Kids, Parenting, Work

Work ethic + kids

I’m having a bit of mental conundrum over here.

So, you all know that Ethan has a part-time job now. He has worked at McDonald’s since right after he turned 14- he started at the end of August 2022. Over 7 months now!

It’s been going really well. He seems to like it, or at least he doesn’t ever complain. He has been making some pretty great bank, too! I mean, when you have essentially no expenses, money can add up fast. 😆

He has received “tips” from people in the drive-thru from time to time, I think usually from older men who say things like, “This is for you, young man. Glad to see you working hard already! Don’t see enough of that these days.”

Ethan is kind of a quiet, reserved type person with people he doesn’t know well, though. He’s just not particularly outgoing…. So I’ve been trying to encourage him to ENUNCIATE over the loudspeaker and try to sound a little more enthusiastic when asking, “Hello, what can I get for you today?” (I occasionally go through the drive thru when he’s working, but not like in a constant, embarrassing, stalker-mom way. I’ll call it… “spot-checking”. 😂)

McDonald’s is not a particularly difficult job, though it does require you to be on the move and quick and snappy and ideally provide some decent customer service. (I really think everyone should work in customer service for at least a little while. A lot of the swim team kids lifeguard in high school, but that seems like kind of a dud job, if you ask me. You mostly just sit there! At least at McDonald’s you have to interact with people and think on your feet and grow time management/organizational skills, etc.)

Ethan has already picked up on the fact that there are adults doing that job as a living… and yet he is already perfectly competent at it at age 14. (He said the other day, “Isn’t that kind of sad for them?? I don’t think I would like it if a 14 year old could do my same job when I’m an adult…” 😬 Probably a good thing for him to think about and realize. #stayinschool.)

My one issue right now is that I feel like the standards there are not overly high for the workers. This may be a management issue, and this may also be a “lack of available workers” issue (i.e. they are not that picky when hiring anymore, because they mostly just need BODIES willing to work, fortheloveofgod!).

For example, when I worked at McDonald’s back in the day, I feel we had pretty high expectations. “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean!”, they’d always say. (We loved that, as 15 year olds. 🙄) We were required to greet the customers, pick up trays in the lobby if it was slow, clean the counters, restock the cups, mop the floors, provide good customer service, the whole nine yards. But now, the standards seem to be a lot more…. “relaxed”, let’s say. Some of the employees barely make eye contact with you, or they kind of shove the order at you with a grumbled “thanks” (maybe- depends who you get).

Ethan has said some of the kids wear their Airpods while working…. ummm….. no. If you’re working with customers, you shouldn’t be like, jamming out to music at the same time, in my opinion! He seems to imply that no one really expects him to exactly go above and beyond to say, help keep the lobby looking nice, or anything like that. As in, if he’s working the drive-thru, and there are no orders, he can just…stand there and wait for a customer, basically.

I’ve tried expanding on what “good work ethic” means at home. Eye contact. Smiles. Please and thank you- always. Double check the order. APOLOGIZE profusely if you guys screw up an order! Make it right. Offer to carry a tray for an elderly customer with a cane. Pick up stray straw wrappers or trash on the floor on your way to the bathroom, if you happen to notice any. Take pride in the whole place! Don’t just do the bare minimum. If you’re not busy, ask if anyone else needs help. Etc. etc.

He seems to get it, and I think/ I hope we’ve mostly raised him to know this already, anyway. But he also *might* sort of blow me off a little bit too. (“Yeah, uh huh, k mom.”) His response usually includes some version of, “Well, nobody else really does any of that….” Reading between the lines, the rest of that sentence goes, “so why should I??”

Which is the part that worries me!! I know it’s a “whole new world” and a “whole new generation”, yada yada…. but I really feel like maybe this labor shortage issue has expanded this problem? Or did we all just get weird during the pandemic??

Back in the day, if you were a sucky worker, you’d probably get fired. Now, businesses can’t really AFFORD to fire anyone, so everyone sort of looks the other way, and pretty soon… it’s the new normal. No one even remembers it being any other way!

Overall, I’m very happy with his first work experience- the people are nice enough and the managers have been good to him and respect his soccer and scheduling conflicts and he practices his Spanish a lot! The other employees seem fine on the whole, too. It’s a quite nice little McDonald’s, IMO. I guess I just wish they could “up the expectations” a little bit, sometimes.

Fortunately, I think Ethan seems to be doing well. I just really want to make sure he learns to be a hard worker, with a strong work ethic, self-motivation, and good interpersonal skills and all of that. I’m not sure if I/we should be doing anything differently here, besides talking about it with him, etc.

