As a general rule, teenagers are very aware of limits. They know because they test those limits all the time. Some rules, teenagers learn, can be ignored. See: “Clean Up Your Room” or “Do Homework on Friday So the Family Can Enjoy the Weekend”. Certain other rules never change and teenagers learn early that these are the immutable rules not to be tested. If these rules are tested and broken, there are consequences. Most learn this lesson the hard way.
The exact same non-negotiable rules apply to work. The consequences might be different but there are still consequences. These rules are not written down in the Employee Manual or Code of Conduct. Human Resources will not discuss these rules during on boarding but they do exist and they are not complicated, but they are very important.
Here they are: Five simple rules that apply to teenagers and the workplace.
1. For the teenager: Always let someone know where you are. If you don’t, Mom or Dad will hunt you down through friends and that could be embarrassing.
For the workplace: Always let someone know where you are if you are not at work. Are you sick? Working from home? Dealing with kids? Stuck in traffic? Don’t be labeled with “We never know where he/she is.” It will show up in your performance review for sure.
2. For the teenager: Leaving a message or sending a text doesn’t mean you have permission. The text from the teenager is usually something like, “I am spending the night at Pat’s house.” If there is no response, that means No.
For the workplace: Leaving a message that the project is off track or the work is done or that the system is down doesn’t mean it’s ok. Leaving a message means that you left a message and there will be more to discuss later.
3. For the teenager: Be home when you say you will. Period. This seems to be a difficult rule to follow but one that often has the most dire consequences if not followed. Sometimes 911 calls are involved. Going home earlier than promised will win bonus points.
For the workplace: Finish the project when you say you will. Never ever miss deadlines. Being chronically behind in the work plan will haunt you and hurt your career. Under promise and over deliver. It’s like being home early.
4. For the teenager: Know what is absolutely non-negotiable. The phrase “Give me the keys,” almost always falls into this category. When the word non-negotiable is used, it is almost always non-negotiable. Don’t test it.
For the workplace: The non-negotiable ones are always very clear. Any behavior that is racist, sexist, homophobic or in very bad taste is always a non-negotiable rule. Any violation of company policy or the law is in the same category. If you have to ask, it is non-negotiable.
5. For the teenager: If you’re in trouble, don’t negotiate. Trying to negotiate often makes matters worse.
For the workplace: Sometimes it is better to admit a mistake and move on. Making excuses and rationalizations will make matters worse. Learn and develop from mistakes.
Teenagers wouldn’t like it, but there is much to be learned from their behaviors that apply at work. Follow these simple rules and your career will thank you.