An Independent Voice: A fresh perspective

Young employees can provide valuable insights into your business practices.

By Jane Olszeski Tortola

Sometimes it is hard to gauge what is on the minds of young workers on any given day, so I decided to talk to some high school and college students about their jobs.

Some of the questions I asked them: What makes your job rewarding? What do you respect most about your supervisor? How would you describe the perfect place to work?

These questions and others were posed to some of brightest and most energetic young workers that I know—a supermarket cashier, a fast food restaurant associate, a college junior who is on the radar of management at a national dollar store chain and a waitress at the local family-owned diner.

While their job responsibilities and hours vary, these valued young employees share much in common, including a desire to work in a clean, safe and fun environment, to be appreciated as much as “older” associates, and to work with managers who communicate effectively and allow flexibility in their work schedules. They also appreciate companies that strive to improve their communities and the environment.

Here is more of what they had to say:

Catherine, a 17-year-old cashier at a leading regional supermarket chain, uses the word “we” a lot when discussing her workplace. “We” are participating in a fund­raiser to benefit breast cancer research. “We” recycle practically everything at the store and give a lot of products to food banks. “We” had a chance to win $100 gasoline cards at our company holiday party.

Make no mistake, being a member of the team is important to this high school junior and volleyball player.

Like Catherine, Kelsey is a high school student. Involved in varsity athletics and preparing to enter college in the fall, she values a flexible work schedule that helps her balance her studies with the need to earn money. “Employers can definitely make this easier for teens by letting them off early—a couple of hours before bedtime—or by starting them a couple of hours after the school day ends,” she says.

Having worked at a sandwich franchise for more than two years, she believes that a boss who earns respect is one that is approachable and friendly while still being firm and concerned with the success of the company and its employees. She adds: “I especially admire my boss for her dedication to the upkeep of the store. Cleanliness in the food business is everything.”

What is Kelsey’s best advice for business owners when it comes to managing young staffers? “When interviewing or evaluating young workers, do so in private, not in front of other associates or customers,” she says. “When we mess up on the job, which we will sometimes do, help us to improve.”

She says employers shouldn’t use age as a reason to turn away teen applicants. “Once hired, treat them just like older employees are treated,” she says. “Age doesn’t necessarily define who is willing and able to do the best job.”

Studying to earn an education and coaching degree at Kent State University, Matt, 21, began working at a dollar store as a clerk and has worked his way up to lead cashier/manager. Like Kelsey, his greatest challenge is achieving balance between being a successful student and employee.

He appreciates his supportive manager and co-workers. “I respect so much that the people I work with are all very easy to get along with and my manager is flexible with my schedule,” he says.

Last but not least, I spoke with Kristen, whose upbeat personality makes her an ideal fit at the local diner, where she says her first job interview was “handled perfectly.”

During the process, she was asked a series of questions about her availability, strengths, weaknesses and qualifications. “The owner actually interviewed me and that made me feel very comfortable and important,” she says.

Kristen describes the diner as a friendly place to work. “It’s clean, safe and everyone focuses on great service,” she says. “My bosses, along with my co-workers and customers, are really good at giving compliments when they are due.”

In the end, she says she feels fortunate to be doing something she enjoys. “I come home everyday and tell my Mom that I love my job,” she says.

Jane Olszeski Tortola, a regular columnist for Grocery Headquarters, devoted more than three decades of her career to working at a family-owned supermarket company founded by her late father. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University and is active in a number of food industry organizations. She can be reached at janieot@aol.com.

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