Oh! One good thing from his work experience thus far: Recently, Ethan decided that he wanted to ask for a raise. He said he’d been working there for over 6 months now and was still making the minimum, and he knew some other people were getting hired at higher rates (and doing worse work than him!). So he talked to the manager on his own, asked if he could have a raise, and they granted it to him! 🙂 I was proud of him advocating for himself.

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for it being Friday, because this work week was kind of annyoing.

17 thoughts on “Work ethic + kids”

  1. I think there’s pro and cons of any job. It depends what part of the job is more important to you and let go of the other annoyances. I haven’t made my mind for my girls to work at McDonald’s or similar jobs. If I could choose, id probably encourage them to work on NGOs or to help the less well off kids or elderly. From your description, Ethan seems to get more from this job than the downside, as long as he knows that what his coworkers are doing, their attitude, is precession why they are working there as adult.


    1. He’ll probably do something else once he gets a little older, but around here that aren’t really too many places that even hire kids as young as 14, so McDonald’s has been good for now/temporarily. Maybe in another year or so he will try something else! It’s good experience for now at least, to learn to be an employee. 🙂


  2. Thank you for bringing up this topic Kae. It’s very difficult to pass on the work ethics to our kids when they are not able to see anyone else following the same. I regularly share about my own positive experiences when I received excellent customer service and how it made me feel. If we were eating in a restaurant and if the service was very good, I would thank the server and also mention it to the manager. My daughter has seen this many times and now does the same. It makes her realize that a good service is appreciated and makes the customers remember it for a long time. So it becomes easier for her to connect when I talk about work ethics. You are doing a great job with your kids and I am sure that they are absorbing many good lessons subconsciously.


    1. It’s a great idea you bring up, to talk about how good (or bad) customer service makes YOU feel, when it happens! I try to do this, too. Like if we go a restaurant and the server is particularly friendly, I’ll try to say to the kids, Isn’t her attitude so pleasant?? Really makes me want to come back here again! etc.


  3. Hey my first paycheck came from McDonald’s too!!! Good times.

    I did a huge spit take that Kids These Days are wearing airpods to work and trying to imagine that Back In My Day. But even if the work ethic is lower, the hard workers are always going to stand out and be appreciated more than the folks who just phone it in.

    The real standout to me is that Ethan was smart enough to ask for a raise! If he’s comfortable doing that now at 14 just imagine how that’s going to impact his earnings potential over the course of his career. Now that’s serious $$$ in the bank. Bravo!


    1. Exactly- the hard work always pays off! I think it’s just tough at his age, where he is kind of in that “I just want to act the same as everyone around me” adolescent mindset… haha.


  4. First off, I love that he advocated for himself and asked for a raise! This post-pandemic world is really hard… there is such a shortage of workers that the standards for employees have really declined. I know of a situation where a woman is quite well paid but is totally mailing it in at work but they are keeping her on because they don’t feel they could find someone for the job. Where are all the young people at!! I would have loved to have a job like this woman had when I was coming out of college!

    But overall, I wouldn’t worry too much. I think as he gets older and there is more on the line at work, he’ll step up to stand out at work. It’s hard when no one else is stepping up. He might not want to make others think he’s trying to “one up them” or something like that? I totally agree about the importance of getting a service industry job, though. I worked as as server through college and also worked in the shoe section of JC Penny’s for a brief period of time. I think it’s priceless to have that kind of role so you appreciate the service you get from others down the road.


    1. Yes, I can definitely see him not wanting to “stand out” really… fits his current personality. 😉 I think he understands the importance of it overall though at least and I’m sure as he gets more into the high school years too he will have more and more opportunities to see why it matters.


  5. Good for him! I agree that working is not the same as it was when we were teens, but you know, it’s a different world. I think that as our kids work, they’ll grow, as we did too. They’ll figure it out.
    I worked at Pizza Hut, then a clothing store, and then in university I waitressed, and those were all very hard jobs in a sense. One of my sons recently started working at a gas station, where previously he was at a restaurant, and he loves it. He loves all the different things to do, and has mentioned that the guys who want to work the pumps all the time are all older gentlemen who can’t handle the cash register. It’s a great way to learn that we all have different strengths and that there’s a place for everyone in this world.


    1. Yes! Such great experiences. I think if someone never works in these less skilled positions like customer service or gas stations or restaurants, etc. and then just goes on to college and then a professional job, they really miss out on understanding what that whole realm is like!! I really feel like it makes you more empathetic.


