In a couple of stunning interactions over the last few weeks I’ve come to realize some young people enter the work world without a clue – and parents hold a huge responsibility here. If you are not regularly talking with your kids about work – what it means, what it’s like, what to expect in the workplace and what will be expected of them – why would they know how to act? (Throw in a lost couple of years due to COVID and some young people are showing up at their first jobs with little or no part-time job exposure and are completely unprepared for work culture.)
As a young person, raised by depression-era parents, work was a constant topic of conversation at home. The importance of getting a “good job” or whether someone was a “good worker” came up weekly in my house. It was clear from a very young age, work was my ticket forward and, because of it, I couldn’t wait to get into the work world. At the very least, it was my way of getting some level of independence.
Fast forward to my household as a parent and many of the same patterns continued. My kids were out and working at age 15 and haven’t stopped since – most times holding down more than one job – something that remains true today even though they are in their 20’s and early 30’s. Often we talked about what makes a good employee, pointed out examples of people doing their jobs well and holding up those examples as something to be admired. Of course, I didn’t do everything right as a parent, but on that front the proof remains in the amazing work ethic my kids have demonstrated in the real world of 2022.
Now to those examples I hear regularly about the behavior of some new employees. Questions like, “Can I leave early?” and “When am I eligible for a promotion and raise?” seem to come up in the first week on the job. While that may be an exaggeration, the anecdotes I’ve had shared with me in the last few weeks come close to that exact tone. These stories demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the role of work in a person’s life. So, how can we prep young people to correctly enter the work world?
-Talk about work at home: Don’t make work a mystery in your house. Talk about it regularly – let them see your work world and talk about the good and the bad. Talk about what makes a great employee. No one is a victim because they have to work, it’s something we all need to do.
-Encourage a variety of work experiences for young people: The more real-life exposure they have, the more a kid can understand what they might want in their adult life. From the local pizza restaurant waiter to the grocery store shelf stocker, it all builds an understanding of and respect for work.
-Discuss what it means to be a good employee: If the only connection people have to work is the money,they will never be satisfied. Work can be a joy – an opportunity to learn and grow, to expand your understanding of the world and the people in it. It is so much more than a paycheck. Our worship of the CEO and the super-mogul sets up a view of work that emphasizes 1/1000th of the real world.
When employees show up understanding how to be on time, prepared and attentive, we all win – and that lesson starts at home.