Gen Z For Hire — Handle With Respect.

Do you remember how you felt when you got your first job?

My daughter has always loved school, even playing ‘schools’ after-school! We’d pop in to say ‘time to brush your teeth’ and she’d say: ‘excuse me children’… look at us, put the whiteboard marker down and say: ‘thank you for that information, we will be with you in a moment’ .. then march the imaginary children down the hallway to ‘prepare for home time’.

Soon after she turned 14, she became obsessed with the idea of being able to get a part time job the following year, counting down the days and spending the money in her head. She volunteered at local community events ("provides a cheery welcome to customers as they arrive and depart and is attentive and active in her job”), in a hair salon after school and on weekends — LOVING the customer service, learning the ropes, understanding business and how the world turns. She received a glowing reference from the hair salon owner, (“…she fulfilled her responsibilities with little supervision. She showed her skills in communicating with customers and effective time management. She was always punctual, eager to learn and smiling”)

(Can you imagine — a Gen Z… DESPERATE to work!)

A couple of months before she was legally allowed to work, she started applying for jobs. She missed out on a retail assistant job at Kathmandu and was in tears. Our local supermarket gave her a couple of rounds of interviews. She had wanted to work on the checkouts, because she loves dealing with people but — a sign of the times — there are hardly any check out jobs anymore (as you can imagine.. when you visit your local supermarket and see how automated everything is!). She cried with joy, jumping around the house when she got the email saying she’d landed her very first paying job, in the fruit & veg department. She called her Dad at work and even both sets of grandparents! A new chapter had begun!

With equal parts trepidation and excitement, she got her uniform, did the online 3hrs of induction training and in store group training. Changed her Facebook ‘works at’ status. She filled out all the forms, stating her availability. Her only unavailable times are Monday and Wednesday evenings due to her studies. She wrote that she would ideally like 10hrs a week in shifts.

After her first shift, she BOUNDED out of the supermarket full of beans about how the bananas had to be replenished so often, which way they were supposed to face, how they should look and how bananas are the highest selling item in the store. She ADORED the fact customers asked her where things were, and loved soaking up every single bit of new knowledge. (Can you imagine having an employee like that? Can you imagine FEELING like that as an an employee?)

After her 2nd shift, she was a-buzz about the box crusher out the back.. how it worked, how the safety controls had to go this and that way before you were allowed to put anything in it. She was looking forward to her name-tag arriving.

For 2 months, she would look at the online roster every single day to see if she had a shift that week, and if not she would follow her manager’s instructions to call him and ask for one. Sometimes he’d give her one, sometimes he wouldn’t. She has never been given a shift without having to call about it.

I’d always find a way to pop in for something while she was working there — and there she would be .. looking 10 feet tall, placing pears in a gentle pile or helping a customer with directions.

One day, a stranger came to her while she was working and asked her to come to a meeting in the back office. They had pamphlets, letters, information about employee rights and protection and safety. She said she wanted to show her parents, and we realised it was an ‘invitation’ to join the union. We thought about it and discussed it as a family and we decided it wasn’t necessary for her.

A couple of times, I bumped into the fruit & veg manager doing my shopping — he knew I was her Mum because he knows me as a regular customer these past 10+ years. I joyfully thanked him for giving her the job — telling him how incredible it was to see someone so EXCITED about work and every little thing about it. I said she’d never forget the experience. A few weeks in, I asked him if there was anything she could to get more shifts/hours. He said to me and also to my daughter that he was DEFINITELY planning to put her in more regular shifts, with more hours. He told me she was lovely and did a great job.

Recently we wrote a letter together, to let the manager know she would be unavailable for 5 days because she had a bunch of theatre performances to do. I dropped it off myself because she was at school and wanted him to get it as soon as possible.

The next time she worked, the assistant manager said: ‘it’s better if you don’t get your mum to come in. it’s better if the employee comes in’.

The next time she called to ask if she had a shift, the manager said to her: ‘don’t get your mum to come in’.

My daughter is the average, everyday kid who does OK at school, loves her buddies, loves shopping and has her face in her phone all the time. Just like any teenager you know.

But she has lost the inclination to call to ask for shifts. She thinks they must not like her work or she musn’t fit in. She started looking online for a new job. She can’t put the manager’s name down as a reference because she doesn’t want to officially leave this job until she finds another one. She isn’t even sure if she should put the experience down on her CV because potential employers may think there is some negative reason she didn’t get shifts. We have agreed she will just say ‘they didn’t have enough hours for students’ or something like that.

Last week (winter in Melbourne) I bumped into the manager while doing my grocery shopping and I planned on keeping quiet about her and the shifts. He saw me, said hello, commented on how tall my daughter was getting and said to me: ‘in summer she will get more shifts’. Summer is 5 months away.

I can’t help but wonder: is this because she didn’t join the union? Is it just because the manager has his favourites? Did she do a bad job? Can he just not be bothered training her or working out how to put a supervisor on at the same time as a junior?

But what brings me to the verge of tears is that THIS MOMENT right here: THIS is the very moment people are referring to when they say : kids are creative, vibrant, excited, interesting and INTERESTED.. and then the world happens to them. Sure, it’s a shame our local supermarket is missing out on a fully engaged, happy, present employee who WANTS to work — that’s their loss. But even worse than that, my daughter has been crushed by ‘the system’… what kind of message has this left her with?

I hope her next employer knows how lucky they are.


Footnote : when I sent this to her, asking permission to publish it, this was her response:
“yeah post it, it makes me seem so good. someone will see it and be like ‘omg please work for me im begging you’. it’s gonna be a fight to the death for all the people wanting to hire me”
That’s my girl.

UPDATE: I went through with my strategy of visiting the store and speaking with Management after writing this piece — with the plan of having them read it. My ideal outcome was to get some closure on her behalf.. ideally a reference which might assist her future job prospects. What happened was unexpected:

I met with someone called S who heard me out and was very respectful of the issue, my concerns and the ongoing impact the experience would have on my daughter. She said it is one of her personal priorities to ensure young job-starters had a great experience and she was very disappointed to hear what had happened.

S said my daughter sounded like the perfect candidate for the department S manages: registers, self-service checkouts and front-desk and she asked me to bring my daughter in for a chat. Within an hour we were there for the chat and I left them to it. 10 minutes later, my daughter met me BOUNCING around saying she had to come back in 3 hours for her first shift in the new department! She had the spark back!

Needless to say, she blitzed the shift and was put on the roster for FIVE — yes FIVE — more shifts.

Tah Dah!

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