Six pieces of advice for parents of work-shy Gen-Zers

A young man sitting at a laptop in a home office
'If you have a child who doesn't buy into the work ethic straight away they will pay the price quite quickly' - Getty Images

My eldest has just turned 13, the legal age at which a child can get part-time work in Britain, but when I casually suggested to him over the Easter holidays that he might like to look for some paid work during the summer, he looked absolutely astounded at the suggestion.

But then, none of his friends appear to be working either, whether it’s stacking shelves or delivering newspapers, so real-life examples are hard to come by. At the turn of the century, 48 per cent of teenagers had a part-time job while still at school, according to the Resolution Foundation, yet by 2020 fewer than 25 per cent had ever done any paid work. Post-pandemic, just 18 per cent of teenagers have part-time jobs.

“So what?” you might think. But Britain is also battling a worklessness epidemic: in post-Covid Britain there are now a million Neets (not in education, employment or training), and 34 per cent of under-25s are “workless” because of health issues. Nobody’s advocating a return to sticking small children up chimneys, but the mildly terrifying truth is that in less than a decade, my 13-year-old will be entering the working world (at least he will if I have anything to do with it) and I would rather he were prepared for the prospect rather than potentially traumatised.

“Earning my own money before I had to pay rent or buy groceries helped me to build good habits that I still have today,” says Lauren Shirreff, 23, who works on this newspaper but started her working life as a part-time shift worker in the fashion retail chain Peacocks when she was 16. I’m not sure I can persuade my 13-year-old to check stock or steam clothes – but how can I encourage him to get some form of paid employment and prepare him for adulthood to boot?  Here’s what a range of experts – parents, a venture capitalist, a child psychologist, a personal finance adviser and a recruitment consultant – suggest.

Encourage them to take up part-time work or summer jobs and help them to do so

“Our generation has made life too easy for our kids,” admits Andrew Monk, the chief executive of investment firm VSA Capital and a father of three. He says that parents should be less precious about things like revision and schoolwork, and encourage children to go out and find work instead. But be prepared to help them with the logistics, whether that’s passing on your child’s number to friends who need babysitters or offering to take them somewhere on their first day – or indeed, looking for opportunities closer to home.

All of Monk’s children worked for his business when they were young. “Offer to drop them off at a job if they need a lift,” says Julie Tilney, a marketing specialist who has two pre-driving age sons. And don’t do what my mother did when I was growing up: she regularly suggested I look for work in the school holidays, conveniently overlooking the fact that we lived in a tiny village with no employment opportunities – there was one bus per day and I couldn’t drive.

Open a bank account for them as early as possible and don’t given them enormous amounts of pocket money

“One of the best ways to help young people get control of money early on is to expand the things they’re responsible for paying for, so ideally by the time they leave home, it covers all sorts of things,” says Sarah Coles, the head of personal finance and host of Hargreaves Lansdown’s podcast Switch Your Money On.

You might give them an allowance, but it doesn’t have to be enormous – which will also encourage them to top it up with paid work. “We always said to our boys, ‘If you want extra money, you’re going to have to earn it,’” says Bill Cahusac, a pastor and trainee counsellor with three sons aged 17, 19 and 20, all of whom have part-time jobs.

Others are more blunt. “Don’t hand over your cash if you’ve got children old enough to have a part-time job,” says the child and adolescent psychiatrist Sabina Dosani. Whatever way you do it, giving your kids control of their cash teaches them to manage it, budget and save, and also to learn from their mistakes – they can blow their pocket money or wages on one big thing and it’s not the end of the world like it would be 10 years down the line when doing that might mean not being able to pay their rent as a result.

Coles suggests setting kids up with a proper bank account, with a linked savings account, as early as possible, and paying pocket money into it – if you can encourage them to put even a small amount into the savings part, they will get into the habit early.

Be prepared to be tough when it comes to health – and don’t let them pull a sickie

Want your child to learn something from the working world? “Don’t phone in sick,” is the blunt advice of Katie Drewitt, a recruitment consultant . “I’m not saying you can’t be ill, but I get a lot of first-time jobbers phoning in on Mondays with ‘tummy ache’.”

