The next generations of workers (i.e. teens and young adults) have gained a reputation from the older generation of not being able to contribute at the same level they did when they were young. People often talk about how today’s teens just don’t have the work ethic, are lazy and they don’t listen, follow rules or respect their supervisors.

For sure, teens will be teens, and their immaturity and attitudes will surface on many occasions. However, well into a new millennium, it’s become clear that the pace and environment that these young people have been raised in is unique to their short lives.

So, before you dismiss this new generation of workers, take the following into account and use this knowledge to turn them into workplace stars:

Technology: One of the biggest technological advancements of the Baby Boomer generation was replacing the 8-track tape player with the audiocassette.

Teens and young adults today have known a world with cell phones, computers, the Internet, Google, MySpace, YouTube and iPods. This has played a role in shaping every aspect of their lives. Use this to your advantage by allowing younger workers to help you with technology-related projects. Get their input when updating your Web site or using social networking sites. Allow them to share their wealth of knowledge with you and your staff.

Information and communication: Not very long ago, information came from the nightly news, daily newspaper or books. Communication was face-to-face, in writing or over the phone. But all that has changed! Over the last decade, information and communication have flowed in an instant stream and can even be customized. Teens and young adults are hard-wired to process the maximum amount of facts, figures and news. Now, communication occurs at a far greater rate through cell phones, e-mails, instant messaging, texting and social networking sites, however, it is far less personal. Use this to your advantage by texting or e-mailing your schedules and company information to younger workers and bringing them up to speed in a way that they are more familiar with.

Society and culture: Much could be written regarding the escalating changes in society and our culture; however, here are just a few observations that will have an impact on how a teen or young adult will perform at work. We are a long way from the family sitting around the dinner table with mom and dad, recapping the day and discussing tomorrow. With access to credit cards, we have evolved to a consumer-driven society, dominated by brand names. At both the individual and professional levels, sports have taken on a far greater level of significance and involvement. Many times, role models have moved away from a local positive adult influence to distant celebrities who can easily disappoint. All of these things have shaped what teens and young adults expect in the workplace, so they are certainly less ready for the traditional workplace than past generations. Preparation for entry-level, hourly and seasonal jobs rarely occurs. Parents and schools have tended to abdicate this responsibility, and young adults honestly don’t see the cause and effect between a part-time job and the million-dollar lifestyle they aspire to. Smart employers will tackle this challenge by setting honest expectations upfront, and mentor younger workers on a regular basis so they stay on track with their future goals.

Appearance: Self-expression and personal identity has always been a high priority for teens. Tattoos, body piercings, and hair styles/colors are not acts of rebellion. Carving out one’s individuality is a natural response to the bombardment of messages they receive on how to look and act. Don’t pass judgment simply based on appearance. As a rule, it is not a reflection of their performance. Instead, learn from this situation - teens and young adults are used to seeing things differently... they are more accepting of other cultures and differences.

Speed is everything: All of the above tend to have this as a common characteristic. Today’s youth have been raised in a 24/7, got-to-have-it-now world. They didn’t ask for it or demand it. From Main Street to the Internet, in their lifetime companies never close for business. Don’t expect to witness patience as a virtue at work. Use this to your advantage by encouraging multi-tasking in the office. Teens and young adults are used to managing multiple projects at once, so don’t feel the need to look over their shoulder constantly.

As different as this may be from the way you were raised, these elements drive all of the positive qualities of this new generation as well. Today’s teens and young adults are as able and capable as any generation before them, maybe even more so. These same life components have made them adaptable, committed, innovative, knowledgeable, time efficient, tolerant and able to multi-task like it’s an Olympic sport.

Understanding and appreciating the unique environment they have been raised in is often the first step in making real progress with your younger staff.

Take the time to consider how you can use their skills in your business and watch your productivity and profits soar.

About the author:
Ken Whiting is an industry expert on providing solutions for entry-level workforce challenges. His WAVES for Success program teaches companies what inspires young adults and teens to participate, contribute and excel at work. His new book, “WAVES for Teenage Workforce Success”, provides insights on recruiting, motivating and retaining. For a free copy of the “WAVES 101 Best Ways to Recruit, Retain, Educate and Motivate Today’s Teens”, visit WAVESforsuccess.com. For additional information, call 831-423-1890, ext.2, or e-mail ken@wavesforsuccess.com.