I begin most working mornings with a jaunt through the home page of Reddit. I love the community of people around the world sharing feel-good stories, videos of cows, and gifs of people falling down (don’t judge me; I can’t help what I laugh at).
Today I found a mentor among mentors in the form of a Panera Bread cafe manager who posted the following sign:
[Image description: A typed sign that reads: Please respect our staff. For many of them this is their first job. They are someone’s child. They could be your child. Do not be rude to them. If you have a problem, ask for a manager (Who also deserves to be treated with respect and kindness) or send a message to the cafe at email@example.com Thanks to all those that are respectful and patient! P.S. it is sad that we have to post this but some people need reminding]
My first thought was “What a good boss!” followed closely by my second though, “What had to have happened – likely more than once – to warrant this sign’s creation?”
My first job (as far as the IRS is concerned) was the summer I was fourteen years old. I bussed tables at The Frying Pan, the greasy spoon of my hometown. The owner wasn’t around much. When he was, I don’t think I ever saw him with a dirty dish in his hand. The servers were as kind as could be, teaching me the art of retrieving dishes from customers without getting in their way (and without spilling anything). They were helpful and supportive with what I now realize must’ve been their hundredth adolescent table busser.
My second and third and fourth and fifth jobs were similar. The staff taught me what I needed to know through direct training, but also indirectly. I observed how they interacted with customers and mimicked what I saw work. When I messed up they didn’t yell, but guided me towards the right answer, or helped me clean up the mess I made. I was again, over and over again, blessed with coworkers and managers who understood my age and inexperience, and instead of holding a grudge against me for that, nurtured me to become as skilled as them.
THAT is how we should treat teenagers in the workplace. Fast food, bussing tables or hosting, and retail are often lauded as great “starter jobs” for youth because there are numerous customer interactions and situations to learn from. But they’re not learning if they’re being yelled at, by customers OR coworkers. Instead they’re learning to survive, and no one thrives when their MO is “withstand this torture until I can clock out”.
ACT – How you can help:
1 – When you see a young person being mistreated – by coworkers or customers – speak kindly yet boldly to that adult about their attitude.
2 – Learn to better interact with the teenaged coworkers, customers, or service workers you encounter. Remember that they are trying to exist just as you are, but you have decades more experience living in society. Their perspective is limited to the small number of years (or even months, weeks!) they have been attempting to exist independently of their parents within society.
3 – Teach them. Talk to the teens you know about possible workplace situations and teach them to navigate through those difficult times. You can’t guarantee they’ll have a boss like the Panera manager who posted the above notice.