
  • We need to connect young colleagues across the group, especially helping colleagues outside the support centre connect with colleagues across the Co-op
  • We could do more to engage young people with the Co-op, both as a business and as an employer – like going into schools and universities and talking about what we do
  • They want their views to be heard but not just as a ‘young person’ tick box exercise
  • They’d like it to be easier to give feedback and ideas to senior leaders (we fixed this one already, as you’ll see below).

My advice to them was to take responsibility for making their own careers interesting and rewarding, to network and look for other opportunities before they get fed up with their roles. If they do this, then it’s up to managers to spot them and make the most of their talent – and if their managers don’t, other managers will. These days career paths are less linear and the people who do well often sidestep on their way up – changing areas and departments and learning new skills along the way.

I told them that the best managers are often ‘general managers’ – not just someone who can manage a marketing team or call centre, or a Food team – but someone who has the experience and skills to be sent in to manage any area.

The feedback they gave me was really valuable, so I asked the group if they could make our meeting a regular thing, to keep talking and making sure we’re doing the right things to engage young people – as colleagues and as members. ​We’re going to meet every six weeks, and next time Helen Webb our Chief HR Officer will join us, so she can hear their insights too.


Join the conversation! 32 Comments

  1. I’m sorry you feel that way Peter. I can assure you that colleagues’ thoughts around this initiative are being heard. Whilst I understand some of the perspectives of colleagues over 25 who’ve commented here and on Colleague Facebook, these breakfasts are just one way Steve hopes to reach out to colleagues of all ages. In these breakfasts with young colleagues under 25 years old, Steve hopes to understand more about what it’s like being young in our Co-op. Of course, people from different age groups have a different experience and Steve’s interested in this too, and will speak with all sorts of colleagues when he’s out and about visiting us nationwide. ^Jordan

  2. It’s hilarious how most of the comments back from HR or the blog runners are to the young colleagues agreeing and praising the initiative and wanting to join, yet the people criticising with some very valid points are being totally ignored!
    Very democratic and ethical lol

  3. I wish the Co-op would stop sticking labels on people. Young or Old, what does it matter. Surely, the aim is to get people trained to make the Co-op great again, regardless of their age. Why has someone in the Co-op decided to make a statement about Young people. Are they young? did they not think how this would affect the people who have been through change after change within the Co-op and still believe that the Co-op is great (Young and Old). Concentrate on People and stop sticking us all in categories.

  4. Thanks for all your comments. We can’t comment on individual situations, but we wanted to respond to a few points:

    While attracting younger colleagues and members is important to our Co-op (and any business that wants to stay relevant), it doesn’t mean that other colleagues and their development and progression aren’t valued too.

    This was one of a series of meetings Steve’s had with different groups of colleagues. He’s met with our Aspire and Respect colleague networks, and visited colleagues in Food stores and funeral homes, to understand the challenges they face. Steve will do more of these visits throughout the year and there will be opportunities to ask questions online and face-to-face, so look out for them here and on our Colleague Facebook page –

    If you have any questions or concerns about training, development or feedback, please talk to your manager or HR. Our colleague survey Talkback is out in a few weeks and asks for your views on things like this – it’s another really good opportunity to have your voice heard.  ^Lara

  5. I certainly won’t be demeaning our younger colleagues as we were all young once in our careers. The difference was that back then you were more likely to be ignored because you were young. now it seems that the reverse has crept in to our business, despite the claims that we actively encourage an age non-discrimination policy. When so may people are overlooked for suitable positions without proper reasoning or feedback, their views will inevitably be coloured by what may be interpreted as a level of hypocrisy.

    Personally, after 37 years of service, my first progression of my career was when after ten years service and feeling frustrated, I asked a senior manager “what do you have to do to get on in this business?” The reply was “I’ve been waiting for you to ask that for ages” So much for being spotted and developed! All this after I was told to always do I great job, which I did, and your reward and progression will follow, which never really happened.

    The fact that Steve is commenting on how to retain young talent and listening to their concerns, is in itself acknowledging that even in 2017, the Business still has issues on how to effectively progress talent, whatever their age. But what has changed and what will be done to substantiate this to prevent it from becoming yet another positive, yet ultimately fruitless story, like so many upbeat initiatives that sound great at the time of publish?

