My daughter Lily is fourteen. Over the holidays, she had her her first job. She was employed as a Christmas elf in Santa's grotto at our local farm shop. She is studying business at school but she learned a lot more on the job.
So I asked what she'd learned after three weekends of solid elfing:
1. People need to know what you offer.
Her grotto was a little hidden and even I, looking for it, thought it was hard to find. She told her boss they needed a bigger sign, which they got the next weekend. Children piled in.
2. It's more fun being busy.
No matter how thrilling or dull a job, it is always more fun being busy than sitting around. If you have employees who aren't busy, find something for them to do. Down time breeds discontent.
3. Colleagues make or break the experience.
Her last day, Lily had a bad cold and didn't feel like working. I did not suggest she stay home; I just asked if she was up to it. She bridled, insisting that, however she felt, she couldn't let Ross--the Santa Claus--down. She'd instantly absorbed the fact that people in a business aren't loyal to the company but to each other.
4. It's more fun doing a great job.
Over time, my daughter got better at her job and, as she did, she said she enjoyed it more. "Now I think about ways to keep the kids entertained," she said. "They can't spend more--it's a fixed price--but it's more fun when the customers are happy."
5. Money you earn is different from the money you're given.
Receiving her first pay packet was a great moment for Lily. She's about to go on a school trip to Russia. Is she planning to spend all her earnings there? "No!" she insisted. "I'm saving that money; I earned it."
Lily's first job has been a lot more positive than mine was. I worked, at the age of 16, as a receptionist for a psychotherapist who could never explain what he wanted. He fired me after two weekends. Lily's been lucky to have a great boss and good co-workers.
Watching her also reminded me that most people do want to do a great job. If they aren't excellent, it might not be their fault.