5 Principles For Motivating Teen Employees

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Employing teens has always come with its challenges, and that’s more true today than ever before. Raised while multi-tasking with technology, teenage workers can confuse, complicate, and—at times—consternate. But the reality for many salons is that teens are the face of their business—and, to remain competitive and maximize profits, it’s essential that salon owners capture, leverage and contribute to the skills that teens can bring to the workplace.

First, you must understand that the teen workforce is an age group (most born since 1990) whose entire lives have been enveloped in a world of technology, information and communication change, as well as major cultural and societal shifts. Less attention has been given to personal responsibility, and basic work ethics are not taught in school or at home. They simply have never heard about the importance of being on time and in uniform, giving respect to a supervisor, communicating clearly, making eye contact or showing commitment to a job.

Once you understand their background, you can begin to use the following guidelines as an effective strategy to working with teens. (I call it catching “WAVES.”)

Way of life. This is about improving the workplace environment. Appreciate the fact that young staff members are the way they are. It’s not wrong, it’s not right ... it just is. Meet them where they are, and allow some failure. Instead of focusing on what they’ve done wrong, build your relationship by encouraging them on what they are doing right. Teen employees can become fiercely loyal if they are taken seriously and treated with respect.

In addition, emphasize fun and celebrate their successes (and not those just from the workplace ... try to learn where they excel away from work). Make a connection with their parents, families and friends.

Attitude. Teenagers come with an attitude of independence and a “what’s-in-it-for-me” outlook. If you learn how to feed this, you’ll find highly motivated teens. Provide flexible scheduling and incentives for performance—and don’t make them wait. Instant prize programs are best for this group. Also focus on promoting strong performers quickly and give them more responsibility. Be aware, though, that patience is not a virtue with teens—be sure to provide variety in job duties or they’ll become bored.

And, while you’re thinking about attitude, take a look at your own. A condescending and inconsistent attitude from leaders at work will drive teen employees right out the door.

Verbal, video and visual. This age group has watched 20,000 hours of TV by the time they turn 18, and more than six hours per day are spent in front of a video screen. You need to use this technology to your advantage. For example, create a training video for your staff to watch, use computer programs to train new-hires, have employment applications available online and post work schedules to the salon Web site. Don’t print mounds of paper and expect the information to be read and retained. Make handbooks and memos less complicated and smaller, while focusing on the most important items for business success.

You also can enhance communication by using e-mail and text messaging, and create a vibrant workplace by posting photos and videos of your employees at work and away from work. Also, remember that names are important to teens—be sure to use nicknames if they have one.

Education ... not just training. If training is the “how,” then education is the “why.” At one time, parents and teachers prepared teens for the workplace; unfortunately, that does not occur at the same level as it once did. Therefore, you must build education into your training process—this age group needs to know the purpose of their job duties. Never assume anything, explain why they must do certain things and confirm their knowledge of the purpose behind every task. By doing this, you will find a longer-term (and more committed) young workforce.

Style matters. Teens care about how they look and how they’re treated. Uniforms shouldn’t embarrass your staff, and your grooming policy should be relevant. Be prepared to justify both to your employees. It also helps to be knowledgeable of current teen trends in fashion, music and entertainment. Pay attention to the techniques and strategies utilized by retailers to get teens to spend their hard-earned money—today’s retailers are very good at motivating teens and you might pick up a trick or two.

Overall, understand that teens don’t quit companies—they quit people. As a supervisor of teen employees, how you carry yourself has a huge impact on their performance and retention. Every manager or supervisor needs to be on board with the commitment of motivating their teen staffers. Otherwise, these workers will simply move on.

However, a fresh approach to motivating your teen employees does not mean that you need to compromise the values and principals of your business. Instead, it should provide the opportunity for you to increase your focus. Teens can be motivated and productive—in fact, today’s teens are one of the most knowledgeable and adaptive groups ever—you just need to know how to inspire them.

Ken Whiting is an industry expert on providing solutions for entry-level workforce challenges. His WAVES for Success program teaches companies what inspires young adults and teens to participate in, contribute to and excel at work. His new book, "WAVES for Teenage Workforce Success," provides insights on recruiting, motivating and retaining teenage employees. For a free copy of the "WAVES 101 Best Ways to Recruit, Retain, Educate and Motivate Today's Teens" visit WAVESforsuccess.com. For speaking and consulting, call (831) 423-1890 or e-mail ken@wavesforsuccess.com.

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