5 Tips for Managing Teenagers

Good management techniques are universal; clear expectations, consistency, and good communication skills are going to suit you well regardless of the work environment. But another great management skill is flexibility, and the ability to modify your techniques based on who exactly you have under your management. One subset of employees that may require modified management are teenagers.

Teenagers make up a large portion of the workforce at fast food restaurants, swimming pools, and retail stores. Teen employees are often working for the first time. This job at the GAP may be the first time anyone has paid them other than an allowance from their parents. They are still learning how to be a good employee, and may not always be responsible or appropriate. As unappealing as it may seem, you as the manager will be teaching them these skills through your directions and consequences. It takes less time and effort to invest in your teenage workers than to fire and hire a constant string of newbies who will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. And you never know, you could be training a future industry leader who will always look back fondly at that great boss they had at their first job! Here are some techniques and considerations for managing teenage employees.

No Parents Allowed
Even though you hired the teenager, you may still have to deal with parents of the employee. Some parents have a hard time letting their children manage their own job. Let teen employees (and their parents) know right from the start that you expect them to be wholly responsible for all aspects of the job. The teens are to manage their own hours and schedules, and put in their own vacation requests. Do not accept sick calls from parents unless the employee is seriously compromised. Some teens are excited by this elevated level of responsibility, and handle it well from the start. Other teenagers have relied on their parents to plan their schedules for a long time, and may take a while to transition. Be patient but firm when dealing with both parents and teens.

Motivating Teens
Teenagers come into a job situation with a “whats-in-it-for-me” attitude. The paycheck is nice, but let’s face it, minimum wage isn’t very rewarding. If you want dedicated teen employees, give them something more. Use incentive programs to reward good behaviors such as completing a new display or great customer service. If possible, give out assignments that play on a teen’s strengths. Give employees options and choices where appropriate, or let them take on the whole project with just some guidance from you. Treat teen employees with respect and take them seriously, and they will try harder in the workplace.

Most teens are completely focused on their social life. This can be a blessing and a curse in the workplace. Managers who try to eliminate all socializing among teen employees are fighting a loosing battle. You just have to set clear expectations for what is and is not acceptable socializing at work. Allow teens to work together on projects as long as they can complete them in time. Make sure that conversations are not inappropriate or getting in the way of good customer service. Be aware of sexual harassment in the workplace as well; if anyone is uncomfortable with another person’s actions or conversations, it needs to be addressed immediately.

Cell Phones and Social Media
In this technology-heavy society, the rules about sharing personal information have changed. Teens today are used to being in constant contact with friends, and putting their whole lives on the internet. This philosophy can leak into the workplace. Set clear boundaries about when and where cell phones can be used, and have a clear social media policy. You may have to coach teens about what is and is not appropriate to post online where your business is concerned. Guidelines may include no status updates about customers or coworkers, and no pictures or video while at work. Make sure teens understand that there may be legal consequences for internet indiscretions.

Be Patient
Teens are going to screw up more than adult employees. On average, they are still learning how to control their emotions, schedule their time, and talk appropriately to customers. You can have the same expectations for teen employees as adults, but it may take some work on your part to get there. Be clear in your expectations and consequences, and fair when doling them out. It may be in your best interest to give a warning, just in case the teen is unclear about expectations or is still figuring out a new schedule. But do not let it go too far before holding the teen employee up to the standards of the whole crew. Holding everyone to the same standard makes the teen feel like an adult.

A part-time job is a great place for a teen to learn responsibility, time management, and customer service skills. With the right direction, a teenage employee can be an enthusiastic and dedicated employee.

Kathryn J. Cox Supervising Teen Employees The Ohio State University Extension

Personal Experience