New to the Workplace – 3 Keys to Starting Out on the Right Foot!

Over the past thirty years in the United States, there has been a significant shift in when, where, and how young adults (teens) learn to adapt to working. These lessons previously were taught in the majority of homes, churches, and what used to be called “apprenticeships” for teens to work, many times in unpaid or very low paying jobs. Over time, a number of schools began teaching students, especially those in high school, some of the basics needed to work successfully. Prior to having voluntary military service, many young adults learned skills during their service tours, whether in the United States or abroad. Then we began an era of explosion in technology and a decrease in trades work, creating an imbalance in matching skills, abilities and interests. Now we face a national economy in distress, skyrocketing education costs, and high unemployment rates. It is therefore not surprising to see that many basic components of work relationships have been either ignored or forgotten, as families struggle to deal with these pressures. I give you three keys as foundational pieces to make the relationship work positively for you and your employer, now and for years to come.

KEY 1: WHAT THE EMPLOYER WANTS AND NEEDS. Employers want an employee who has the skills or can learn the skills needed in a reasonable length of time. They typically have a pay range for the job in question, based on skills needed. Usually entry-level jobs are low-paying, minimum wage or slightly higher. Employers want someone who is dependable, on time every day or preferably early, someone who does not abuse break or meal time, and someone who does not take advantage of company benefits by abuse of sick or vacation time, i.e., taking the time as soon as it is earned. Every organization has rules and employers expect employees to abide by those rules, whether they like or approve of them or not. While there may not be an official dress code, they expect employees to dress for the workplace, with clean, neat clothing, and minimal distracting accessories. They expect teamwork and cooperation, knowing that not everyone is going to like each other, but expect all to get along to get the job done. They expect employees to take work-related issues to the immediate supervisor, rather than other employees, who have no control over the decisions that need to be made.

KEY 2: WHAT THE EMPLOYEE WANTS AND NEEDS. Employees want someone willing to teach them the skills they need, feedback on how they are doing, and appreciation when a job is well done. They want negative criticism to be handled with sensitivity and in private when possible. They want any benefits they are entitled to, when they become available. They want to be paid correctly and on time and clear explanations about the rules they are expected to follow. As their skills grow stronger, they want to know how they can get to the next level of employment, whether it is a promotion or a lateral transfer for a ladder to advancement. They would like to be a part of the decision-making process about the jobs they are asked to do. While this is not always possible, they would like to be able to express their opinions and make suggestions for an employer more effectively using their talents.

I give a word of caution here to the new employee. If you are unsure how to go about suggestions, have a conversation with your supervisor in private first. It is difficult to understand that many times there are very good reasons why you have been asked to do something a certain way, with no deviation. They may or may not be at liberty to discuss the reasons with you, so this is a good time to exercise patience, whether you agree with the decision or not.

KEY 3: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A JOB AND WHAT THE EMPLOYER IS WILLING TO PAY TO GET IT DONE. Companies do not run on love! They have budgets, just like families do. They usually have three or four major areas: personnel, tools, training and large expenditures ($1,000 and up). They sell a service or product that gives them the money (revenue) to operate. Almost always, the personnel portion of their budget is quite large; in other words, what they pay employees, plus benefits and other labor costs, typically exceeds all other categories, except very large purchases – equipment, furniture, buildings, etc. Pay is generally based on the job itself, considering the skills needed to accomplish it. For example, an entry-level employee in a fast food restaurant will usually be asked to perform basic tasks repetitively. They are not asked to perform more complex tasks at that level and typically are not asked to supervise others, skills that are usually expected at a higher level of employment. Nor are they asked typically to make independent decisions, requiring advanced abilities and judgment. The employer recognizes that if an employee has performed above the expected norm and mastered the basic skills required, the employee may either be in a position to move to a more advanced level or may leave for a higher-paying job which utilizes their new skills sets. When the economy is down, the possibility of moving to a new job may not simply be possible. Rather than adopting a poor attitude, showing frustration, there is no better time to be patient, continue to learn, both on the job and on your own independently, tracking your new skills and abilities, and be grateful that you have a job, when so many do not.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat; take responsibility for learning and practicing the basics for successful employment, and decide that you will continually work toward being the best you can be. Being an adult has many benefits and responsibilities. The approach you take to employment, the choices you make, will either help you to improve and move to the next level, or may prevent you from doing so.

It helps to remember that employers are people too, with families and bills. They want the very best they can give to those close to them. Doing your part as an employee to fit into the work relationship harmoniously demonstrates your maturity as a young adult. My wish, as always, is for your continued success!

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