Next generation of workers waking up to workplace realities
by Michelle Poje
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It's the boss.
According to a recent poll from Career Systems International, a talent management solution provider, 10 percent of workers between the ages of 18-38 left their first jobs after one year because they hated their boss. Many of every age said a bad boss had them hunting for a new job as early as the first day of work.
Susan Fee, a Cleveland mental health counselor and interpersonal communications specialist, said young employees often switch jobs several times to avoid a mean boss.
"There are more jobs in this generation, which offers teens more flexibility to hop from one job to the next," said Fee. "If they have a boss they don't immediately cooperate with, they choose to just leave the job and find something else rather than fix the problem."
This is one of many mistakes Fee said teens make in their first "real-world" jobs. From being rude to dressing inappropriately to job-hopping, teens might be surprised that their behavior is creating the boss from hell.
Fee, who has helped teens become more professional in the workplace, won't forget when she received a student e-mail with the address email@example.com.
"It's amazing the number of students who are e-mailing their employers with addresses like this," said Fee.
And it's not just e-mail addresses. Multicolored hair, facial piercings or tight clothing might also be frowned upon.
"When I see someone come into my office with a thousand tattoos, I am thinking to myself, 'I want to take you seriously, but I can't get past the ring of tattoos you have around your neck,'" said Fee.
Acting professional is key, according to employers polled in an April 2005 survey by careerbuilder.com. The survey found the top four mistakes new grads make in the first 90 days on the job are showing up late, being negative, spending too much office time on personal business and not asking for help when they need it.
"Young adults need to model success," said Fee. "Make introductions first without being introduced. Work on your handshake. Keep the earbuds of your iPod out of your ears when you're in the office."
And watch your conduct outside the office.
"It's amazing, the number of employees who look nice and sweet in the office, but when they get outside on their break and start talking on their cell phones, they're cussing and being rude," said Fee.
Not all young employees feel that their work performance is the reason behind their mean boss.
A Kent State student said she has remained at her university job for more than three years despite the fact that her boss is negative and rude. "My boss prefers to jump down our throats when we make a mistake instead of just telling us," she said. "She also isn't very approachable when a person has a problem, and she talks down to us instead of to us."
Several co-workers tried to talk to her boss about her attitude, she said, but it made no difference.
The boss' disposition isn't the only thing that irks young workers. According to the poll from Career Systems International, many said they feel frustrated by bosses who don't challenge them enough or set deadlines. Fee said young employees who want to work hard and do well at their jobs are not showing it.
"They are unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves," said Fee. "They need to show their employers that they are accountable for their own contributions and capable of setting their own boundaries and acquiring skills to improve."
Or that they are unwilling to put up with their verbal abuse, she said. Working America, an research organization that lobbies politicians worldwide to take notice of bad workplace issues, says some bad bosses are born, not made, in the workplace. And they have testimonials to prove it.
Imagine being forbidden to go the restroom during working hours or teased about being overweight or frowned upon for having to miss work for your own mother's funeral? These are just some of more than 2,500 horror stories that can be found on workingamerica.org, the organization's Web site.
The horror stories are so bad that the organization even sponsors an annual contest to search for the worst boss. This year's winner was a dental assistant whose bad boss was stealing money from his own employee's paychecks.
Fee said serious workplace issues like intense criticism or verbal abuse needs to be handled promptly.
"Tell the boss you would like to speak with him or her privately about how you can improve your work performance," said Fee. "Avoid accusations. You should not say, 'I noticed you yell at me more then you do other people.' Provide a specific example of what you feel you are doing wrong and ask how to improve."
Documentation may also prove to be helpful if the boss bashing continues. And Fee encourages young employees to listen to their peers and find out what kind of work environment they are in. Does the boss hate when employees ask too many questions or spend too much time chatting at the water cooler? Employees should be aware of all potential pitfalls to avoid falling into one.
And most importantly, regardless of how the mean boss behavior originates, young adults need to be responsible for their actions.
"Employees need to learn to speak up and take charge or they will continue to remain a victim," said Fee.