  6. Wow! Way to go on asking for and getting a raise! That’s a really hard thing to do and it’s awesome that he had such a good experience.

    I totally hear you about the work ethic thing. It DOES seem like a lot of retail/fast food employees do the bare minimum. Hard to tell if that’s an accurate impression or if I am just a crotchety old woman though. But sounds like you are doing a great job teaching Ethan about work ethic at home. And eventually he will have a job where it IS important, and he will figure it out.

    The “but other people don’t do this” argument is SO HARD to fight against. I feel like it comes up all the time in parenting, like, if we are at a group playdate and the other kids are running around the ice cream shop yelling and playing and I won’t let my kid do that. It’s very hard to maintain your own standards without a) coming across as a judgmental jerk and b) making your kid feel like you are demanding too much.


    1. Totally know what you mean about the parenting thing!! That is so hard.

      I also feel like when I make these comments about employees doing bare minimum or poor standards, there are people who push back and say, “Oh, well, everyone is doing the best they can, we should all cut them some slack…” and try to sort of brush it off… which yes, I understand that sometimes if a place is short staffed they maybe ARE doing the best they can, with what they have (even though the service may “seem” poor). I get that, and I empathize with that. But I’m talking about times where it’s just blatant lack of effort- like if I am standing at the counter and I can see a girl scrolling instagram on her phone and she is ignoring me in an otherwise empty restaurant…. come on. Sorry, but that’s not her best effort- that’s just lazy! Or poor work ethic, or poor management that allows that. It doesn’t take any longer to make eye contact when handing me my order, or say thank you, either. You know, that sort of thing. You can just “tell” when they are ACTUALLY trying and are just crazy busy/ doing the best they can without enough staff or resources, versus that they really just don’t care (or haven’t been taught to provide good service). My husband and I both worked in the service industry for YEARS from very young ages (restaurants) on through adulthood (my hospital nursing job was still very much “service”/ customer related and my husband still works with customers and clients in the financial industry now today), so I think this is an area that we are both pretty in tune to from personal experience.


  7. Another discussion you might want to have is about the systemic issues that lead to adults having jobs that a 14-year old can do and trying to survive on those wages. When I managed a *bucks, my staff was a majority adults (with a few HS & college kids) and most had college degrees (from associates thru masters), yet due to circumstances, that was the job with flexibility and whatnot that they had. Beyond a doubt those issues you see there are due to poor management. Just having a job at 14 plus the sports he does and school is giving him an excellent work ethic baseline.


    1. Yes, that is an excellent point! Lots to think about and discuss. It’s just a good experience in so many ways for him. 🙂

      Re: the management, it seems to me that due to staff shortages, some people who probably don’t really have “managerial” skills yet are prematurely promoted to “manager”… and then there is a trickle down effect, since they don’t necessarily set the example themselves or know how to enforce the expectations. His new manager is very nice though and good to him, so I’m not really complaining! It’s actually much worse at the other mcd’s in town. We had him apply at and drive him to one that is farther from our house, because it’s an all around better environment there/ better management on the whole.


  8. I worked at Starbucks when I was 16 to 21 and definitely remember it more closely to your McDonalds experience (“if you have time to lean you have time to clean” was definitely said to me!). I’m surprised to hear people wear ear buds now at work but I guess that is the way of things. I think his observation that adults are doing what he is currently doing is a really good one and I definitely felt it at 16 too. I worked a lot of different retail and even went back into food service as a temp job when I was in my 30s, after moving to a new country where my skills didn’t immediately transfer. Having solid retail/customer service skills will make one forever employable.

    I think it’s awesome Ethan is working and that he asked for a raise as well… even if the environment isn’t what you remember it sounds like he’s learning great skills.


  9. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much. He’s a teenager, he’s working, he had the wherewithal to ask for a raise (go, Ethan!) and I suspect the lessons you are teaching him, and the work ethic you and Ivan demonstrate, are taking, even if it doesn’t seem like they are. My parents had us work as a janitor (brother) and aide in a nursing home (me). Believe me, I saw people who slacked off and left their work for the rest of us. I also saw adults who were still earning just above minimum wage in a nursing home, and would be there the rest of their working lives. Both of us are extremely hard workers and definitely internalized all of my parents’ lessons on work. I suspect Ethan will be the same! 🙂 You done good, mom. 😉


  10. I think it’s great that you’re thinking about all this and that you’re trying to teach your boys the right attitude. I do believe that it will pay off in the long run (and people with a bad work ethic usually get the boot – in most jobs anyway, maybe not at a minimum wage job).

    Good for Ethan though to speak up for himself and ask for a raise.


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