It’s the main reason many young adults will leave their first jobs this year. No, it’s not the less-than-hoped-for paychecks or lack of vacation time or the annoyingly talkative co-worker. It’s the boss.
According to a recent poll from Career Systems International (CSI), a talent management solution provider, 10 percent of workers between the ages of 18 and 38 left their first jobs after one year because they hated their boss. Many claimed a bad boss had them hunting for a new job as early as the first day of work.
Susan Fee, a Cleveland mental health counselor and interpersonal communications specialist, notes that young employees often switch jobs several times to avoid a mean boss.
"There are more jobs for this generation, which offers teens more flexibility to hop from one job to the next," Fee points out. "If they have a boss they don’t immediately cooperate with, they choose to just leave the job and find something else rather than fix the problem."
This is one of many mistakes that Fee finds teens making in their first "real world" jobs. From being rude to dressing inappropriately to job-hopping, teens might be surprised to learn that their own behavior is creating the boss from hell.
Fee, who has helped teens become more professional in the workplace, won’t forget the time she received a student email showing the sender’s address as AreYouForPot@yahoo.com.
"It’s amazing the number of students who are emailing their employers with addresses like this," she observes.
And it’s not just email addresses. Multicolored hair, facial piercings or tight clothing might also be frowned upon by most employers.
Teens would argue that they should be judged by the quality of their work rather than their appearance, but Fee underscores the corporate perspective. "When I see someone come into my office with a thousand tattoos, I am thinking to myself, I want to take you seriously, but I can’t get past the ring of tattoos you have around your neck."
Acting professional is key, according to employers polled in an April 2005 survey by Careerbuilder.com. The survey found that the top four mistakes new grads make in their first 90 days on the job are showing up late, being negative, spending too much office time on personal business, and not asking for help when they need it.
"Young adults need to model success," Fee advises. "Make introductions
first without being introduced. Work on your handshake. Keep the earbuds of your iPod out of your ears when you’re in the office."
And watch your conduct outside the office. "It’s amazing," she says, "the number of employees who look nice and sweet in the office, but when they get outside on their break and start talking on their cell phones, they’re cussing and being rude."
Not all young employees feel that their work performance is the reason behind their mean boss.
A Kent State student says she has remained at her university job for more than three years despite the fact that her boss is negative and rude. "My boss prefers to jump down our throats when we make a mistake instead of just telling us," she complains. "[The boss] also isn’t very approachable when a person has a problem, and she talks down to us instead of to us."
The student adds that several co-workers tried to talk to the boss about her attitude, but it made no difference.
The boss’s disposition isn’t the only thing that irks young workers. According to the CSI poll, many say they feel frustrated by bosses who don’t challenge them enough or set deadlines. Fee counters that young employees who want to work hard and do well at their jobs are not showing it.
"They are unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves," she says. "They need to show their employers that they are accountable for their own contributions and capable of setting their own boundaries and acquiring skills to improve." Or that they are unwilling to put up with their verbal abuse, she adds.
Working America, a research organization that lobbies politicians worldwide to take notice of pervasive workplace problems, suggests that some bad bosses are born, not made, in the workplace. And they have testimonials to prove it.
Imagine being forbidden to go the restroom during working hours, or teased about being overweight, or frowned upon for missing work to attend your own mother’s funeral? These are just some of more than 2500 horror stories that can be found at WorkingAmerica.org, the organization’s website.
The anecdotal evidence is alarming enough that the organization sponsors an annual contest to put a dunce cap on the worst boss. This year’s winner was nominated by a dental assistant whose bad boss was stealing money from his own employee’s paychecks.
Fee counsels that serious workplace issues like intense criticism or verbal abuse needs to be handled promptly. "Tell the boss you would like to speak with him or her privately about how you can improve your work performance," she advises. "Avoid accusations. You should not say, ‘I noticed you yell at me more then you do other people.’ Provide a specific example of what you feel you are doing wrong and ask how to improve.
Employees need to learn to speak up and take charge or they will continue to be a victim."
Documentation may also prove to be helpful if the boss’s bashing continues. Fee encourages the newly hired to listen to experienced co-workers and determine what kind of behavior is expected in the work environment. Does the boss hate it when they ask too many questions or spend too much time chatting at the water cooler? New employees should be aware of all the potential pitfalls to avoid falling into one.
And most importantly, regardless of how the "mean boss" behavior originates, young adults need to take responsibility for their actions.