Now, I have your attention. I hear this statement every day and receive countless calls from restaurant operators pleading for help finding employees to fill their vacant roles. I don’t believe this statement for one minute. Is there a labor shortage? You bet and it is crushing the restaurant industry just as much as the pandemic has. But is America filled with a generation of lazy people, sitting at home playing video games and waiting for a government bailout? I don’t think so.
Are there some people who are lazy and waiting for a handout – of course there are some, there always have been, and there always will be, but is it generational, is it somehow genetic? Has society created a generation of discontent, disengaged, lazy, good for nothing parasites without an ounce of energy or pride? Empathically NO! Here is the reality – a person is taught to have great work ethic, just as he or she is taught to be lazy. This occurs through both example and expectation. When parents, employers, friends, and coworkers exhibit an admirable work ethic then a young person is more likely to emulate that effort. If those same individuals expect quality work and effort, then young people will also respond accordingly. If the example is not there and if the expectation is not promoted, then the opposite results will be evident.
The situation we are in (in my opinion) is complex and it requires that we all try to move past the effects (no one wants to work anymore) and focus on the causes. First, think about the environment where Millennial and Gen Z youth have come of age and how it differs from previous generations. For decades there was an expectation that when a person reached the age of 16 (or sometimes even younger with working papers) – he or she would start applying for part time jobs (at least in the summer months when school was out). Whether a family could afford to support children without requiring they work or not was not the issue – the expectation was that learning that work is an essential part of life. If a 16 year had a job, he or she could afford to purchase things that they wanted, experiences that were presented to them, and even save some money for a rainy day. We have, in many cases, taught current generations that asking for something can take the place of working to earn it. That $600 smart phone has no real value to a person who received it as a rite of passage rather than saving to buy it. When any person is never taught how to grow, select, and prepare meals, but is simply given the opportunity to buy prepared foods or slide a plate into the microwave, then he or she will never learn to appreciate the process, the control, the joy, and the nutritional value derived from the process of cooking. When no one builds expectations of excellence in school, or set standards that are to be met before the reward of a grade is administered, then when will that person ever learn to push forward and strive to be great at a task?
We teach young people to exercise, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, to align with honorable friends, to respect others, to work hard and earn what they have, and to experience the joy of a good day’s work. We can also teach them to strive for the opposite if the example is not set and if the expectations are not in place and enforced. No one is born with a lazy gene, no one is born to avoid reaching for excellence – we all have a responsibility to create the environment to push individuals in the right direction. I am convinced that when the environment is properly set and when expectations of excellence are in place – then people will respond positively. Look at the pride on a five–year old’s face when he or she produces a picture that is refrigerator worthy? Look at the student who enters a science fair and earns the praise of judges. Watch the determination on that same student’s face when he or she is told that the project could have been improved and is then shown how to do so. Watch a young person beam with pride when the little league baseball team that he or she is a part of wins that critical game because they worked hard to build a level of teamwork that set the stage for success. These results create the environment for that same person to want to work hard and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
“Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students, focused employers, and enthusiastic parents with high expectations.” -Bob Beauprez
This is part of the complex issue – the other sits on the shoulders of employers and industries that seek to hire employees. It was Abraham Maslow who decades ago theorized that there was a hierarchy of needs that lead to self-motivation. This hierarchy was progressive in nature – the first requirement is SURVIVAL. In other words, the individual must be able to provide for those essentials of food, shelter, and clothing before he or she can feel the joy of effort as an employee. Industries need to be aware of what that level of compensation is for different individuals if the expectation is that a person will be energized to perform – a living wage. The second requirement is SECURITY. Individuals must trust that if they work at a level that is deemed acceptable and are dependable in this regard that their job and paycheck will be reasonably secure. The top three requirements of BELONGINGNESS, SELF ESTEEM, and ACTUALIZATION are all within the power of the individual to control (at least partially), but without environmental SURVIVAL and SECURITY – they will fail to surface.
The current labor issues in America are systemic and will not be easily fixed without wholesale reflection on how we operate as a society. In the meantime, everyone struggles to find a quick fix. Is throwing government money at every individual in the country the answer? Probably not. Is over-compensating restaurant employees just to get them to show up the right answer? Probably not. Is stereotyping a generation as lazy the answer? Probably not.
The restaurant industry needs to change and find ways to adjust the environmental package for employees (compensation, benefits, work conditions, trust, etc.) and the American family needs to evaluate the stage that is being set for young people as they formulate their life habits. Work is a wonderful thing – it inspires, builds character, helps our physical, mental, and emotional health, and opens our eyes to the possibility of excellence. This is something that every person has the ability to perceive and benefit from.
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