    And after all these years – I’m still looking for that best fit role where all my years of experience of interpersonal skills, sorting problems and general perception can be put to best use for the benefit of myself and the Business. Still frustrating, but I’ll still keep going – you never know

  6. It would seem that anyone over 30 is considered to old for progression, I guess we should start changing our careers more often than giving good long service to an employer who ignores our hard earned skills………..
    Yes it is good to take note of our younger colleagues but not at the cost to older and more experienced ones who get overlooked far too often –
    unless of course you know someone 😉

    • I see younger staff being given many more options and rewards. The reason is that managers earn more points on their PDP for progressing staff rather than developing them within the role. Its easier, faster and earns them more cash in their pocket at bonus time each year. I figured out that certain activities that do not help the business, but look good can actually boost my PDP score , and since using that method I now contribute less to the business but hit my bonus every year. I don’t want to, but its the only way I can keep up with everyone else.

  7. As a line manager I put two of my Team Leaders forward for the shining stars scheme only for them to be told they were unsuccessful, but were given any feed back and only when I personally chased and insisted that they actually get feedback did anything happen at all!
    From those of us on perimeter of the COOP in outlying areas it looks to us that the only ones being considered for any sort of management training are graduates or colleagues from the support Centre or in the surrounding area.
    Where was the invitation to young people across the COOP, I for one did not see any request or advertisement for volunteers, young or old? Once again a PR exercise without any consideration for those colleagues who do not get their say!

    • The shining stars system seems terrible. i was put forward got told i didn’t get it and the feedback was useless. it didn’t give me anything i can work on day to day. i got told i had some of the best scores. and i did really well. and that i almost made it on. but nothing constructive to work on. terrible waste of time.

  8. As a ‘young’ colleague at the age of 22, I would like to say John that your comment is down right rude and disrespectful. How dare you label me as a child and everyone else who falls into this category. I’m a hard working CTM with new ideas and prospects on various things that are co-op. It’s doubtful that our ‘sprouting’ ideas are identical to yours collectively. Coming from a different generation it’s more than likely we COULD have a different way of thinking which could implement positive change! Maybe not be so dismissive and close minded next time.

    • As a ‘young’ colleague of 52, I did not see anything rude or disrespectful in John’s comments. I am a hard working colleague who has worked for the Co-op for some years and love how Young and Younger people come together to make a difference. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I feel you have made yourself look like a child by spitting your dummy out instead of looking at the point that John was trying to make and being grown up enough to accept that everyone has an opinion and respecting that opinion.

      • No. I took in his opinion, and regardless of that, the way he described the younger colleagues was degrading. I have not ‘spat my dummy out’ – I merely pointed out that it was degrading to label us ‘young’ colleagues as children who are incapable. I’m more than capable of respecting an opinion of or when it doesn’t involve tearing down others through no fault of their own.

  9. As a colleague who may still be classed as “young” by some at the age of 28 I would like to only point out the following…

    I have recently been on a Manager Assesment, which I failed. But is this due to my inexperience potentially in places, but it is also in part due to the company’s lack of an actual training program to create managers out of floor staff – every level of progression I have attained has come at a cost to me, my person and free time invested in a business which has invested absolutely nothing in me. From Customer Team Memeber to Team Leader, from Team Leader to Team Manager and the same again to Manager. In the last year alone I have invested 500 plus hours into my current store for free, to keep the store running through the trouble it had, but when it comes time for the company to invest in me it is never returned.

    The feedback I was given the day after “failing” my assesment was even though I was on the borderline the company (or rather the collection of Managers and Area Managers present on the day) couldn’t justify the investment in me to send me on the course in case I didn’t make it.

    An absolute joke and a square kick in the teeth from a company that claims it’s all about ethics. Where are the ethics in Assessing a person on something the company has even trained them for, let alone denying them the opportunity to progress, despite continual investment by the individual in the company?

