3 Ways to Thrive With Teenage Workers in a Tight Job Market

Capitalize on off-hours, nurture fresh skills and embrace newness to make the most of young workers in your business.
Tina Orem
By Tina Orem 
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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Lingering labor shortages may encourage small businesses to hire more teenagers or try to keep them on the payroll after summer ends — moves that can bring three advantages to businesses willing to put in some extra effort, experts say.

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Capitalize on off-hours

The advantage: Many adult workers may want steady, 9-to-5-on-weekdays schedules, but teenagers are often looking for just the opposite. That could be huge for small-business owners who want to grow their weekend, evening or seasonal revenues.

"You've got a lot of flexibility there, especially when you're those small businesses who are really looking at needing that additional help during those kinds of hours," says Andrew Meadows, senior vice president of HR, brand and culture at fintech company Ubiquity Retirement + Savings in San Francisco.

The extra effort: A variety of federal and state labor laws apply to teen workers (the Department of Labor’s YouthRules website offers an overview). Those rules affect everything from what types of work teens can perform, to what machinery they can operate and in many cases, when they can work, says Rob Cordasco, a certified public accountant at Cordasco & Company in Savannah, Georgia.

"Whenever you're hiring those folks … and they're going to school, it's really just important to be able to recognize you're not going to be able to work them the same way you would Monday through Friday, typical-business-day hours," Meadows says. You may also have to take a few extra steps when it comes to teen paychecks. "They are set up differently in your payroll system," he says. "You're going to want to make sure you have a time-and-attendance tool within your payroll system to be able to accommodate those employees."

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Nurture fresh skills

The advantage: Teen workers can bring new perspectives and proficiencies to a business.

"Adaptability to technology. That's probably like number one," Cordasco says.

"They're more involved in social, which, all small businesses need to be involved in," Meadows says of marketing on social media platforms. "So maybe put them in areas where maybe you're not as strong, and find out ways that you can get those younger employees to be advocates for your company and your brand."

The extra effort: "Take a look at how you are building in the management structure," Meadows says. "One of your full-time employees is going to be supervising this group, and make sure that you're factoring in the attention that supervisor is going to need to provide within their workday."

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Embrace the newness

The advantage: Limited work histories can mean many teen employees haven’t had the chance to learn poor job habits from other employers, Meadows says. "They're still moldable," he says.

"I think it all is centered around enthusiasm and excitement and energy," Meadows adds. "They are excited about the money that they're going to get and the freedom that allows them to get in their life, and the way that they've seen the adults in their lives be rewarded from a job. If you hire correctly, they're very, very excited and can oftentimes be the best advocates for your company."

The extra effort: "You're going to be their first leader, and there needs to be a level of compassion that goes along with it," Meadows says.

Teen employees may be new to the idea of tax withholding, cashing paychecks or other matters of financial literacy, Cordasco says. "It's just kind of understanding where they are in their life," he says.

It’s an opportunity to pay it forward, too. "You want to make them better employees for the next company that hires them," Meadows says. "So if you can focus on that, you can not only provide attention to the quality of work that you're doing, but give those young employees an idea that you're actually investing in their well-being and their future employment."

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