Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

Why you need to cut your younger staff some slack

Do you have staff in their mid-twenties or younger whose behaviour, compared to older peers, is driving you nuts? Do you have teenagers at home making you feel the same way?

It turns out that we old-timers need to cut them some slack. Adults think with the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part of the brain. Right into their mid-twenties, some people will still be struggling with the transition from emotional reactions to rational reactions.

In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making centre are still developing—and not necessarily at the same rate. That’s why when teens experience overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

With the development of the pre-frontal cortex still in progress, a younger staff member might struggle with:

  • focusing attention
  • complex planning
  • decision making
  • impulse control
  • logical thinking
  • organized thinking
  • risk management
  • short-term memory

I have seen this first-hand in younger staff over the years and have felt frustrated when my usual methods of dealing with performance issues have not worked. Understanding brain development has helped me to be more forgiving and understanding. We still need to hold young staff accountable, but perhaps with a bit more empathy as some issues are harder for them to deal with than someone older. And don’t discount their career potential based on their actions and reactions in their early twenties! Someone you would never consider for promotion at 23 might be ready at age 27. Don’t hold their early behaviour against them—just let their brains catch up!

Perhaps the biggest change I’ve made after learning about brain development is in how I parent.  I now have a much more forgiving attitude towards my teenagers at home. As with my younger staff, I am still going to hold my kids accountable for their actions, but not to the same standard I hold myself or other adults. That would not be fair.