The human stock factor

by Greg Deal - Date: 2007-01-02 - Word Count: 2083 Share This!

There is nothing more troubling to today's employers than the fact that young workers (mostly ages 20-27) seem to have little pride in the overall product or service unless they can see a way it directly affects them. Young workers will take great pride in their part of a project or service, but often care little about the global nature of it.

In the film "Office Space," the lead character, explaining his lack of motivation to a job efficiency expert, says, "It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my [expletive] off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation?"

It is important that young workers be taught that they are valued as human stock in the company. The company has invested in them and has considered them as essential assets. That is good for the company, of course, but it's very important for the young worker. Showing them that they are not just paper pushers but that their work is essential to the company is a key step. It would be wise for a company to explain the chain of operation so young workers see how what they might consider mundane tasks are indeed critical to the functionality of the company.

Most of us are keenly aware that young people are about the here and now. Does anyone even use the word "layaway" anymore? Ask a young adult what "laying away" a coat means, and he or she probably will say it means putting it in the closet. The concept of seeing something and investing in it for the long run is lost on many young workers. Members of the group want to get their money and run to the next job where there's more money.

Companies need to stop letting their eyes drift from state to state and start looking at home again for employees who will invest in their company the way you invest in them. If you check around the office of many professional businesses, many of the workers have no roots in the area. That makes it hard for them to develop any sense of ownership with your company because they don't know enough about it or its history of service. It's up to employers to work in their communities to make sure their colleges and technical schools are doing all they can to provide homegrown workers. These workers have more at stake because they have family and friends in the area and know that they want to stay with the company. They take greater pride in the product or service because they know the people it will affect.

Young workers whom you "import" from out of the state or region already have one reason not to like the job: they don't see themselves as having any reason to be there other than money. If you are going to hire an out-of-area young person, you might as well expect to do a lot of coddling to replace what they are missing from Mom and Dad back home. A better solution is for companies to make their region or, at the most, their state the primary battleground for finding recruits. Sure, it might take a little longer to train someone if you live in an area that doesn't have colleges offering majors in what your company requires, but your investment in training the homegrown worker will pay off in the long run. It's tempting for employers to pass over local people in favor of out-of-area ones because of more experience and better skills, but a company should consider that the homegrown worker might be willing to stay longer, thus learning more and contributing more in the long run.

You must look at your employees as people, of course, but you also must look at them as stock floating out on the open market. Do you want to take a risk on some unknown stock that's been untested, or go with something that will provide stability? There is no wrong answer to that question, by the way. It's just a matter of choice. You can hire a talented person from out of state and take a gamble that a young worker won't get homesick or won't place roots in the area, or you can hire at home and realize the chances for greater long-term return on investment is higher. The first person might turn out to be the more talented employee. But how long will that person stay with your company? The homegrown worker might develop the same skills over time and will stay with your company longer and buy into a sense of ownership, which can help other young employees see the value of investing themselves in the company.

If you choose to hire out-of-area young workers, everyone in the company, old and young, must be prepared to deal with the baggage, and not the kind they carry off the plane. If you find yourself working with an out-of-state young worker and you are an older worker, it would go a long way toward building bridges if you offer to take the young worker to lunch a couple of times the first week and show the person around town, maybe even invite him or her to your house for a meal and some playtime.

One of my bosses regularly asked what he called "strays" to join his family for holiday meals. It's important to show a young worker that you have a softer side. Bosses have to walk a fine line between friendship and solid working relationships, though. Young workers know how to take advantage of friendly bosses by skirting job assignments and then acting as if the friendship has soured when criticized.

Bosses can't be a true friend of a young worker. It's simply impossible. It might work for a time, but when the young worker starts taking advantage of the friendship and it ends up hurting the boss's standing, you can bet the boss will have to take action. Most young workers simply can't separate boss John Doe from friend John Doe. Just a decade ago, a manager could chew out an employee to the point he felt lower than the carpet, then turn around and ask what time he or she wanted to play golf the next day. That doesn't seem possible with today's young worker. Don't fall into the trap of believing you can buddy up to a subordinate.

