As a teen in the 70s, I desperately wanted to work.
Of course, I was driven by a desire to earn my own income—Bee Gees albums ain’t gonna buy themselves—but I also ached for the sense of accomplishment that came with winning a real job.
Flash forward many years later—after witnessing my millennial children’s job experiences, it dawned on me that my teen jobs—and my mentors from that time—profoundly shaped my views on professionalism. These jobs were not just about earning spending money; they were a vital part of my workplace education.
First, my hometown of Columbia, Missouri was the quintessential college town. As a result, we local kids had to learn how to compete with college students for the available jobs.
Of course, today’s youth basically win a trophy for losing the soccer game.
My two children—who I essentially forced to get part-time jobs in high school—both worked at Target. They loathed it.
Though it’s more commonplace to call Disneyland “the happiest place on earth,” in my view, Target wins this title, hands down.
I find things I need as well as many other items I certainly don’t need; however, I always hop back into Anderson Mini Cooper at least $200 poorer but with a big smile on my face.
When my kids—my pedigreed little Target Team Members—complained (and complained and complained), I simply chalked it up to a working-teen adjustment period. After all, they weren’t really there by choice.
However, as their grumbles and groans continued, I realized there must be some truth in their shared objections. Somehow, as a workforce introduction, my beloved Target was missing the mark.
Alas, Target was not the problem.
First, the demand for qualified retail staff today can be so extreme that the quality of the workforce—management and staff—has subsequently diminished over time.
The result is less competition for teen jobs, substandard leadership, and a diminished opportunity for my kids to earn that feeling of accomplishment their father once enjoyed while mating freshly-grilled burgers with appropriately-sized buns for the steamer storage bin at Burger King in 1977.
This snowballs into multiple teen sick days, late arrivals, no-shows, inflexible and unrealistic management and disrespect all around.
However, my kids’ #1 complaint: unhappy, unreasonable and downright nasty customers.
When you’re a teen worker-bee in the Target consumer electronics department and a customer yells at you, complete with liberal use of the F-word, because you don’t know the sale price of ham on the other side of the store, that doesn’t exactly keep you buzzing with excitement.
It’s a never-ending vicious cycle of supply and demand that ultimately ends in a common-courtesy-impaired customer’s demand that our children supply them with unreasonable attention and information.
At my beloved 70s-era Burger King, as a customer, you truly got to “have it your way.” Though there were exceptions–rules, structure and human decency typically prevailed.
Whether we were holding the pickles or holding the lettuce, special orders really didn’t upset us. We were taught to appreciate having the job.
Surprisingly, focus on the importance of mentoring appears to be reserved for the adult workplace. However, mentoring needs to begin the minute a child enters the workforce.
And every adult is responsible for doing their part.
Burger King gave me a royal introduction to the business world. Today’s working youth deserve the same.
Regardless of your reason for interacting with the adolescent workforce, please be a role model.
Marketing guru, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.