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May 5, 2005

Excerpts: Getting Them To Give a Damn - Part IV

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:26 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

A SHIFT IN THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-EXPRESSION
Teenage rebellion is nothing new. You and I rebelled against our parents; our parents rebelled against theirs. Even Cain and Abel rebelled against Adam and Eve. The expression Dont trust anyone over 30 was coined in the 1960s. You can expect a certain degree of rebellion from the16to 24-year-olds you employ, right?
But its the degree of their outspokenness, their refusal to play by the rules, their utter disrespect for authority that prompts you to shake your head and think, I could never have gotten away with that when I was their age!
Evidence Abounds
When was the last time a kid stood up to give you a seat on the bus or addressed you as Mr. or Ms. instead of by your first name or, even worse, Hey you! How often do you catch a kid doing something they shouldnt be doing but feel deathly afraid of confronting the behavior?
Your front-line digital thinkers have seen how being outrageous leads to fame and fortune. Theyve also watched nice guys get steamrolled. Further, theyve been told that if they want something or if they have an opinion, theyd better speak up and not hold anything back. The new breed of television talk shows has shown them that those who might feel slandered, cheated, or disrespected have the right to confront the perpetrators and give them a piece of their mind. Being rude, crude, obnoxious, and insulting in modern-day America draws laughter, attention, applause, and sometimes even a fat endorsement contract.
Sadly, the virtues of courtesy, tact, and diplomacy are on the endangered species list. Todays 16- to 24-year-olds have their own thoughts, ideas, and opinionsand you are going to hear them, like it or not. They wont stand by passively if they feel theyre being disrespected in any way. If a coworker, supervisor, or customer does something to ruffle their feathers, you can bet the conflict goes public. The feedback, which is often personal and negative, can come out at the worst times and in the worst places.
Treated Like Equals
I often hear businesspeople complain that their young talent has no regard for experience and that they arrive on Day One wanting to be treated on a par with senior management. Perhaps because their interests and desires have always been catered to by advertisers, media conglomerates, and even parents, theyre used to being sought after. Focus groups seek their opinions, and marketers especially listen very, very carefully to what they think is cool or lame.
And dont think for a moment that your kidployees dont value respect themselves. On the contrary, they know all too well what respect is and, more importantly, the power it holds. They live by the creed: They who have the respect have the power. To them, respect is a prize that must be won.
Kidployees who crave respect will go to great lengths to get it, but when it comes to giving respect, you might find them stingy. They wont automatically respect you simply because of your age, position, or title. They dont want to yield their power or put you in a position of control over them. In a strange reversal of the traditional dynamic between youth and age, they believe that theyre owed respect automaticallybut that you have to prove that youre worthy of their consideration. In most situations, respect is bartered. You respect me first, they seem to be saying, then maybe Ill respect you.
Obviously, this issue affects your workplace. Perhaps you feel like youve hired a kid who acted very respectfully during the interview and early stages of training, but is actually a Mr. Hyde under the faade, ready to jump out the first time they feel embarrassed, disrespected, or unfairly disciplined.
Dress Code Conflicts
Image is, by far, the largest part of the self-expression equation. Rarely do I speak to a group of managers without the subject of dress code quickly entering the discussion. The prevailing sentiment is this: We can deal with the hair and the clothes, but how are we supposed to put up with the piercings and the tattoos? It quite often seems like a staredown contest requiring one of the two sides to lose big by sacrificing their own appearance for the sake of the other.
What they say, who they respect, and how they dress certainly influences the way you communicate with them and how they interact with your customers. When you have a kidployee who values self-expression over self-control, you could have more than you can handle, regardless of their skill set.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.