A plea to managers: Treat young workers with compassion and kindness

doing business during COVID-19 inflation staff shortages

Core values we hold close and important lessons learnt are cultivated via many aspects of our life.

The first years of a child’s life are foundational to their behaviours and beliefs. Good parenting, environments and role models help steer a child through life’s many challenges. Even deficient parenting and awful circumstances can result in a dogged determination to be the opposite of what was experienced. Good and bad conditions shape a child’s values, attitudes and purpose.

Likewise, the experiences and environments encountered in our first few jobs and careers will have an immeasurable impact on our future. Those initial experiences will affect business and personal values either positively or negatively.

Hence the magnitude and responsibility of parenting and managing young people can never be underestimated. Both have a duty to look after those under their watch to not simply navigate the current, but steer imminent social and commercial influence.

Most of us had casual jobs as teenagers and can share many a funny/horror tale about them. But it’s those first few permanent jobs that impact deeply as they were the stepping stones to self-sufficiency and aspirations.

Do you recall how you felt in your first few jobs? Do you remember how your managers treated you and how they made you feel? Did you feel hope or dread?

You may have been fresh out of high school or university with grand ambitions for a specific vocation. Or you may have fallen into those jobs without a clear direction. However you ended up in those jobs your beliefs and values will have been framed, both consciously and subconsciously.

What lessons did you learn from those jobs and managers that remain with you to this day? How have the negative and positives helped build your business values and the legacy you want to be known for? How have those experiences formed and shaped your goals, purpose and brand values?

My first few jobs couldn’t have been more dissimilar, and I will be forever grateful for the duality of culture and management styles.

The horrid first job

At 18 years old I was a junior secretary in an engineering company selling industrial machine tools and air compressors. Quite a tough and misogynistic workplace, and I had no training at all, being forced to learn on the job.

I often came home in tears after another day of being treated without care by managers who were ruthless. It was in the days when female staff had no real voice and juniors were treated as commodities to be used up.

Each time I made any typing (no computers back then) or administration errors I was castigated and forced to work overtime without pay. I went to work in fear hoping each day would be better. Any glimmers of kindness or appreciation given by staff were grabbed with gusto.

Yet no one stood up to look after me through their own fear. I never once received a gift or card for Christmas, birthdays or even my engagement. Even when I did something fabulous it was generally dismissed or commented on with almost an air of ‘it’s your job’.

At 20, I was ‘let go’ (terminated) as that would have meant a higher wage. Over those two years, I learnt a lot about engineering, customer service and office procedures.

But the biggest lessons I learnt were to never treat junior workers like crap and cause them distress. I vowed never to dish out to other people what I had endured. And I developed strong values to stand up for others and show staff and colleagues that you care and appreciate them in lots of little ways.

The second marvellous job

My next job was with a fabulous international advertising organisation and I couldn’t have wished for better managers, it was a career dream come true. I was shown compassion, given amazing training and skills and enormous encouragement to become the best salesperson and professional I could be.

Many super smart training and sales managers constantly encouraged telling me they believed in me and I could achieve. They all had a gift in treating others as though they already succeeded. Again many lessons fed into my values.

I learnt that training and support makes all the difference and I wanted others to receive as much training as possible to succeed. And I wanted others to feel the power of encouragement that I received to build their self-belief and esteem.

A plea to managers

I share these experiences not just to demonstrate how influential our first few jobs can be in our career and life journey, but also as an impassioned wake-up call and a plea to leaders and managers.

I know of many managers with a mindset of ‘I was treated like that when I started out and survived, so will you’. Or they some have just blindly repeated the models of behaviour they witnessed without thought or understanding. And of course, there are managers who want to inflict pain onto others to make up for the way they were treated (that’s another subject), but in any case, the world has changed.

Workplace bullying and toxic workplaces have reached epidemic proportions with dire financial, social, mental health and productivity implications. Combined with increased family and social issues, community violence and the pressures of social media, life is particularly difficult for young people to traverse.

We need to be kinder and show greater empathy than ever before. Often young people who come into their first jobs haven’t had the best start in life for a myriad of reasons. And as a manager, if you employed them, you have an opportunity to make a difference.

Leaders and business owners must recognise and accept the huge responsibility they have in developing young people and their futures. It is indeed a privilege to be able to show our young people the way and shape their future values.

Take every opportunity to guide the young people in your commercial care, and in doing so, reflect on the core values and lessons you learned from your first jobs.

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