top of page

I don’t know who needs to hear this. But stop cannibalising your staff.

Bear with me, I need to give you some context.

The other day I had the pleasure of heading out for a round of golf before work.

As I got halfway down the fairway of the 3rd, I came across a hawk eating a baby bird. The bird was still alive, flapping about and there were feathers everywhere.

As I was alone, the image became etched into my brain as I continued smashing the ball into the bunkers, trees and rough (I like to describe my golf as a long walk, with a series of disappointments… golf is my weekly attempt to build personal resilience).

Anyway, it reminded me of the cannibalisation of young staff into their new careers.

The baby birds being eaten by their new bosses.

This is the practice of treating your young staff harshly, with less compassion and pushing them to breaking point – because ‘back in my day’ that’s what it was like. And if I had to go through it, then you should too. How will you learn otherwise?

Back when I served in the Navy, there was a particular group of officers who were known for ‘eating their young’. Seniors created competitive environments, where young people were expected to do more, be more and perform with little to no support structures. Except for a ‘harden up’, ‘take a concrete pill’ or ‘put your big boy pants on’.

Now as I have been out of the service for 10 years, I couldn’t possibly comment if this still happens – however unfortunately, this isn’t a rare military only experience.

Having spoken to a number of businesses around New Zealand over the past 12 months it is clear this happens to a lot of young people.

The building industry, lawyers, construction trades, teachers, unpaid internships, it seems anything that you learn on the job is more susceptible to this ‘toughen up’ mentality.

I argue it’s a cycle of abuse.

It is basically Stockholm syndrome.

Young people suffer in silence because they need the job, they need the training, and they need the income. But when does it stop?

One of the clearest examples of this, is the fools errand.

You all know them – go down to the shop and get me 10ft of fallopian tube or a bee line.

The idea is that giving someone on a fools errand is just a hazing ritual. And in turn, hazing supposedly serves a deliberate purpose of building solidarity.

Why can’t we create an environment that builds solidarity without humiliating, degrading, abusing or endangering our new young staff? Young people think by not speaking up and dealing with it, they will gain acceptance into a group.

Come on, is almost 2022.

We are smarter than this.

We can create strong teams, without bringing down others, we have the skills, resources, and knowledge.

Who are the leaders ready to say enough is enough?

  • We will not expect extra hours to be unpaid and that grads should be the last ones in the office.

  • We will not expect people to participate in excessive drinking to be ‘one of the boys’, and if they don't call them 'pussies'.

  • We will not send our apprentices for a ‘long weight’ or ‘stripe paint’ and laugh at their expense.

This power imbalance is creating stressed, apathetic, dangerous, and mentally damaged young people who don’t want to work in your industry.

Don’t complain you can’t get enough staff and continue to treat the ones you get badly.

As a leader, standing up and breaking the cycle isn’t weakness, it is a strength.

It’s creating a new generation of staff who will start a new cycle. Building positive learning environments for people to be inspired, passionate about their job and keen for a long career.

Don’t be on the wrong side of history.

Be part of the solution.

- if you want to know where to start,

- understand what resources might help, or

- to give me feedback on this opinion.

Happy to hear your voice.

Obviously this is my opinion - but I am always interested if you think you have 'the other side' of the argument.


bottom of page