Ken Keller: I don’t understand teenagers!

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Dear Ken Keller,

I own and operate a quick service restaurant. For many years I have hired teenagers, aged 16 and older, to work in my business. I thought I knew what these young people are like having raised some of my own kids and having hired many high school and college students. But this current generation has me baffled. Can you share any insights?   – Carl B.

Dear Carl:

I’m willing to bet that the kind of young people that you are interviewing, hiring or rejecting for employment are not much different than those you dealt with before, but the environment has changed.

You did not mention any specific issues, so let me share a few facts that might help you. As Stephen Covey has written, seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Teenagers today need nine hours of sleep each night but they only get seven hours. Fully one-third of teenagers are overweight or obese. Less than one-third of high school students attend gym classes every day at school and only 27 percent get the 60 minutes of daily exercise that is recommended. All this tells me that some of your young employees likely come to work tired and out of shape.

That’s the physical side. On the mental side, a recent study suggested that young adults who multi-task (exposed to more than one form of media at the same time) often had lower test scores in English and math, maybe because they had poorer working memory.

I think you have a great opportunity to be a mentor to those who work for you. You can establish clear expectations, show them what a work ethic is and be an adult role model. Many of these young adults may not have a strong, supportive person in their lives. While they may have many adults in their lives, they may not have any that they can watch and respect in a work environment.

My take is that many young people need to respect someone before they will take them seriously.

One way to re-position yourself is to no longer be known as “Mr. B.” but instead have your employees call you “Coach Carl.” That explains your role and responsibility in a way your young team members can relate.

Dear Ken Keller,

I’m like many business owners I am getting burned out.  It’s more than just needing a vacation. – Jerry O.

Dear Jerry,

Many owners get burned out over time. I’m going to give you three suggestions that may make a difference.

The first is to go see your doctor. I know men don’t like doing this, but getting a physical may uncover some of the results of burnout, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight.

The second is to put in a specific number of hours at work each day. I have found that having a set time to leave work each day will focus you on getting the most critical things done. The rest can wait until tomorrow.

Third, make a list of the things that bring you pleasure in your business and the things that drain you. Start spending your time doing the pleasurable things and deal head-on with those negative things that make coming to work a drag.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

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