Teen Workers Deserve Respect as Well as Safety on the Job
Employers spend a lot of time puzzling over the attitudes and behaviors of the hummingbirds (current career buzz for the current generation of young workers who are seen as flighty and constantly looking to change jobs) .
If you have teenagers who are holding down part-time or summer jobs, you no doubt have some insight into some of the reasons why young workers don't feel the same sense of job loyalty that employers used to take for granted. Rather than saying, "I owe it to the company to do a good job," the younger generation of workers are more likely to shrug their shoulders and say something like, "I'll do a good job while I'm here" or "Whatever. It's only work."
I think there are two factors at play here. The first is a general disillusionment with the world of work that is spreading across generations. The second is more generation-specific and adds another layer of discontent and disconnection at a critical point: when teens enter the workforce.
If part-time and summer jobs are intended as a dress rehearsal for future workplace experiences, these first experiences in the world of work are teaching many teens that they don't want to be in the actual play.
I'm not just talking about the tragic accidents that occur every year, when young workers are killed or injured on the job. (Note: The Ontario Ministry of Labor has prepared a very helpful guide for parents about talking to your teen about workplace safety issues -- a must-read for any parent of a working teen.) I'm also talking about the nasty job experiences that leave many young people determined to postpone or minimize more of the same disrespect and workplace drama after graduation day.
I remember my daughter's first "real" job, a few years back. She was so proud when she was hired part-time by a huge warehouse store that was opening in our area. She worked really hard to help get the store ready for its grand opening. Opening day came and went with great fanfare -- and then everything fell apart. Now that the store was open for business, the chain decided it was time to dispose of most of the part-time staff. They were treated like the mountain of obsolete packaging outside the shiny new store: removed from the premises at the first opportunity.
The most frustrating aspect of this story is that it's not unique. I've heard of so many other incidents of young people being treated like throw-away labor by businesses large and small. Some employers don't seem to feel the same need to be as forthright and honest with young workers as they do with their other workers -- something that can leave teens feeling rather jaded about the world of work.
While a lot of great work has been done in raising awareness of the need to keep young people safe on the job, it appears there's a huge amount of work to be done when it comes to the issue of respect. Given how much disrespect is tolerated in many workplaces (workplace bullying and harassment continues to be a huge problem for workers of all ages), it may be a long time before anyone is willing to speak out or even care about how our kids are being treated at their summer and part-time jobs.
Fortunately, our kids have us. As their parents, we need to find out how they are being treated at their part-time and summer jobs and to teach them how to advocate for themselves. That means having the very same kind of conversation that the Ministry of Labor suggests having with our teens about workplace safety (see above), but in this case the focus should be on respect in the workplace (specifically why every worker is entitled to respect and how to respond if you're not being treated with respect by co-workers, customers, or your boss).
And as for the Mystery of the Disappearing Hummingbirds—the one that has employers calling in the HR experts in an effort to try to figure out why young people today just won't stick around?
Respect begets respect.
Loyalty begets loyalty.
It's really not that mysterious.
Note: I would like to thank Nora Spinks of Work-Life Harmony for a discussion we had about two years ago related to teens and horrible summer job experiences. Some of what we talked about that day has been perculating in my head ever since (like a really dark and potent cup of coffee). Thanks for always being so generous with your wisdom and insights, Nora.
Now over to you, parents and teens. Have you (or has your teen) had a really negative -- or a really positive -- job experience: one that really affected how you (or he/she) felt about the workforce over the long-term? Parents: How can we help our teens to get through the bad experiences? Have you ever intervened in a workplace situation on your teen's behalf?