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Oh No Not Again – Generation Z Brings New Thinking to the Workplace

What is the plural of mongoose? In his famous eighties song Infatuation, Rod Stewart opined, “oh no not again, it hurts so good, I don’t understand” about a new love in his life.  Love may not be the emotion leaders experience as we adjust to another generation entering the workforce.  Tragically, many organizations (and supervisors) have not adjusted to millennials and are about to become two generations behind.  What does this mean for the modern workplace?

In the late eighties, I worked construction part time while in college.  I remember my first day on the job in Dallas, Texas.  It was seven a.m. and the superintendent was giving our weekly safety meeting that talked about everything other than safety until the end when he said, “be safe”.  As the meeting ended and everyone started moving toward the door in the little trailer that served as the office, I looked to the superintendent to find out what I am supposed to do next.  He looked at me and said he had something he wanted me to work on.  “Come with me” he said as I grabbed my brand new yellow hard hat and followed him.  I was eager to see what this construction job was going to be like for the rest of the summer.

We walked across the yard to a large tractor trailer (minus the tractor) with wooden steps built to access the rear doors.  He grabbed his keys and opened the doors spilling light into the dark space.  Inside were hundreds of cardboard boxes.  I had no clue what was in all these boxes.  Some had obviously fallen and the entire collection was in considerable disarray.  The superintendent informed me that the boxes contained screw pipe fittings of all shapes and sizes.  My job was to carry these to the new boiler room and organize them logically into several shelving units.  He then said, “Have fun and let me know if you have any problems”.  That’s it, no other explanation and walked off.  I stood there looking at the boxes while thinking, “I don’t even know where the boiler room is located”.

I located the boiler room, with a little assistance, and started carrying boxes two to three at a time depending on how heavy the boxes happened to be into a large room with a series of box type, metal shelving units arranged along a wall.  I received no instructions on how to organize the fittings by type, size, or shape.  My pride made me refuse to ask.

All day long I lifted, carried, and walked about a hundred yards from the trailer to the shelves. After about an hour, I realized this was going to take much longer than I had imagined.  I repeated the process, organizing and then reorganizing upon determining the quantities of all the different fittings.  At the end of the day, the superintendent asked me if I had finished.  I told him no.  He simply informed me to finish up the work tomorrow.  I left the job site thinking, “This job sucks and I’m not sure this will last all summer”.   However, I was making more money per hour than I ever had before and was not about to quit yet.

I spent two more days carrying, reading the boxes, studying the shelves, organizing the fittings, and sweating in the Texas summer heat. When I finally finished, unsure if I had organized the fittings properly, I informed the superintendent that I was done with the task.  He asked me, “What do you think of construction?”  I told him the truth, “Quite frankly it is hard, boring work!”  He looked at me and asked, “If someone asked you to find a certain fitting of a particular type, could you find it?”  Thinking this was a dumb question because I had sorted through them all, I said “yes of course”.  He smiled at me and said, “Well it looks like you might make us a decent helper this summer” and walked away.  I stood there dumbfounded.  This man just went Mr. Miyagi on me.  If you are too young to remember the original Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi taught his martial art student (Daniel) how to move his body with mundane, labor intensive work, like wax-on wax off and paint the fence.  Oh heavens, just watch the movie!

If you think about today’s workforce, will this passive leadership style work?  We must understand that generations change and the tolerance for ambiguity is different among our new workers.  Will a millennial tolerate this style of training?  Will a Generation Zer tolerate this method of work? 

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