Worse, she adds, some ask friends or parents to call in for them. So if your child is complaining of a tummy ache just before a shift, you might want to turf them out of bed regardless – and definitely don’t pick up the phone on their behalf. If your child is struggling with mental ill health, meanwhile, “having some kind of paid work can be part of their recovery,” says Dosani. “The ability to go out for yourself and find something that adds meaning to your day as well as giving you some freedom to make decisions about what to do with the money – these things are extremely empowering.”

Let them take the consequences of doing their work badly

Cahusac still remembers his eldest son doing some labouring work one school holiday, aged about 15, and not doing a good job of it. “The guy he was working for told him he hadn’t done it very well,” he says. “He still paid him, but it was a wake-up call.”

“If you have a child who doesn’t buy into the work ethic straight away, they will pay the price quite quickly, whether they lose the job or get their pay docked,” agrees Coles. The reality is that even the kids who work hard at school won’t see the return on that investment for years. Having a part-time job, where you have to turn up, do the work and risk getting the sack if you don’t do it properly is an immediate way of learning how to do those things well.”

Drill into them the importance of picking up the phone and human interaction

“We all forget that interacting as humans is absolutely vital,” says Monk. His advice? “Pick up the phone and talk. Ideally meet people in person.”

Dosani agrees. Interacting with others, especially people of a different generation, “teaches them to collaborate with people who don’t necessarily share their way of doing things, and learn by watching them. It gives them a much broader way to be an adult”. So if they want to launch a dropshipping website or set themselves up as a vlogger, fine, but make it a quid pro quo of getting out into the real world and out of their comfort zone by working with actual people.

Don’t be sniffy about what the job is

“There are lots of routes to success,” points out Dosani. Just because your teen is stacking shelves in Tesco, or labouring in people’s gardens rather than working in a bookshop or helping out in an office doesn’t mean that a) they won’t be good at it and b) they can’t learn from it. If you’re sniffy about it, they will learn to be snobbish themselves about these things, which won’t prepare themfor real life. But a child who struggles academically might thrive and find whole new meaning working outdoors; a bookish type with straight As will likely benefit from having to work alongside people who aren’t like them, with entirely different values and aspirations. And don’t forget: the point is to get your child used to being treated as a worker at work. As Monks puts it, “Work is a very natural thing”.

Telegraph writers on their part-time teenage jobs

Boudicca Fox-Leonard

My mum didn’t want me to get a pocket-money job. She always said: “You’re a long time working once you start.” So I never did anything apart from babysitting until the end of my first year of uni. I was by that point freaking out that I looked like a ne’er-do-well, especially with a name like Boudicca. So I started to panic-work in order to bulk up my CV. I started with handing out leaflets for Specsavers in Clifton Village, I worked on a falafel van at Glastonbury, and then I got a job in the pub near my parents’ house, serving shandies to all the kids who had gone to my comp secondary school and thought I was a posho. My mum was disapproving of it all. And it turns out that I have been a long time working. I wish I had heeded her advice and gone travelling instead.

Jack Rear

I started as a pub dishwasher on Saturday and Sunday nights when I was about 14 – all cash in hand. I was so excited to join the workforce, but it was absolutely horrendous. I used to go home stinking and soaked. I eventually walked out when I was about 17 because the pub owner stormed in demanding us two dishwashers clean the toilets, where some drunk guy had liberally daubed the walls in his own faeces; £4 per hour wasn’t enough incentive to do that.

After the pub I got a weekend job at WHSmith in Preston, which was comparatively lovely, although, as a pretentious 17-year-old, I always thought I was too clever to be there. The managers definitely all hated me, but I kept the job all through college and then I would keep going back for shifts in the holidays at uni.

I didn’t always enjoy working as a teenager, but I still think it was worth doing. I remember feeling so wealthy compared to my friends because I could always afford to buy video games and go to the cinema. And being able to operate politely and calmly when you’ve got shoppers yelling at you is the kind of life skill which ends up serving you well.

Abigail Buchanan

I got a waitressing job at 16, at the behest of my parents, and used to do silly things like make coffees with hot chocolate powder instead of ground coffee as I didn’t yet drink any hot drinks and genuinely didn’t know the difference. I’m really surprised they didn’t sack me. But my job wasn’t as bad as my brother’s, who had to get up at 6am to collect eggs for, I think, £2 an hour.