    • Hi James,

      I have been in your position in the past (a different company) and can relate to your frustration. I’m a 24 year old SM and perhaps could help you. Give me an email if you’d like and we can arrange a call –


  10. Maybe he should speak to experienced managers. More and more piled on us with less and less hours.

  11. It’s good to read positive comments and feedback from” younger generation” however, I do feel we are a ageist society, having been a retail manager for over 20 years and worked since i was 16 years old. Now I’ve come to the later of my working life i thought i would change my career before i got to old so came to the co-op as a colleague to work my way up. Unfortunately am 10 years to old to be considered for a possible change of career. Am 50 and still have many years to give and can still run rings round people half my age with life experience that’s valuable to any new employer. Trying to get considered for a new job at 50 with my experience is impossible. Can’t even get an interview within the co-op for a job that I could do blind folded. When you ask for feedback regarding rejection at application level, it’s a pollite, sorry other applicants more suitable. I’ve even got to speak to other applicants for same job with less experience/ qualities/ knowledge/ skills etc and even they agree and say, Can’t understand why didn’t get an interview but both agreed cause classed as old now, can only give 10 years or so to new job. It’s sad and frustrating but i have to accept that is the culture we live in. not just the co-op! Am not after sympathy, just thought I would express my opinion that there is plenty of life left in us middle aged workers. thanks.

  12. Why is this suddenly about the young? Surely all co-op employees deserve the same opportunities, rights and recognition. No matter their age. Are you suggesting there is a specific problem younger employees face in the business compared to older ones.
    This again comes down to the tired old “Progression is everything” mentality that the business cant shake. If you want to keep ditching your job to jump around the business it is rewarded. If you stay in role and become an expert you are not rewarded.
    In fact we see colleagues who are experts at their role(spending years of dedication with the company) being paid less than a new hire who hasn’t even grasped the role yet and may jump ship at any moment. Is this right? Is that fair? Is that ethical? Is that …

    • Well said Rob. I have to admit that I’ve noticed the very same thing. Lots of people hopping from one job to another, into more and more senior roles, but never actually delivering anything significant. And then there are those who stay in their role for a number of years, becoming a specialist or expert but don’t receive the recognition.

  13. I do feel that its a good idea listening to all varieties of colleagues, including the ‘Young’ as they may have a variation of perspectives. But I would like to understand how these colleagues were chosen, just seem to see the same representation of people over and over. There’s a wide range of young people in the organisation – not all came in from things like apprenticeships, we need to recognise talent across the whole of the business.

  14. ‘I told them that the best managers are often general managers’
    Rather an odd statement when several hundred of us from within funeralcare are currently being terminated !!!!

  15. This is great initiative! Is this something other under 26’s can get involved in?

  16. what a joke…..what business or departments did these young people represent……how long have they worked here…..are they actually a democratic representation of the talent or were they just the friends of the person who gave them a weeks notice and said I need someone to go to this…..Define young – this is embarrassing To be honest, the future of the company a group of kids with little to no experience and sprouting ideas we as a company have been implementing for multiple years…don’t want to be a tick box exercise but no original ideas try talking to your own line manager first as everything listed we already have….support systems…training systems. Mentoring opportunities don’t say its what you want and then return to your desk and go oh I said all these great things then when your told we have all of these opportunities you just refuse to use them go into a huff and go well in meeting Steve again not you….pathetic

    • John, your comment is just downright rude.

      I’m upset, as you appear to be, that I am no longer under 26 but please remember respect is the foundation of any modern ethical business.

      There is no need to patronise young colleagues as ‘a group of kids’ and immediately dismiss them as having ‘little to no experience’.

      They likely have more experience of technology/different business models (e.g emerging platform businesses) than most and generally aren’t as bogged down by the politics of a big organisation therefore not afraid to come up with new ideas or stick their heads above the parapet.

      Obviously it’s not a magic bullet to modernise our business but they (‘young’ colleagues) are an asset that we should better utilise.

    • John…I am 50 as well and trying to change career tracks…even I find some of your comments disrespectful to ‘young’ colleagues. Don’t forget that a certain football commentator famously said of Alex Fergusons Man Utd team ‘You’ll never win anything with kids’…I seem to recall him being wrong as well.

      • I didn’t know that!! However, where would they have been without some of the older ones showing them the ropes 😉

  17. Its not just our youngest colleagues who want more variety and more opportunities.

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