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Why Are Generation X Jerk Managers?


This thought has been on my mind for quite some time; ever since my children first started entering the workforce 13 years ago. That is, that Gen Xers, my generation, are jerk managers. To be fair, the tail-end baby boomers fall into the same category.


I see evidence of this frequently, but I struggle to understand why my generation has decided that young people today don’t deserve the same opportunities and benefit of the doubt that they were provided. Let me explain.


I got my first job when I was 14. I wanted to earn money and gain some independence from my parents; a natural rite of passage. With a single page resume in hand and no work experience other than babysitting, I applied to be a busser at a local steakhouse. When the two owners interviewed me, they knew it was my first job interview. They didn’t ask about my experience, or “why I wanted to work there,” they knew the answer to both those questions. Instead they asked my interests, if I liked school, how long I had lived in the area. In other words, they spent 15 minutes getting to know me and deciding whether they thought I was a good fit with the rest of their team. They decided I was and offered me a job. Their attitude was, if I showed up on time and worked hard, they could teach me everything else. And they did.

Because they knew I was in high school and that I was a young girl they offered me two shifts a week. Friday nights I started at 5:00 pm and could work as late as 11 or 11:30 pm. On Sunday evenings I started at 4:30 pm and they always had me out by 9:30 pm because they knew I had school the next morning. And, they always made sure I had a ride home. If my parents or a friend couldn’t pick me up, one of the owners would drive me. They would never let me leave unless they knew I had a safe way home. They also allowed me to earn extra money without interfering with school by giving me more shifts during school holidays, when full-time employees often wanted time off. A win-win for all involved.

After a year, they sold the restaurant, but nothing changed under new owners. I was offered a set schedule that never interfered with school. I was offered extra shifts during the holidays, and my managers made sure I had a safe way to get home.


In addition to this, I was always learning. Older servers, chefs, bartenders, and managers took the younger staff under their wing. They mentored us both in our jobs and in life. They understood that we were kids who were still growing, developing, and learning, and they were keen to be positive influences. They didn’t expect us to be mini-adults, working adult hours with an adult mindset towards the job. They knew that it was just a part-time job, and again, if we showed up on time and worked hard, they treated us well.


I am not alone in my early work experiences. Most people I know have similar stories. Their early employers didn’t expect them to already have experience and job-related education before they entered the workforce, and they also understood that school was the priority. There was no expectation for kids to work an eight-hour shift after school, nor for kids to work until midnight or later. There was no expectation for kids to have 24/7 365 availability, while providing them no guarantee of hours and no set schedule. And there was always feedback, mentoring, and opportunity to advance. I know many people who fell into their careers because they started a job in high school that they stayed with. Fast-forward 30+ years and they are now managers in those companies.


But boy, now that they are the bosses, how they seem to have forgotten their beginnings. In recent years, the expectations that companies and hiring managers have of part-time student workers is ridiculous. All the things listed above that were not expected from Gen Xers, they now expect from this generation of kids.


A teenager applying for their first job these days is expected to have something on their resume, volunteer hours or school courses, that relate to the job for which they are applying. They are expected to have wide-open availability but are not guaranteed hours and are never given consistent shifts. Oftentimes they are only given two- or three-hour shifts, then sent home. In positions where more hours are offered, they usually interfere with school, for example working very late nights. And when kids work these late shifts, managers could care less how they are getting home.


There also seems to be a lack of mentoring and opportunity. No one spends time with the young workers and teaches them how to be good workers and good employees. If managers are unhappy with the work a young employee is performing, instead of providing constructive feedback, they just cut the workers hours or give them the worst shifts. The result is that the kids end up with a bad attitude about work and the workforce. And then they bosses call them out for their bad attitudes.


Many kids these days are juggling multiple responsibilities: school; extracurricular activities; jobs; and family obligations. All they want is an opportunity and a bit of a break. Why can’t employers give them a set schedule? Why can’t they give them a regular number of hours? Many service industry employers are having difficulty finding and/or keeping staff, but they are still unwilling to offer set schedules. All businesses have regular hours of operation, and they should know their sales and traffic trends, which usually follow patterns. With this information it should be easy to have a regular schedule for all your staff. The only time schedules should change is if someone is sick or on vacation. When I scheduled restaurant and retail staff, this was the method I used. And, whenever possible, I gave my staff the shifts they wanted, too. It always resulted in loyal and happy staff who showed up on time and ready to work.


I think employers these days need to think about their management style. If they are having difficulty finding or keeping staff, or if they think staff are poor performers, then they should probably take a long hard look in the mirror and consider whether perhaps treating their staff with more respect, courtesy, and empathy might lead to a better more productive workforce. Be more flexible and look at kids as proteges; I am sure the result will be a loyal, hardworking team.


FYI I stayed at my first job for six years and the friends I met there, are my closest friends to this day.

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