ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

TIPS FOR WORKING TEENS

My teenage son, Jon, is a working teen now.  I'm excited for him, because I know how many valuable and important lessons he's going to learn while working a part-time job.  I also like the idea that I don't have to pay him an allowance anymore.  Maybe now I can get that Lexus.

But I'm nervous for my son, too.  It's sort of like how I felt when he started school.  I was worried that we hadn't taught him everything he needed to know to cope with the rigors of first grade -- you know, like being able to cut his meat at lunch and stuff like that.  And now I'm concerned that we haven't taught him everything he needs to know about working for an employer.

There's at least one major difference between now and first grade, however.  In first grade he would listen to his parents, like we knew something.  Now?  Well . . . you know.

So I'm going to write some advice for him here.  If any of you see Jon, please feel free to share it with him.  Maybe he'll listen to you.

Work doesn't have to be fun. 

Work is . . . well, work.  It can be hard.  It can be boring.  It can be frustrating.  And while it can occasionally be fun, usually it isn't.  It's work.  That's why they have to pay people to do it.  If it were fun, we'd do it for free.  So don't go to work expecting to be entertained or to have a good time.  You're going to work.

If you're going to do a job, do it right. 

The easiest way isn't always the best way.  Shortcuts through hard work almost always lead to more work -- and harder work -- for someone, somewhere down the line.  Learn to savor and appreciate the joy that comes from doing a job well.  Like my Dad used to say, "The only thing that's good half-done is a steak."

The customer isn't always right. 

In fact, the customer may be dead wrong from time to time.  He or she may even be rude and surly and have bad breath.  But the customer always deserves to be treated with kindness, courtesy and respect.  Without them, your boss doesn't have a business, and you don't have a job.

Always do what's expected of you.

 Then do a little more.  Bus an extra table.  Wipe down another counter.  Straighten another rack of clothes.  I don't know of one person who was fired for doing more work than they were paid to do.  But I know a lot of people who had some wonderful opportunities come their way because an employer was impressed by extra effort.

Be meticulously honest. 

Especially about little things.  Little dishonesties have a way of growing into big dishonesties.  Once you establish a pattern of taking things that don't belong to you there really isn't much difference between a stick of gum and a $300 suit.  If you never swipe that first cookie, the odds are pretty good you'll never be tempted to pocket a $20 bill.

Always tell the truth. 

Even if it means admitting to a costly mistake.  Employers can live with broken dishes and spilled sugar, but they can't live with employees they can't trust.  And if the job requires you to fib even just a little, it probably isn't a job worth having.  Look at it this way: if your boss will lie to customers, what makes you think he won't lie to you?

And finally, learn from others. 

Listen to your boss; there's probably a good reason why he or she tells you to do things in a certain way.  Watch your co-workers and learn from their successes -- and their failures.  If you aren't sure, ask.  If you don't know, say so.  One of the first things you'll learn in the working world is that there is a lot to learn.

Even for a teenager.

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— © Joseph Walker

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