I'm a teenager about to join the workplace and I'm curious what things I should know about - in particular, what things differ between an actual work environment and what's often portrayed in tv/movies/etc.

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    I went ahead and tried to clean the question up a bit to make it more what the site would want. Ian, can you add some information on what sort of job you're starting? Tips for, say, a waiter are going to be quite a bit different than a programmer.
    – Kevin
    Nov 12, 2020 at 3:40
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    Unfortunately this is an incredibly broad question - there are just too many stereotypes to discuss. Also, there may some "kernel of truth" to what you see on TV, since they would be inspired by stories of actual events and behaviour (although the depiction is usually an exaggeration) - so while most workplaces are pretty boring and normal, you may come across something that could be sitcom material over your career.
    – HorusKol
    Nov 12, 2020 at 3:42
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    You might be able to ask about specific stereotypes you're concerned over in individual questions.
    – HorusKol
    Nov 12, 2020 at 3:43
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    Already narrowing it down to a field of work might be helping. One thing I learned though is that stereotypes are stereotypes sure, but they most of the time come from somewhere...
    – Laurent S.
    Nov 12, 2020 at 8:27
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    To many teenagers there is no "field of work" only what is available and will send a paycheck. Its very uncommon for someone at 16 to have a specialized field.
    – clbx
    Nov 13, 2020 at 2:18

6 Answers 6


I'm going to take a stab at this without knowing the precise profession - so it's going to be a bit generic.

First up, the most important thing to understand: your main objective is to make your boss look good and make their job easier. This might sound strange, but think about it this way - your boss has a series of objectives they're supposed to achieve; whether it's increase customer satisfaction, develop 10 new features in the flooby program, or pump up sales by 10%. If your boss could do that all on their own, the company wouldn't have hired you. But those things they're trying to do are too big for one person, which is why the boss has people underneath them to try to help get them all done.

This often is a source of misunderstanding, because "The Boss" is often a, well, 'jerk' in popular media. "I hate my boss" is a common refrain. And the people that aren't outright hostile to their boss are deemed 'suckups'

This probably gets my vote for the most widespread misconception about the workplace. Want to know how to do a good job? Ask the boss. Want to know how you should handle a specific thing? Ask the boss. Unsure about pretty much anything work related? Ask the boss.

Don't get me wrong - there are bad bosses out there. But if you get into the pattern and mindset of delivering results and solving problems for your boss? Then you've got a wide-open career ahead of you. If you're the sort of person that a boss can rely and depend on - then you're the sort of person that gets to pick what sort of boss you get to work with.

The second thing: try to focus as much as you can on Internal Locus Of Control. Basically, focus on the things you can control. Blaming someone else never helps out. Instead, try to focus on what you can do to improve, what you can do to prevent a problem from ever appearing again. If you're a barista and your coffeeshop suddenly doesn't have enough supplies to make mochas - which would your manager rather hear?

  • "It's because Alice always drinks a lot of mochas when she's at the til. We ran out because of her."
  • "If you want, I could start doing inventory at the end of each of my shifts? Maybe we could catch something like this the day before instead of during the day?"

In one, you did nothing to help the problem and caused strife in the workplace; in the other, you took ownership of the problem and proposed a solution (Bosses hate problems; they love solutions.)

But the biggest benefit to this mindset? It means you get better. Blaming someone else is just a crutch and makes it harder to improve (why would you improve, if you did nothing wrong?) Even in the cases where someone else really did mess up... there's usually something you could've done better.

  • These are good advices, i would also suggest that, work isn’t life, and your own personal happiness is not worth being taking advantage of over paper, working extra hours sometimes is ok, if the employer also goes the extra mile for you, if they don’t you don’t. Nov 15, 2020 at 13:56
  • "Bosses hate problems; they love solutions" -> Yup, this is a good thing to keep in mind, but also, if the solution is way off your skill or pay grade, don't refrain from explaining things objectively to the boss, preferably without "pointing fingers" (i.e. blaming other people).
    – Mefitico
    Jun 8, 2021 at 2:44

Very broad question, however I will try to help you by refuting some inaccuracies that are displayed in some specific series or films.

