Reflections on Youthful Work Blunders: A Call for Understanding Between Generations

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Her Story | 8 comments

I think this might well be the most revised blog post I’ve ever written. In writing this, and looking back on my own employment journey, I started to remember more and more of my work history and realized I wasn’t as awesome an employee as I thought I was LOL.  That’s what really prompted me to blog about this.  Essentially this is a blog about how the current Gen Z graduates/new employees really aren’t all that different from those of us who’ve come before them.

When I was in college, I was fortunate to get a summer job through the company my mom and dad worked for, Wisconsin Electric.  At that time, Bank of America, Wisconsin Electric, and Wisconsin Gas had a reciprocity program for the kids of their employees. Nepotism at its best.  I was considered a summer temp and floated from desk to desk to cover the full-time office assistants who were on vacation.  That first summer, I worked for Wisconsin Electric.

This morning, I was thinking about those summers and remembered a couple of MAJOR faux pas I committed, starting with a manager handing me a handwritten document he needed to have typed up. My only task was to type up the document.

So naturally, as a recent high school graduate, daughter of a former middle school English teacher (and former student of Ms. Messer’s Honors English class), I saw this as a prime opportunity to showcase my skills.  I took it upon myself to “clean it up” a bit and correct what appeared to me to be clear grammatical and sentence structure errors.  Suffice it to say, he was NOT impressed when he got it and was less than pleased with my performance.

To his credit, and much to my surprise, he calmly sat me down and explained that while it was good to have initiative, all I had to do was type up what he writes down, errors and all and let him worry about corrections.

Can you imagine the audacity?

I was barely 18, fresh out of high school and just assumed that this is what a good assistant did;  They did what they could to make their boss look good, assuming the boss didn’t already look good.

The second faux pas wasn’t nearly as embarrassing but probably even funnier.

In the second case, I decided to reorganize and clean up the desk of the full-time assistant I was covering for.  I did this partly because I was just grossed out by all the crumbs and junk in her drawers and because she was, in my opinion, super disorganized and inefficient. In my young adult mind, I figured I was doing her a huge favor and that she’d become a better employee once she could easily and quickly find whatever she needed.

Boy, was I wrong!

I learned very very quickly that you don’t mess with someone’s desk and how they “organize” their stuff.  My nieveté and lack of business etiquette were astounding!  Her lack of appreciation still stings a little to this day.

I also vaguely remember deciding and taking it upon myself to change how the office was filing folders.  But the memory is so faint that it’s not worth expounding on. It should come as no surprise that I was not invited back to Wisconsin Electric the following summer, but was rotated to a different office the following June. As a matter of fact, I was sent off to a completely different company as Bank of America’s newest protege.

My first job out of college was a temp-to-hire position as a registrar for Northwestern Mutual Life.  I started the day after labor day, shortly after I dropped out of graduate school.  (To this day, I regret not going on to finish my master’s/Ph.D., but that’s a blog for another time.)  Unfortunately, within 2-3 months it became painfully clear that there wasn’t enough work to keep me busy.

Instead of doing what I nag my kids to do (“When you find yourself with nothing to do, go to your boss and ask for more work!”), I decided to do some arts and crafts!

I actually used the company’s colored copier paper to make greeting cards LOL.  How I thought this was acceptable behavior is beyond comprehension.  I was 22 years old and definitely should have known better!  Someone eventually saw the time I was wasting and informed my boss.

Poor Cindy;  She called me into her office, and again, calmly explained that making greeting cards wasn’t the best use of my skills during paid company time.  I know she didn’t enjoy having this conversation with me because her entire face and neck were beet red.

None of this even begins to cover the days I showed up to the office completely hung over from the previous night’s escapades.

On such mornings, I’d feign illness and slink down to the first-floor health center where I’d inform the nurse that I was certain all I needed was a 30-minute uninterrupted nap. It was a fellow co-worker who turned me onto this idea and workplace “benefit”. This was the late 80s and early 90s mind you, so I was not alone in this. I once had to train a co-worker who I think was still hammered from the night before….at least she smelled like it.

I can’t tell you what triggered these memories, but what  I will say is it dawned on me that I think we, as older adults need to have far more patience with the new generation of employees who are now entering the workforce.  The only difference between the current batch of new employees and my generation is we didn’t have to worry about photographic evidence of our nights gone wrong! There were no cell phones and no social media (THANK GOD!). Anonymity was our best friend. 

