Avoid the Emma Dilemma

The owner of Emma’s Eatery in Nova Scotia reported this week on Facebook she is closing her business. She sighted her reason as, I paraphrase, “teen staff are problems and today’s generation of young people have no work ethic.” The ‘Emma dilemma’ demonstrates how wrong it is to judge an entire generation as it is to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Employers need to take steps to recruit, train and support young staff entering the workforce and not cry in their soup when things don’t go just right. As a former professor of mine once said, “When things are not going right, look at your leadership first.”

When hiring people new to the workforce extra time is needed to help them along. Here are some of my recommendations to Emma or others struggling in similar situations:

  1. Start with the positive assumption individuals want to work hard and not be a problem employee.
  2. Communicate clearly during the hiring process about your expectations and ask candidates open-ended questions. I often ask candidates, “What are you expecting of me as a boss? How can I help you be successful?”
  3. Ensure you have gathered the right information to make an informed decision in a face-to-face interview (or Skype). Don’t rush to judgement.
  4. Youth entering the workforce have little or no employment experience and getting references from teachers, coaches and club leaders is helpful. Background checks for teenagers may require a different approach than you are accustom.
  5. Teens have transferrable skills. Look at their experience as volunteers, band members, club leaders or other co-cirricular activity. Ask about the contributions they make at home or about a project they just completed.
  6. Build a climate of mutual respect.
  7. Invite current teen staff to help with the interviews (group Skype if necessary). Everyone wants to surround themselves with other hardworking, respectful and fun people. Teen staff can be very candid and helpful with their recommendations for potential hires.
  8. Talk openly during the offer stage about the job training, work policies and benefits your new hire can expect. Give them a digital copy and review the information again in their early days of work.
  9. Be a mentor.

Many charities and not-for-profits hire young people in volunteer positions which helps prepare them to enter the workforce. I would encourage the private sector to do more to hire young people and help build a strong future workforce.

Given the chance and proper leadership young employees do amazing work!









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