You will seldom hear the word "subordinate" these days because we live in a politically correct society, but the fact remains that, no matter what you call it, your employee is a subordinate. You cannot cross that line with young workers or you will find yourself dealing with an unhappy person. But young workers are missing out on what can be great relationships with their bosses. If they simply tell themselves that anything that happens inside the office has nothing to do with what goes on outside, they will be happier and more content.

Part of employees' and employers' responsibilities is forming a united front. This isn't a war against young workers, but it is a stand. They must learn that a figurative "spanking" (i.e., harsh reprimand) is always a potential. You should be up-front with employees before hiring them and let them know what you do and do not permit in the office. Employers are often so mystified by one's resume that they will do just about anything to land that young and creative worker. But, in the process, they fail to lay out the ground rules and explain what the real workplace will be like. Don't fudge the nature of your work environment when interviewing a person. When they get to the office and realize what you told them is simply not true, they will resent you for it. No one wants to move halfway across the United States only to find out you performed a bait and switch. Sell them the real you and the real company atmosphere, and don't get so caught up in landing the candidate that you sugarcoat the truth.

Young workers tend to come into a job thinking one thing and seeing another. They've been promised that the company is a friendly place to work and that everyone gets along perfectly. What employers need to say is that, like any other place, the job will have its high points and low points. A chef, for instance, is bound to overcook or undercook a steak during his tenure, and he or she needs to know what actions to take when that happens. Do you issue warnings? How many are given before harsher actions are taken? Employers don't like to talk about these things for fear that the person down the road will tell a saucier tale about the work environment. But it's a must-if you want to hire people who don't have false expectations.

It is very important that you let prospective employees meet and actually spend time with current employees of their age or older, so they can understand what life is like at your company. You should make sure the employees speak honestly and openly and not paint an overly rosy portrait of your place of business. This is one of the major downfalls for companies when it comes to losing young workers to other jobs. They are given one representation when they are interviewed about what the job will be like, and then they see reality when they get there. Once that happens, you've got an unhappy employee from day one who will go straight to his or her computer and bookmark a job search link on the Internet Web browser.

Having an employee shadow other employees is a good thing. Emulating positive work behavior from other employees is a good trait. Some companies are now making it mandatory for personnel to learn what other departmental employees do, so the workers have a better understanding of how the entire operation works. Let's say you are a newspaper reporter. A five-minute late submission of your work will hamper the operation of the company and its employees. That gives you better perspective in handling work-related pressures and in understanding other people's pressures, concerns, desires and aspirations.

The reporters could learn from copy editors, designers, pressroom workers and paper carriers. They can see that if they miss a deadline, the editor has less time to properly proof and edit the copy. It means the designer, once he or she gets the text, has fewer options on space available or doesn't have enough time to do a graphic or add an art element. It means pressroom workers have to hurry up an important task of plating the negative on which the text is emblazoned, and that adds more room for error. If you are late, that means workers in the pressroom could be facing overtime, and it means a carrier might not make it home in time to take his or her child to school the next morning after delivering the papers.

Global thinking is the most important aspect of a sense of ownership in a company. It is one thing to be told you are part of a team; it's another to actually see how the team operates and understand what teammates suffer as a consequence when you fail to do your job properly.

Consider sending young workers to as many off-site training sessions as possible. Show the person you want to help him or her continue the learning process, even though they've graduated. Remember that surveys show they are willing to accept less money for more training. Make them understand that no one has all the answers, and that is why you send them and older employees to regular training sessions.

Young workers who do not get the proper guidance on ownership from their company should use downtime not to play, but to ask the employer if it is okay to shadow an employee from another department. You rarely will meet people unwilling to share their feats, struggles, stories and experiences. Young workers can develop better relationships with workers of all ages by showing interest in their jobs and trying to learn the most they can about them. It also helps them understand that the man or woman in the "big office" who talks on the phone all the time is actually quite busy handling a plethora of company-related issues and is not just sitting back delegating responsibilities while chatting with a family member or friend about non-work-related matters.

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Related Tags: jobs, employees, young, bosses, workers, coworkers

Greg Deal has been in the newspaper business for 11 years, working as a sports writer and sports editor in Greenwood, S.C., for five years before assuming roles as assistant managing editor and managing editor of the daily paper there.

Deal has moved on in his writing journey to become a full-time author. He received an Associate of Arts degree from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte and later a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He has a wife, Shea, and two children.

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