Here comes Generation Z. That’s what some call the new crop of teenagers born in the mid-1990s who are now starting to enter the workplace.
They’re already stereotyped as individualistic, tech-savvy consumers with infinitesimal attention spans. According to Leon Gettler, “Management Line” blogger for the Sydney Morning Herald, “they seem to grow up faster, they are educated earlier and they have been exposed to marketing a lot earlier … they are technologically literate, growing up in a wireless, hyperlinked, user-generated world.”
Another likely trait: Because they’re coming to consciousness in an era when climate change is a hot topic of conversation, Generation Z is expected to be the most environmentally aware cohort to enter the workforce. This could make your natural products store a desirable place to work for today’s teenagers.
Sparrow Johnson, manager of New Leaf Community Markets’ Westside Santa Cruz, Calif., store, has supervised a lot of teenagers during her 24 years with the co-op chain. “They’re attracted to our community involvement as a business,” she says. All teenagers at New Leaf work as baggers in the front end because federal and state laws prohibit young workers from using dangerous equipment and from selling alcohol without direct supervision.
Johnson notes differences in today’s young employees versus those of the past. Teens now “haven’t grown up with the same culture of work ethic” as previous generations, she says. “They don’t even know the rudiments of being a good employee.”
Still, the rewards of hiring teenagers are worth the effort if you use the right management style. To create the best working relationships with Generation Z, employers with successful experiences hiring teenagers share this advice.
Advice for hiring and working with teenagers
Look for applicants who are involved in extracurricular activities. Johnson says the teenagers who make the best employees tend to be active at school and in the community.
Be explicit about attendance and punctuality. Keep in mind that your new employee may never before have been in the position of being depended on by others.
Be flexible with schedules, but demand early requests for time off. Johnson establishes clear expectations for a realistic schedule. “They want a job, but they have a lot of other things going on in their lives,” she says. She tries to maintain a large enough pool of teenage baggers to cover all the time-off requests. Two to three shifts per week is the typical workload for teenagers at New Leaf.
Diversify departments. Combining workers of all ages in a department makes for a healthy mix; the younger people look up to older workers as mentors.
Hold all employees to the same standards, regardless of age. Lowering expectations for teenagers doesn’t help prepare them for their future work life, and creates resentment among coworkers. Many high schoolers hired at New Leaf continue working after graduation or during summers and holidays from college.Thus, the investment the company makes in young workers pays off over time.
Don’t be afraid of Generation Z. Let’s welcome a new group of workers to our industry.