  • Friends when having a full-time job, you won't have the time/energy to hang out every day with your friends in a cafe before work.
  • Emily in Paris you will not be send to Paris and be able to work there as marketing-genius when you don't speak any French.
  • the IT Crowd just asking/saying "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" will not suffice for the majority of problems you encounter as a system administrator.
  • Working Girl just having some brilliant business idea doesn't make you a successful businesswoman/man.
  • Married with Children when you insult the customers in your store, you will be fired immediately.
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    “When you insult the customers in your store, you will be fired immediately” Unless you own the store, or the owner has deliberately created a store brand involving insulting customers in a good-natured fashion, in a similar fashion to how some bars are deliberately dirty as a part of their brand.
    – nick012000
    Nov 13, 2020 at 10:37
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    All nice points, excepted the 2nd one... at least when you have an IT problem, you really should try to "turn it off and on" before bothering your coworker / boss / IT support.
    – Pac0
    Nov 17, 2020 at 19:00
  • Something I've been burned by doing, and far later in my career, when I should know better: DO NOT GOSSIP. EVER. EVEN HARMLESS. EVEN IF THE GOSSIP YOU ARE GOSSIPING WITH PROMISES SECRECY. Jul 12, 2021 at 0:42

While it sounds like the TV/Movies have been covered, there are a few things I wish someone had told me (or maybe they did and I just didn't listen) when I started working at 15. This is going to mostly be anecdotal, but I feel like that's okay for these questions.

I'm going to go off the assumption that you are not working to sustain yourself, just have a little extra pocket cash. You're probably working service jobs or something along those lines (A grocery store, a restaurant, etc.). If you plan on going to college/trade school and will work in a field that requires some kind of education these points become even more true.

For background, I've worked in all kinds of jobs in high school, Fast Food, Restaurants, Libraries, etc.

  1. Do not make it your life. While it may not seem like it, school and social life are very important at this point. I neglected both to work, and in hindsight, it probably cost me more money than saved me. I have only just reunited with some of my high school friends that have been close for years and I've missed out on the last 5 or 6 years of time with them.

  2. Find something you don't hate. Don't be afraid to quit and find a new job. You're young, no job or job history is going to persist if you go to college or pick up a trade. If you don't like a job, find a new one. Jobs that teenagers typically will pick up have a really high turnover. Of course, do this in a professional manner.

  3. Try and find something outside of the obvious, if you are planning on college/trade, try to find something relevant to that field, this is probably the most important.

  4. Ask your school for jobs over the summer. Schools will regularly hire students to do work over the summer. IT and Maintenance work are probably the most common, I did a stint one summer in the library another working IT. These will generally yield you some kind of benefit outside of a paycheck (helping fix leaky sinks in the boy's bathroom at school or stringing internet cable is much more beneficial than punching in burgers at Micky D's)

  5. Apply for college internships! Especially if you know of a field that you'll be interested in. Who cares if you're qualified, just say "Hey I'm in high school and really want to learn about xyz".

Basically my TL:DR is: You're in high school and not working to sustain yourself. Do something you enjoy or something that will yield you more than a paycheck. Your minimum wage teenage job money will probably pale in comparison to what you will make later in life, skills or at least enjoying what you do will be much more valuable.


Not sure what kinds of tropes you have been exposed to, but in general a few things to consider:

1- In many workplaces, people are very nice and expect you to be very nice.

Sure, we will all have to deal with difficult people over time, but while showing conflict at work is essential to any movie or TV show that depicts a workplace, everyone is better off being nice to everyone at their job. This is especially true if you work something simple like being a teacher at a small school, a waiter at a restaurant, or a cashier at a small store. You're hardly running for promotion nor having to discuss complex technical issues with people who are entitled because of fancy college degrees in areas that don't relate to the issue at hand, so be chill and get along with everyone.

