Are You Prepared to Parent Your New Young Hires?

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Is 20 the new 12? I talked to a young guy at the airport who felt his first business trip went pretty well. His real problem, he said, was that he had gum on his phone! He explained that as he was telling his mom how awesome the trip was, he blew a huge bubble that burst on his iPhone screen. As chatty as I am, and having just consumed a triple espresso that had my brain firing on all cylinders, I was oddly at a loss for words. And then it dawned on me that these are the people with whom I’ll be filling my new call center.

It seems that young employees are having as much trouble being adults as they are learning their new jobs. In fact, I think they pick up on work-related matters very well compared to how they seem to be handling grown-up life skills. The question is: Are we ready for them?

I don’t think all workers in their 20s are of one generation. Young people 18 to 25 are very different from their just slightly older peers; just ask any 27- to 30-year-old, who will talk about these “kids” entering the workforce. The thought patterns and behaviors of these younger 20-somethings might also indicate what to expect with Generation Z (10- to 18-year-olds), who will start to make their way to the workforce soon. Engaging these early-20s employees, whom I call Gen Z.5 (sounds like the overpriced version of an entry-level sports car, doesn’t it?), and getting them to reach their full potential might require the blending of life skills instruction and customer management training in a way that we never considered.

To move toward adultivities*, these younger workers need to be aware of how their kiddishness* can undermine their efforts with customers. However, employers will benefit from an adjustment or two as well. Those who want to attract and keep talented young employees will need to realize that some kiddishness is to be expected, and that adultivities might need to be part of on-the-job training.

You may think to yourself, “It’s not my job to raise them.” But you need to consider that on notable occasions throughout history, immaturity and massive talent have gone hand in hand. So if you don’t raise them, you can be sure the competition will. Also, one thing about humans in general is indisputable: We are much more likely to be loyal to the people who raised us than to anyone else.

Historically, we know that blind optimism, insatiable curiosity, and fearlessness breed creativity. We also know those traits can be telltale signs of immaturity. Many of the world’s greatest discoveries came from those who did not think they could fail. It’s what drove them to innovate against all odds.

Some “very immature” people in the past included 26-year-old Albert Einstein, who was criticized for goofing off in a room full of serious physicists and having childish ideas (he came up with the theory of special relativity that year); and 23-year-old Steve Jobs, who showed up barefoot to pitch ideas that would eventually revolutionize communications.

Yet even though there’s a direct link between inexperience, immaturity, and new ideas that eventually lead to success, we still think we have done young people a disservice by not forcing them to grow up sooner. We can discuss how it’s possible we mistakenly extend adolescent thinking by allowing people to “stay kids,” but the reality is that members of every generation think the next one is not as mature as they were at that age.

In the end, these young people are all we have to work with—and we created them. Personally, I think they’re great—they’re confident and, like the generations before them, they’ll be uniquely suited for the world they’ll inherit. And if you asked them, I’m sure they would agree!

*Adultivities: Grown-up things you have to do, such as showing up on time, at least faking a sense of urgency, finishing what you start, and not having easily detectable body odor.

*Kiddishness: Doing things that brand you as “too young to be there,” such as wearing a backpack to a business lunch, thinking an analog clock is some kind of “time compass,” and overusing the words “like,” “awesome,” “basically,” “actually,” and “dude.”

Garrison Wynn is a keynote speaker and best-selling author of The REAL Truth About Success and The Cow Bell Principle. He has been a contributor for The Washington Post, featured in Inc. and Forbes magazine, and speaks on personal influence at conventions worldwide. He can be reached at garrisonwynn.com.

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