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Catch the WAVES:
Motivating Today’s Young Workforce

By Ken Whiting

Employing teens has always come with challenges, and that’s more true today than ever!

Raised while multi-tasking on life’s super technology highway, they can confuse, complicate, and at times, consternate.

The truth is every generation thinks higher of their own performance of when they were teens. How soon we all forget. Still the reality for many businesses is teens are the employees closest to the customer… the face of their company!   To remain competitive and maximize profits, it’s essential that employers capture, leverage and contribute to the skills that teens can bring to the workplace. But that requires change on the employers’ part.

This is an age group, most born since 1990, whose entire lives have been enveloped in a world of technology, information and communication change, as well as major cultural and societal shifts. Less attention has been given to personal responsibility, and basic work ethics are not taught in school or at home. They simply have never heard about the importance of being on time and in uniform, giving respect to a supervisor, communicating clearly, making eye contact or job commitment significance.

So what’s an employer to do? Plenty! The following are guidelines to an effective strategy to working with teens. We call it catching “WAVES.”

Way of Life:  This is about improving the workplace environment. Appreciate the fact that young staff members are the way they are. It’s not wrong, it’s not right,  it just is.   Meet them where they are. Allow some failure. Don’t focus on what they’ve done wrong. Build your relationship by encouraging them on what they are doing right. They can become fiercely loyal if they are taken seriously and treated with respect.

First impressions mean everything. Be welcoming, provide social events and emphasize fun. Celebrate their successes, not those just from the workplace, but learn where they excel away from work. Make a connection with their parents, families and friends.

Attitude: They come with an attitude of independence and “what’s in it for me.”  If you learn how to feed this you’ll find highly motivated teens.   Provide flexible scheduling and provide incentives for performance… and don’t make them wait. Instant prize programs are best. Recognize positive behaviors and catch them doing something right. Promote strong performers quickly and give them more responsibility. Patience is not a virtue with teens, so provide variety in job duties. Establish goals and empower them to come up with the answers.   You’ll be surprised.

Since we are talking about attitude, what about yours? A condescending and inconsistent attitude from leaders at work will send your teen employee out the door and working down the street.

Verbal, Video and Visual: This age group has watched 20,000 hours of TV by the time they are 18. Over six hours per day are spent in front of a video screen. You need to use this technology to your advantage. Include some examples here, such as create a training video for your staff to watch, use computer programs to train new hires, etc.

Names are important, so use their nickname. Applications should be online and your work schedules posted on your Web site. Don’t print mounds of paper and expect the information to be read and retained. Make handbooks and memos less complicated and smaller, while focusing on the most important items for your business success. Enhance communication by using e-mail and text messaging.  Create a vibrant workplace through the use of photos and videos of your employees at work and away from work.

Education… not Just Training:  If training is the “how,” then education is the “why.”  This age group requires to know the purpose, the why, behind tasks. Never assume anything, confirm their knowledge and explain the purpose behind every task.

Parents and teachers used to prepare teens for the workplace. That does not occur at the same level as it once did. Build education into your training process and you will find longer-term, and a more committed young work force. This is the new calling for today’s teen employers.

Style Matters:  Style is how employees look, the image of your company and how they are treated at work. Teens care about how they look and how they’re treated. Uniforms shouldn’t embarrass your staff, and your grooming policy should be relevant. Be prepared to justify both to your employees.

Be knowledgeable of current teen trends in fashion, music and entertainment, and pay attention to the techniques and strategies utilized by retailers to get teens to spend their hard-earned money. Today’s retailers are very good at motivating teens!

Teens don’t quit companies… they quit people. As a supervisor of teens, how you carry yourself has a huge impact on performance and retention. Every manager or supervisor needs to be on board with the commitment of getting the most from your teens.

These five principles can be used as overview that will help you determine what would work best for your operation. A fresh approach in working with your teens does not mean that you need to compromise the values and principals of your business. Instead it should provide the opportunity for you to increase your focus.

Teens can be inspired, motivated and productive. Today’s teens are the most knowledgeable and adaptive group ever. Don’t judge them through the eyes of when you were a teen… look through theirs. You have nothing to lose, everything to gain, and you’ll have a positive impact on the lives of the teenagers you employ.

Read other articles and learn more about Ken Whiting.

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