2- The asshole boss is an unrealistic trope

Again, this is not fully disconnected from reality. Over your career, you are bound to listen to rude comments and feel like quitting when you simply can't. But in real life, bad bosses to the likes of Mr. Burns or Mr. Spacely will get employees depressed and anxious. So dealing with a boss that is often rude or that berates employees is a huge red flag telling you to look for another job. You are probably at the point where you can afford to quit a job simply because you don't enjoy it, and no one would bat an eye, so avoid one of these for as long as you can.

Come to think of it, I've had a few jobs as a teen, then as a college student, intern then as a full-time employee. The easier my job was, the better and more easygoing my bosses were. And this is not just a matter of my perception, it is just easier to be a boss to someone who performs a simple/easy job, with sympathy being an utmost important thing when you work minimum wage, but a very secondary concern when my work became highly complex and my managers had much more difficult things to handle.

3- Being late is not a big deal - sorta

If you are a teacher, then, of course, you need to be at school with some advance so the class is not late because of you. But if you are working some office job where people have flexible hours, and maybe half the office arrives at least half an hour late and no meetings are scheduled before 1h after reference starting time, you can be pretty sure no one will notice if you are 15 minutes late.

Do arrive on time for a job interview and on the first few months, but don't stress too much if you miss the bus or get a flat tire. Unless punctuality is specifically important to your workplace. Also, don't push your luck on flexible hours unless there is a well-established hour-counting method. If you arrive two hours late every day but leave three hours late, most of your colleagues will not see it (or know it), and people may take issue with that.

4- People hardly get fired, for the good and the bad

While some shows featured several "you are fired!" scenes, and maybe the fired employee got his job back by the end of the episode, dismissing an employee is often something that needs to be done with extreme caution. I've heard of places where managers were instructed on how to proceed in these cases, and a few of the directives is that you should never terminate an employee by the end of the day (because he might decide to drown his sorrows and do stupid things), offer to tell his/her family (as these may be hard news to break), and to always give an excuse rather than the real reason unless the person is being dismissed by cause. Excuses like "we are cutting down on budget" might totally be true, but possibly they won't bother telling an employee that he's doing a bad job. Spending time as a store salesman talking at your phone is a common reason people are dismissed with unclear/untruthful reasons.

Every time though, this is a well-thought decision, with very rare exceptions that I'd be aware of, terminations are not a heat of the moment thing.

So also don't expect people you dislike or who wronged you to be on the brink of termination, remember to be nice and professional.

5- You should never do a goodbye prank

If you've ever seen a character throw a pie at the boss's face when leaving, and celebrating something like "I'll never see you losers again!". Just be sure that no sane person does this.

In unprofessional settings, people are often offended enough by the simple fact that you are leaving (unless you are the intern they never intended to hire). And whether you are in a very professional company or a small store owned by a sociopath, there are big chances that in the future you'll need a recommendation letter from a former boss/teacher. And I myself always thought that an honest recommendation by my minimum-wage employer from my teens would be more valuable than one written by a PhD Professor whose beautifully written letter may cast a doubt on the professor's ability to tell a picture of my face apart from two random internet pictures (though this example may have not aged well with the Zoomer generation).

This is particularly relevant if you happen to have stuck on a job for many years after graduation, but happen to lose it after some world crisis.

6 - Yelling is a big red flag

If things are not going easily, keep calm and breathe. But as a reference, yelling at people may look common on TV shows or movies, as it is a simple way of raising stakes in conflict for the audience. But in general, yelling or name-calling is where people draw a line where behavior becomes inappropriate beyond excusable momentary stress or heat of the moment excesses.

7 - HR never works fast, compliance works in the dark

If you happen to hear about a company handling problems such as sexual harassment at the workplace or other inappropriate boss behavior, keep in mind that movies and TV shows are designed to have what seems like a fast-paced story. In reality, if you can provide strong but circumstantial evidence that a manager harassed a person, and if you work at a place with compliance policies and channels that allow you to anonymously denounce it, don't expect to hear anything about it for around six months. And that's it. Maybe the manager would be fired for cause but fled to another job to save his reputation earlier. Maybe an agreement was settled with a secrecy clause. You'll never see an investigation report nor the investigation steps. Detective stories are interesting, but real people don't like being exposed.

