Tips for Creating a Winning Work Experience for Teen Employees

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Jul 15, 2022
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Hiring a teen this summer? More companies are. The teen employment rate in 2021 was the highest since 2008, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many economists predict the job market for teenagers will remain strong this year, too, as businesses look to younger workers to fill holes in the labor market.

While young workers can help businesses fill an excess of open positions, they may need to be managed a little differently than older employees. Employers can create a win-win situation if they develop hiring and management practices that help bring out young workers’ potential. 

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Hiring Teenage Workers

Estimates vary, but most agencies report that more than one-third of 16- to 19-year-olds have jobs. Teenage employment typically has been strong at retail shops and restaurants, but professional service providers and other types of organizations increasingly are turning to this demographic as they scramble for talent.

If your company hires or is considering hiring teenagers, keep in mind considerations like:

  • Child Labor Laws

    Adhering to child labor laws that apply to individuals ages 14-18 and include specific guidelines pertaining to their safety, when they can work and what duties they may legally perform on the job.
  • Wages and Bonuses

    Paying higher wages or offering a bonus for staying on the job for a set period of time. This approach can help attract high performers and motivate them to stay with you longer and excel at their jobs.
  • Job Responsibilities

    The need to clearly define job responsibilities and answer any questions young applicants may have during interviews. Teens usually are new to the workforce and don’t have experience with how the interviewing and hiring process works. Walking them through everything they need to know eases their transition into the workplace.

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Training Younger Employees

Because teenagers are new to the world of professional employment, training is especially important. They often are unfamiliar with professional etiquette and workplace requirements.

Statistics show teen employees also are more likely than other employees to incur on-the-job injuries. During the onboarding process, go over workplace safety policies to help keep them safe.

Be sure to explain the job in its entirety. And, don’t just tell teen workers what they’re supposed to do; show them. It’s helpful with this age group if you demonstrate certain responsibilities, such as exactly how to greet a customer, what to say when answering the phone or how to operate business machines or equipment. Be willing to gently show the teenager more than once what he or she needs to know.

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How to Manage Teen Employees

To manage and mentor teenagers effectively:

  • Encourage them to ask questions and go to their managers with any concerns or suggestions.

    Teens often are hesitant to initiate such conversations, so remind them frequently about open lines of communication. Be proactive, too, about asking them how it’s going, what questions they have and what challenges they may need help overcoming.

  • Be willing to explain instructions, policies and procedures more than once, remembering that teens in their first jobs are assimilating a great deal of information all at once.

  • Ask what the teen employee hopes to get out of working for your company. Experience in an industry of interest? Development of a new skillset? Building a network? Whenever possible, help the teenager meet personal goals by providing opportunities for growth in individual areas of interest.

  • Establish clear expectations and rules, especially around subjects like punctuality, requesting time off, calling in sick and prohibited on-the-job behaviors, such as using their phones or visiting in person with friends.

  • Find accomplishments to praise – publicly if possible – and admonish undesirable behaviors in private.

RELATED: Employment Reference Checks - What to Ask and When >>

Offer constructive criticism without talking down to them. Through close (but not hovering) supervision, on-the-job coaching and clear communication, teenagers can quickly become valued employees – a commodity that remains in short supply these days.

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