My first job: Going from bad to worse

My first job: Going from bad to worse

There always has to be a first that will be forever remembered. And I’d like to think that first is remembered for all the right reasons.

My first job was at the local toy store. I got the job just before the Christmas rush and I worked Friday night and Saturday morning. My first pay cheque came in a little white envelope (I still have it) – $5.12 for seven hours work as a shop assistant. After work on that Friday night I had dinner with my new co-workers; I had the cheapest thing on the menu – spaghetti – which set me back $12, or more than two weeks’ wages.

My first job taught me the value of money. I began to see things in terms of how many hours I had to work to pay for them.

I was a very happy sales assistant, and given I was 14 and not long out of childhood myself, the parents purchasing gifts for their children happily took my advice on what to get their little ones.

Alas, as soon as Christmas Eve rolled around, I was given my marching orders. With no notice. I was sad, not only did I like my colleagues, but I thought I was really good at my job. I was surprised that no one seemed to notice how much I sold or how much effort I put in. I felt undervalued – but I guess in hindsight that my pay cheque reflected that.

Now fast forward many decades…

I have teenagers – they and their friends are beginning to get part-time jobs. I am fascinated to watch them learn and discover the world of work. The experience that they have with these businesses may well determine what work looks like for them in the future.

Trust is paramount in every employment relationship – without it, it is really difficult to achieve great things. And I fear that nothing has changed since my first job, way back in the last century.

When one of my son’s friends secured his first work experience job, he was expected to work five days in total and was told he would receive $20 per day for his efforts. He was happy because it covered the cost of his bus and lunch for the day. Yet come the end of the week no one mentioned payment – and he left without his $100. He felt unable to say anything and was quite hurt that they said one thing and did another. To a 15-year-old, $100 is a lot of money. But more than that, what is his impression of work so far?

As employers, our role is to lead by example. I was saddened that a friend of my child – who had been so excited when they got an interview and then two ‘trial shifts’ at the local store – was not only not paid for their time, but the employer did not even give them feedback on their performance.

They simply never called with another shift. What is that young person’s experience of work? How easy it is to create a “them and us” attitude. At $12.50 per hour for a total of $50, this young person would have respected and perhaps even trusted that employer. Now some other employer at some other stage is going to have to rebuild that person’s trust in authority.

Trust is the very premise of all relationships – and the first employment relationship is critical. Leaders please give your people a reason to trust.

The first job is like a first kiss – always remembered. Best make it a good one.

Naomi Simson has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded, RedBalloon.com.au, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.

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