Men and women over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing segment of the population. Yet we still live in a society dominated and fascinated by the young. The challenge of managing people in their teens and early twenties thus seems a particularly appropriate subject for an INC. article.

In preparing this story for publication we tried hard to avoid focusing on the obvious complaints about kids. More than one boss, frustrated by experiences with young employees, suggested that kids today work only for money to buy liquor and drugs. Doubtless that is true in some cases.

But for the majority of young workers, the motivation is different. Like any other group of employees, they want and need a good relationship with the workplace. And because many are, by definition, just entering the world of real work, the first impression made by their superiors will play a critical role in their perceptions of the value of work for the rest of their lives.

Not surprisingly, most employers compare managing young workers to managing their own children. Setting limits, enforcing rules, and providing a clear structure are the foundations of a successful relationship. Like most "rules" for managing people, these guidelines sound trite when they are stated. But then, a lot of basic management is simply the application of common sense. There is ample evidence that too few of us act on what we know to be "right" when we are dealing with situations in our own companies. Particularly when the first-time employee is a small part of the overall picture, it is easy to postpone addressing problems we would deal with promptly if we encountered them in a majority of workers.

Sometimes the greatest value a story can provide is to remind managers of the obvious when they are surrounded by the obscure. Shouldn't we apply the same rules to managing all employees as we do to managing those just starting out? The answer would obviously seem to be yes. People are the single most important resource of any organization -- and of most small organizations in particular. They are also the hardest resource to manage effectively. And kids, with their special needs, may be the toughest challenge of all. But it seems reasonable to assume that doing a better job of managing those who need it most will benefit everyone else, and your company, in the long run.