This post originally appeared on my old lifestyle blog, Ellipsis, over 2 years ago. This is a minor rewrite. If you'd like to see the original, click here.
Sometimes, I feel like I've tricked people into thinking I'm an adult. The amount of responsibility--for other people's companies, for their public images--I'm handed every day is kind of astounding, despite the fact that I feel like I should still be answering to someone. And yet, sometimes--when there are dishes in the sink, or the stairs need vacuuming, or I've run out of clean socks--I find myself wishing I could opt out, have someone else be the grown up and take care of that.
I'm a little obsessed by age--acting my age, acting like a grown up, acting like a kid. There are times where I feel like I really shouldn't be 27--I feel about 14 or 15, tops. And I'm not the only millennial that feels that way. Even though I have a child now, I still often feel like I'm not the adult in any given situation. I look to other adults to help me out, more often than not.
I recently read an article about the benefits of treating employees like, well, adults. The United States in particular has fallen into the trap of treating employees like students and/or children: dress codes, strict times to show up and leave, strong rules of how to do things, specific procedures, and limited creative freedom. Boooooring. Isn't that supposed to be the benefit of leaving school? You start getting to work and act like an adult?
I've started to wonder if my own inability to see myself as an adult is tied to the fact that my jobs, up until two years ago, all treated me as if I was a child.
At one of my last jobs before my current one, my boss had a rule that I had to tell someone when I was stepping into the bathroom for even a minute. About 9 times a day I was telling my boss and/or one of my coworkers that I was going to the bathroom, and they were doing the same thing. It was obnoxious and embarrassing. What kind of boss really needs to know when I'm taking a 45 second break to run to the restroom?
I know I'm not alone in having stories like that. It seems like workplaces overwhelmingly lean towards treating employees like overgrown babies who need a lot of rules to do basic work. And, surprise! Research shows that when you treat employees like little bitty babies, they are act more irresponsibility.
As well, treating employees like children allows bad employees to fly underneath the radar. We've all know a coworker for followed all the rules--showed up on time, followed procedures to the letter--but never actually did any work. Those kind of employees thrive in environments where the procedure matters more than the outcome--and being a "good employee" is all about following the basic policies.
What works is focusing on results. If your employees are nonexempt, you do have to pay them by the hour for their work (and pay overtime, when applicable), but if they are exempt employees (that is, professionals or managerial or outside sales workers), let them be grownups. Set expectations. If problems come up, address the problems. If their work is otherwise good, who cares if they check Facebook eight times per day?
There isn't any real, concrete reason about why this has happened. With the rise of the Internet & the abundance of smart phones, I think employers have grown increasingly concerned about not paying their employees for downtime. They focus on the minute-by-minute action of their employees days, instead of seeing the big picture -- did the project get done? Was the work good?
In the end, you get employees who resent their bosses & act like kids.
As millennials increasingly enter the workforce, I think we'll see employers re-evaluating their policies when it comes to how they treat their employees. As it is, millennials as a generation feel very stuck by where we are--most of us moved back in with our parents right out of college & some still do until they can afford their own places. Millennials are resisting buying new cars and homes. (I do love that these articles are trying to find a reason for this. Here's the reason, guys: most new jobs are part-time & do not offer very competitive wages, nor do they offer many benefits. We aren't buying homes and cars because, duh, we don't have the money for them, plain & simple. Paying student loans on part-time wages and trying to buy a car or a home would be beyond financially stupid.)
And while us millennials struggle to feel like adults (often because we are being reduced to feeling like children because of our living situations, our difficulty finding good paying jobs, and the media's increasing obsession with making us sound like the laziest generation ever), no one is ever happy being treated like a petulant child.
For the first time, I work at a job where I am treated like a competent adult. Ultimately, it doesn't matter when I show up or how I do my work or how many times I run to the bathroom; what matters is if my work is good, if I get it done on time, and if I am a nice person to everyone around me. Easy-peasy. The feeling of satisfaction I get from my work simply because I'm treated like the adult I was taught to be is astounding.
Being a grown up is hard. There's no reason to make it any harder by treating people like children & then wondering why they act like children. As far as I'm concerned, I feel like I should still be 15--but that being said, I know I'm really an adult and I appreciate when others have confidence in my abilities.