Eight tips for teens to empower themselves in the workplace

What if you found the answers to every test you had to write? What if you knew exactly what your spouse wanted from you to have a thriving marriage? What if you knew exactly what you needed to do to get the next promotion? It sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s a lot more realistic than we think. The common thread in all of these examples is understanding what the other person is looking for and his values! The great news is if we spend the time to dig and discover these answers, we can use them to create our own cheat sheet to perform more effectively in all parts of our life (home and work)!

As I work with teenagers 16–20 years old, and young adults 21–35 years old, many of them feel anxious about their role in the workforce. They may come across as overly confident (or even arrogant), but what I’ve learned while working closely with them is that many of them feel anxious about their life and career, often wondering:

• What if I’m not doing a good enough job?

• What if my boss doesn’t like me?

• What if I don’t get the promotion?

• What if I get fired?

• What if I’ve chosen the wrong career direction?

“What if” thoughts drive anxiety and one of the best ways to deal with anxiety is to have a strategy plan! So this month I offer these practical tips so teens can feel empowered. For most individuals, having a plan and taking action is the surest way to decrease our anxiety and increase our confidence. Enjoy!

1. Talk it out — don’t just quit!

One of the biggest obstacles I have observed is that when conflicts occur at work, people keep their frustrations to themselves — or worse, start backstabbing. This creates a toxic office culture and solves nothing!

Be courageous, and if you’re frustrated with your boss or fellow employees, have the guts to speak to them directly. Voice your frustrations. Listen to how they perceive the situation, and try coming up with solutions. The reality is, conflicts will happen at all jobs. The way they are handled has much more potential to cause problems than the conflict itself.

Don’t just quit — use conflict as a “character-building opportunity” (I know it’s something that a parent would say, but it really is true). Quitting is simply the easy way out — not the best way!

2. Ask — don’t demand

This is one of my favorite simple tips. When people demand (even in the nicest tone) it often comes across as an attitude of entitlement and can really rub people the wrong way. Instead of saying “I need to have Friday off to go to a doctor’s appointment,” try saying “I need to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Is it okay if I can take some time off on Friday?” Making requests in the form of a question comes across as being much more respectful to older generations.

3. Find a mentor

I’m convinced that one of the best strategies to make ourselves more employable and learn great skills — and also deal with generational gaps — is mentoring! Baby boomer traditionalist managers have been around longer, and they have an incredible amount of wisdom and experience to share with the younger generations, but here’s the trick: teens and young adults have to be the ones to take the initiative!

Managers are busy, so don’t expect them to pursue you and maintain this relationship. When you take the lead on this, you’ll be surprised how many managers are thrilled that someone is asking them for their advice!

4. Ask and manage expectations for feedback

If you need more feedback (which I often hear from teens and young adults) tell your boss — but again, phrase it as a question, not a demand. Ask how often you should expect feedback to help manage your own expectations.

One young woman I coached asked her boss, “I really want to do a great job for you. So the more I know how I’m doing, the better I will be able to meet your expectations. What is a realistic expectation I should have in terms of feedback? Monthly? Quarterly? Annually?”

5. Be appreciative

One of the most basic needs all people have, regardless of their generation, is the need to be appreciated! When you appreciate something that your boss, your manager, or your fellow colleague has done don’t just tell them or drop them a thank-you email — buy personalized stationary and mail them a card! Set yourself apart. Make a statement and voice your appreciation!

Teens and young adults may prefer to receive a digital thank you, but remember who you are talking to — older generations often prefer the “good old-fashioned way” (in person, over the phone, in a card), and they will appreciate your effort.

6. Challenge yourself

Don’t wait for your employer to provide ongoing training. Take the initiative and seek further training for yourself. Take leadership courses. Advance your skill base. Meet for coffee or lunch with wiser and more experienced colleagues, and learn from them. The more you do, the more you learn, and the more employable you become.

7. Be open to feedback, even if it hurts

Sometimes feedback hurts. When we receive negative feedback we often get defensive and dismiss it, especially if the communication of this feedback is poorly handled.

But try to ask yourself if there is any truth in the feedback. Do your best to be objective. Ask people around you that you trust and respect what they think. Then ask yourself, what can I learn from this? What can I do differently? How can I use this experience to help me make progress?

The best way to move forward if we are striving for excellence is to be willing to hear and learn from feedback, both positive and negative.

8. Think big picture and volunteer

Often teens and young adults will tell me that they don’t want to volunteer; after all, they have skills and degrees that seem “so much better” than volunteer positions. But this is a shortsighted perspective.

Volunteering is such a simple strategy to get your foot in the door of a company you want to work for. It builds relationships (and let’s face it, so much of business is networking), increases confidence, and provides new skills to be learned. Volunteering may seem like a short-term loss in terms of time invested, but is often a huge long-term gain (which is the heart of discipline and delaying gratification). You might be further ahead in the long run by seeking out volunteer positions in the field you really want to be involved in, even if it means working for less money while you try to get your foot in the door. Think big picture, not just about today!

Dr. Karyn Gordon is one of North America’s leading relationship and parenting experts. She is a regular contributor to “Good Morning America,” founder of dk Leadership, best-selling author of “Dr. Karyn’s Guide To The Teen Years” (Harper Collins), and motivational speaker to a quarter of a million people. Visit her at www.dkleadership.org and on Twitter: