Teen Work Ethic

I’ve been hiring and mentoring young adults for the past twenty years, and while I have always had the occasional entitled employee, I think I’m seeing more of them.  I’m talking about young employees who bristle and argue when offered feedback, who try to sculpt their work schedules around their recreation, and who expect positions and paychecks that—by my reckoning—they don’t yet qualify for.  Perhaps what’s actually changed, though, is me.  I’m now solidly middle aged and almost as prone as my father to make critical proclamations about “today’s youth.”

But whether the so-called “age of entitlement” is a true social phenomenon or just a recycled inter-generational gripe, there’s no denying that many young people enter the workplace without an adequately robust work ethic.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new social epidemic or an age-old problem of humanity.  The problem of entitled young adults is real.  Even though this supposed epidemic is often attributed to the self-esteem movement, research indicates that entitled young people actually have a higher than normal incidence of depression, work failure, and other problems associated with low self-esteem. It’s possible that we’ve worked so hard to pump up our children’s sense of personal value that it’s actually backfired.

So what is a parent to do with teen or young adult who doesn’t want to work but nonetheless expects a nice car and an expensive lifestyle?  Unfortunately, by the time your child is a young adult, it may be tough to teach lessons that ideally should begin during childhood.  But it’s never too late to improve your parenting skills and to recast your role in your child’s life.  Here are some tips to help your teen or young adult understand the relationship between an honest day’s work and an honest day’s pay:

Share Your Work:  Many professionals keep their work and personal lives very separate.  While this kind of personal boundary setting can be healthy in many respects, it can also prevent your children from understanding the basics of breadwinning.  It’s not uncommon for children of successful career parents to grow up with little understanding of how the mortgage gets paid, how food appears on the table, where their allowance really comes from, etcetera.

Some ways to expose your teen or young adult to your own work include taking him or her to the office with you for a day, hiring them to do some filing or to answer phones for you, talking about your work, or even asking for their advice on a work-related issue, idea, or problem.

Discuss Money: Another common boundary that can have unintended consequences is avoiding financial talk with your children.  While there are financial details that can create unnecessary stress or cross boundaries, general family conversations about budgeting, saving, earning, and spending are important for teaching children the basics of work and finance. If they don’t learn good financial management skills from you, studies show, they probably won’t learn them at all.

You Address Needs, They Address Wants:  Especially with teens (and young adults who are still appropriately dependent) it’s important to continue meeting basic needs while transitioning financial responsibility for wants to your child.  Instead of just giving your child money for movies, outings, and electronics, help them find ways to earn, save, and manage money for these luxuries. Many parents find this kind of involvement to be more time consuming and taxing in the short run than just dispensing the requested funds; but in the long run this kind of experiential instruction will save much more grief than it causes.