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On several occasions throughout my short writing career, I have penned columns about the issues we experience with the newer generation as they enter the industrial workplace-their work ethics are not what they should be and are not self-motivated when it comes to taking on initiatives. This bothers us older folks-you know who you are-because we tend to think they are lazy and that it will only get worse.
However, on a recent mini-vacation to Nashville, Tenn., I was introduced to a new perspective on this issue. While sitting in a quaint little bed and breakfast, my wife and I met a couple from Huntsville, Ala., who were both engineers. In fact, the wife is employed at the NASA Space Center in Huntsville. We began talking about the younger generation and how they may not be “cut out” for the real world, and she shared her thoughts, based on her experience with college interns and newly ordained engineers.
She said the kids coming out of college aren’t necessarily lazy; rather they are just conditioned to expect everything organized and done for them, as that is how the 50-somethings have raised them. From the time they were toddlers until they went to college, we have picked out what they should wear, scheduled their lessons and doctor appointments and drove them everywhere they needed to be. Because of our attentiveness as parents, they never had to worry about being on time or worry about where they needed to be next. It’s almost as though we raised our kids to live a high-roller, privileged lifestyle, no matter what our circumstances had been. These kids grew up having “people.”
Based on my own experiences, I believe you can apply this idea to anybody who is under the age of 30, entering the workplace. If you have somebody coming to your workplace that is in this age group and seems to have an old-style work ethic, this is someone who must have been raised like we were, right? This group is the most coachable and likely to be around for a while, developing themselves every day.
As for those newbies who can’t figure out their left shoe from their right one on their own, those are the ones we must spend our energy on and keep a watchful eye on, all while not giving up.
So, what steps can we take to convert the youngster that has had everything done for them while “reforming” them into someone who will be a productive, valuable part of a team, department and company?
The easy thing to do is give up on them once you find out they can’t move past one task unless fully directed. Having this new information about why they may be the way they are just might help you figure out some creative ways to convert what looks like a slacker mentality into a self-motivated one. In no way am I suggesting that we give in to their ways and continue the enabling behavior; rather we as professional managers and old-timers in the industry must find ways to recondition the youngsters and convince them that if they are going to make it in the workplace, and in life, they must fully participate.
When you break down the gaps, it comes down to some fairly understandable and correctable items.
First, you know this newer mentality can produce good results at a specific task after direction, but they can’t make adjustments when they run into something out of line with what they were shown, almost like a computer or an automated robot. They tend to stop what they are doing until someone can help them out. As a result, we need to teach them to stretch themselves and give themselves permission to try something a bit risky. Giving them opportunities to “try something” will build their confidence, and after they have a “win” or two with these risks, they will become even stronger in their self-belief.
Secondly, we might have to get a little harsh with them. The bottom line is that when you pay them for 40 hours of work, they must know you need 40 hours of work out of them. This may push them to come looking for the next thing to do rather than just sitting back waiting on you. Suggest early on that you will pay them for what they do, not for simply being present. That will get their attention. In the old days, some jobs paid on piece-work. In other words, “if you did it, you got paid.”
Why should we take on this level of responsibility? If any of you have parented in the past 20 years, you may have had a role in developing this type of person. On top of that, if you ever want to move on in your career or even retire one day, you need to have developed employees who can carry on the tasks and functions you once performed.
Remember, you once were a new kid on the block too.