8- Promotions often come after being long overdue

Sometimes a character gets a promotion just because he's on a lucky strike, or because his boss got fired. In real life, you'd often spend a long time without any boss at all if yours get fired. And you'd be doing the job for which you are being promoted much before you actually get the promotion and title. This is sometimes a cost-saving measure (firing someone is expensive, so keeping the spot open for a while keeps budget on planning), also every boss likes proactive employees who bring solutions rather than problems and basically does the boss's job for him. But talking budget with higher-ups is difficult, and your boss might prefer to up his salary before he upgrades yours. Doesn't mean that recognition and raises won't come, just that they often come "rather late than never".

9- Some people enjoy boring, repetitive work

For creative people who are expansive, like colorful offices and having a new challenge every day meeting new interesting people, a job that requires you to sit in a cubicle and stay in front of the computer for most of the day is easily depictable as a nightmare. Writers are usually this kind of people, and this reflects in the artworks they create.

But there are people who enjoy working in silence, by themselves, and in something that for the unsuspecting external witness seems to be the same thing every day. Pure mathematicians are the example that comes to mind, programmers often fit that bill. These are the people who often see a brave wonderous world in pieces of paper and black-and-white computer screens, and enjoy individual tasks.

There are people who actually enjoy really repetitive work, such as accounting and insurance analysis. (Sorry if anyone takes issue with these examples, I'd welcome better ones in the comments).

So even if the task you have at hand doesn't seem like a big adventure or if it doesn't feel challenging, give it a chance. You may find that a job like this gives you little to no stress, which might be important while dealing with pressure from grades, high school drama, college admission, and so on.

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    On item #1 (niceness all around), I would add that you may get the impression that everybody is your friend. In some cases this will be the case -- you can actually have great friends at work. But most coworkers will ask about your family, etc. to make conversation, maintain a pleasant work atmosphere and welcome the new hire, not necessarily because they want to be invited over for dinner. In general, it's not appropriate or safe to complain about the work, the policies or the boss to a random coworker.
    – Nimloth
    Jun 8, 2021 at 13:05
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    In the same vein: on item #7, as has often been repeated in this forum, "HR is not your friend". Their purpose is to protect the company and make the workplace run smoothly. That means keeping most people happy (ensuring pay, benefits, etc. are working correctly) and preventing lawsuits against the company. Don't expect Human Resources to be your lawyer in conflicts against coworkers or against the company as a whole. In some cases, HR will end up acting in accordance with your needs / interests, sometimes the opposite; you'll need some experience to know how that works.
    – Nimloth
    Jun 8, 2021 at 13:13
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    @Nimloth : Funny that you mention the rule "HR is not your friend". I think HR departments are pretty much already described in fiction as "not your friend", I don't recall a single movie/TV show where the HR saved the day or did the right thing impromptu. I do remember Catbert, the Evil Director of Human Resources
    – Mefitico
    Jun 8, 2021 at 14:00
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    I agree, but apart from Catbert, I don't recall seeing HR in fiction (maybe I haven't watched the right shows). As a consequence, in my late forties I still had misconceptions about HR's role because I had never had to deal with a "professional" HR department.
    – Nimloth
    Jun 8, 2021 at 14:47
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    2- The asshole boss is an unrealistic trope - Haven't read enough post on workplace
    – paulj
    Jun 8, 2021 at 15:21

Assuming you're 16 and you got your first job, I wouldn't stress much. Chances are you're going to quit in a couple of months. So it's not really important.

If anything you should take a good look around you. If you're 16, and you're going to work to make money to spend on things while you have a good life at home with your parents, look at how others are living. They're relying on a job that you probably won't be in 5 years.

Remember those people someday.

  • "1- In many workplaces, people are very nice and expect you to be very nice." There's an interview question, 'how do you deal with problematic co-workers?' I answer truthfully 'By doing my job correctly and on time. That takes care of things in every situation I've been in.' Jul 12, 2021 at 0:43

What should a new-to-the-workforce teenager be aware of before joining the workplace?

Minding their manners. The rest is easy.

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