According to a McKinsey report, we are in the Gen Z era;  Digital nomads known for working, shopping, dating, and making friends online.  For people my age (Baby Boomers) there’s a misconception that these young adults don’t have the same work ethic as those who’ve come before them.  Of course, this is true because they are a completely different generation who’ve had to deal with some pretty unprecedented difficulties! I hear more often than not and am also guilty of saying,

“Kids just don’t want to work these days!”
“ No one wants to earn their way anymore” or
“It’s impossible to find good employees”

As I admitted above, I’m constantly nagging my youngest to find things to do when he completes his tasks for the day.  However, I didn’t figure that out until I was 30 years old and at my second company!

Clearly, while I had initiative, it was misplaced and often outright wrong! That didn’t make me a bad employee, it simply showcased my inexperience and lack of judgment.  I was very fortunate to have patient forgiving seasoned employees to kindly point out my mistakes and guide me in the right direction.  I learned from these mentors the value of hard work and working as a group.  I’m not so sure how successful I’d be if I had to join the current workforce.  I have a future blog I plan to write about how I worked in the insurance industry for 25+ years but was absolutely miserable.  What I really wanted to do was be a wife and mother (again, a future post for another time).

I think young adults today realize how short life can be and don’t care to waste it doing something that doesn’t make them happy.  In addition, these are the individuals who had to start and finish high school and college during a global pandemic.  The worst thing I had to worry about was acid rain and killer bees (another post for another time).

I’ve started to see Gen Z’s refusal to settle for something that’s nothing short of miserable, not as a lack of desire to work but more of taking a courageous stand against living a life that’s unhappy.  I sure wish I had had that sort of belief in myself when I was in my 20s.

My generation was influenced by individuals born during or immediately following WWII. We were taught to value stability in occupation.  When I was working, it was considered admirable to put your head down and do your job and simply be grateful for bringing in a steady income.  Most of us took pride in saying we were with a company for X number of years, and job hopping wasn’t really in vogue.  So, I settled for an office job that made me so unhappy I’d go home every night in tears.  I had vowed I’d never allow myself to be constrained by 4 walls in a cubicle, and yet, there I stayed for FAR too many years.

It’s so easy to jump on the critical bandwagon and forget that at some point ALL of us were just starting out and making what appeared to be moronic mistakes at the time.  Well-intentioned, but moronic nevertheless.

So bravo to you Gen Z!

For realizing your worth and valuing your time and energy. This boomer admires your Moxie. Now please get back to work, so we all still have SSI to draw from when we eventually retire LOL!

About Me

In February 2022, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and it changed my whole life perspective. This blog is dedicated to my Journey through cancer diagnosis, recovery, and finding the humor in life.


  1. Faye

    I enjoyed this post very much . I am very guilty of thinking and saying many of the things Julie has stated. While I agree with some of it I do think years of service with a company can be beneficial.I also feel some people can do Any job , from cleaning toilets in a nursing home to underwriting at a large insurance company and still have fun ,enjoy relationships with their colleagues and customers . I understand more fully now . I have often been called a boomer even by my own children and they do not mean it in a good way . I will continue to read and learn from Julie’s blog so I can try to change my boomer attitude . Lol Thanks

    • Julie Kurtz

      You do not have to change your “boomer ways” Faye! You were one of the best mentors I ever had!!! You made work so much fun! And there’s value to be had with every generation of employees!

  2. John Kurtz

    I love your gift of writing! Thank you for sharing your talents with me and the world! Oxoxoxo

    • Julie Kurtz

      Thanks for supporting everything I do honey!

  3. Tracy

    This is awesome!!! I had no idea about your job performance at NM way back lol!! You reminded me of the 30 min nap!! Ha!! I love it!!! I used it she I was actually sick-what was I thinking? You’re a genius lol

    • Julie Kurtz

      It was a definite benefit to those in the home office!

  4. jane crowell

    As your long suffering mother, I am shocked, dismayed and appalled to learn of your creative ways of occupying
    your time as a summer employee. I, on the other hand, was always supremely confident that your performance inevitably exceeded each employer’s expectations to the extent that human resources annotated its records to ensure that they would pursue hiring you as a permanent employee, at an exorbitant salary, on the day or your graduation. Oh well. As they used to say on General Hospital, “it’s all in the past.”

  5. Carla

    I just had to come back and reread this because it’s so hysterically accurate and needed a good lol!


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