Survey Your Staff on Their Feelings About Youth

Does your place of business serve, teach, or otherwise interact with teenagers? Do your colleagues/employees thrive in those interactions, or are they run-of-the-mill transactions with little engagement? Worse yet, are young patrons obviously sneered at or belittled?

Unless you’re employed by the pinnacle of customer service, your place of employment is likely not known for serving a smile with every interaction. While being the best might not be your top priority it should be a goal. And not just for adults and their disposable incomes. How you and your business treat young people has a huge impact on their future purchases. Maybe you’re the only shop of your kind within walking distance to their school so they’re forced to choose you for before or after-school coffee or food options. But once they have a car they won’t choose you if, when they were walkers, you didn’t welcome them.

So how do you really serve young patrons? Intentionally.

Observe how your team interacts with young patrons. No really, roam the retail floor. Leave your office and stand at the service desk with your colleagues. Purposefully put yourself in the midst of an after-school or weekend rush. Watch and take in how your team serves young people.

After you’ve observed for a couple weeks, ask your team their feelings about serving young people. Bring up specific instances where they didn’t do well. Talk about the excellent service you did observe. Ask them to be candid in their response to you, as you cannot improve if you don’t know why they behave a certain way.

They’re so loud.

They always come in big groups and mess up the displays which I have to fix when they leave. Kids don’t care!

They make such a mess and it makes me have to stay late to clean up after them. I missed time with my family last week because I had to stay late to mop up a stilled drink.

These aren’t extraordinary responses. In fact, they’re common. In my thirteen years working in public libraries and eight years in food service, these complaints rang all too often. And they were true! Teenagers are loud, move in packs, and make messes.

You know who else do those things? Families with small children playing at the library. Old college friends dining together. Groups of raucous business people celebrating professional success.

The problem is that society sees teenagers as unworthy of public appearance, whereas families, adults, and professionals are welcome because of their spending power and their overall attitude of “adult”.

Teenagers are not unworthy. They deserve to be in public as much as anyone else, and they deserve to be welcomed and thanked for their patronage. They are, after all, investing in the product you’re selling or the service you’re offering. Sure they may leave behind their popcorn buckets in the move theater, but have you ever been the last person to leave a concert? The lawn is littered with beer cans, the contents of which were consumed by adults. No one among us is perfect, but teenagers are so often the scapegoats.

So what can you do to change the way your business or organization thinks about young people? Work with your team.

  • Host a contest. Staff submit their ideas for fixing the workplace’s culture of treatment and attitudes towards teens to a physical box or email address. A team of leaders picks one or a few to implement, and the people who wrote the winning idea(s) gets a small gift card or an extra-long paid lunch hour. (Then actually implement the ideas.)
  • Meet individually with each staff member to discuss their specific feelings and work ethic towards young people. Give them a chance to be heard. Really listen to them before you try to change the culture. Employees should not be made to feel like the bad guy. It will only make them more resistant to change.
  • Bring in a specialist to speak to your staff on the value of youth and the importance of valuing them as patrons.

Do you want your place of business, organization, or school to be more welcoming of teenagers and young adults? Do you like what you’ve read, but aren’t sure where to start? Contact me! I want to help you help your team and your community.

Homework: Assess your own feelings about teenage patrons and consider how your colleagues/employees might feel.

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