how much guidance should interns need?

A reader writes:

We have a very small company and recently took on our first (paid) interns, and we’re having some issues managing. There is regular last-minute calling in/not showing up, other types of behaviors that are not ideal (falling asleep in a “boring” meeting). They also regularly press for permanent jobs, which we directly addressed at their interviews and multiple times since. After discussing it several times early on, I believe they should be a bit more concerned with trying to make their work and work habits demonstrative of their long-term value as employees to us.

Do you have advice for how to avoid these problems from the beginning? We would rather not have to police entry-level employees, but basic expectations about calling in or changing hours in excess seem obvious. Is that an unreasonable expectation? Should we sit down with new interns and outline expectations about schedule, sick days, etc.?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 292 comments… read them below }

  1. Sam*

    Adultish-me would like to apologize to all of my former internship bosses from my late-teens for being an little twerp.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Ugh, me too. I was pretty dreadful. The job was a terrible fit, but I…had a lot to learn.

          1. ECH*

            @Amanda: Me too! I was upset for years that I all of a sudden got “laid off” but looking back … I don’t blame them!!!

            1. Amanda*

              Yeah, my first job straight out of college was…oof. It was bad, in hindsight. Cringe-inducing. I showed up late, left early, and made it pretty clear after my first month or two that I really didn’t care about my job.

              It’s interesting though, because in hindsight I can also see that my manager was horrible. Not dissimilar from some stories on here and also over at Captain Awkward: a tyrant manager in a tiny office with no one capable of holding him accountable for anything. It definitely doesn’t justify how poorly I performed at that job, but I could never put a finger on why I disliked working for him so much until years after the fact.

  2. Artemesia*

    I have had a lot of experience with interns both undergraduate and graduate student from the academic side and occasionally once is gobsmacked by what interns need to be told. We socialized ours before they were placed so that the kinds of things in the article were made clear i.e. appropriate responsible work behavior and the fact that when full employment does occur, it goes to people who wow the employer with their work ethic and their effectiveness. We also discussed ethical issues like confidentiality and what they should do if they observed unethical or illegal behavior or were asked to engage in it. And we discussed things like appropriate dress and social behavior.

    And yet, occasionally we would have a disaster in the field that common sense could never have predicted. Who knew you had to be told not to sleep through boring meetings? We had an intern do something so horrifyingly unprofessional and unethical that I can’t even recount it here — and whose lawyer father aggressively tried to prevent their behind any consequences. (we flunked him for the semester, threw him out of the internship and he could not graduate without returning in summer or fall for a new internship.)

    You can’t teach everything or anticipate every inappropriate behavior. One should be prepared to dismiss an intern who doesn’t behave professionally or who transgresses in a significant way. But a good intro describing professional behavior and dress that is expected and what the standards for excellent work are goes a long way to avoid problems.

    1. Koko*

      There must be some sort of cheesy workplace instructional video for this purpose. Bad actors playing overly cheerful yet clueless interns. Jane walks through the door at 9:03am. Freeze-frame. Uh-oh! What has Jane done wrong?

      1. Jeanne*

        Fabulous idea! Make it as cheesy as the sexual harrassment videos or good manufacturing practices video. I remember a freeze frame in the gmp video where you had to say the guy shouldn’t have his shirt unbottoned showing off his hairy chest.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Back in the day a well known toy company had a video like that for new employees. It wasn’t specifically for interns, but it was clearly for folks with little to no work experience. The part I remember clearly is the lesson about how sleeping in the storeroom was a form of THEFT, and you could be FIRED. Even at 16, I was surprised they had to spell that one out…. Until my next job in retail when I realized a co-worker spent half his shifts sleeping on piles of unstocked clothing like it was no big deal.

    2. Ariel*

      It matters how you treat them as interns as well. If you act like they’re just there to get you coffee and shred your papers, they’re not going to give a fudge about showing up for the job. But if you take the time to explain the work, ask them what they hope to get out of the internship, and work with them on the skills they want to learn they’ll be much more inclined to play by the rules AND invested in producing good work.

      1. Ariel*

        Not to mention, when you take the time to invest in your interns and your internship program, you get a good reputation among students, especially if it’s a particularly specialized field. Students talk, and the better you treat your interns, the better your pool of candidates is going to be next year so you’ll have to deal with these issues less and less. It’s not a fast way to resolve the problem at hand, but long term it works in your favor to offer a great internship experience.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        That’s a good thing to do for interns, but I can say from experience, just telling them the things you mentioned doesn’t necessarily make someone want to play by the rules or invested in producing good work.

        1. Treena Kravm*

          Yea seriously. I always spell out that they can do high level stuff (basically small pieces of the most high-level parts of my job) by the end of their internship if they’re interested, they just have to let me know so we can work on getting them ready for that point. They are never, ever interested.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            It’s only happened to me twice. I will always think very highly of those two interns.

    3. the gold digger*

      Who knew you had to be told not to sleep through boring meetings?

      Not that I am defending anyone in her first job out of college at an insurance company or anything, but shouldn’t meetings not be boring?

      1. Artemesia*

        I worked with one of the highest paid higher ed administrators in America (over a million per annum by a lot) who nodded off regularly in meetings including meetings that he chaired.

      2. Blargh*

        I feel like I should point out that sleeping is not necessarily voluntary … some of us spent several years running in college averaging 3 hours/night in the sleep department and while we honest to God did not want to or intend to sleep in your boring meeting and knew at the time that it was absolutely unprofessional, nothing short of high-dose injectable adrenaline was going to keep us awake in a dark, warm room with your droning voice and slides of dense text. Should we have called out? Possibly. But it takes many, many months of full sleep to make up for the kind of sleep deprivation accumulated in college, and you can’t call out for every boring meeting day because that would be most of the days. So I’m inclined to cut a little slack for people who are honestly contrite about falling asleep occasionally in boring meetings.

        1. random person*

          YES, this. I fell asleep in two meetings in my first summer “internship” (which was basically a short-term, but normal entry level job, during my first summer in college). The job started at 8 AM normally, but every few weeks there would be an all-company meeting starting earlier so we could still open on time. I had so much trouble staying awake while passively seated for an hour at 7 AM, even with coffee, and in two of the meetings I did nod off because I literally couldn’t stop myself. After the second time, my supervisors took me aside later and gently asked if I had any medical issues they should know about, which was the kindest way to handle it, IMO – there was nothing more I could DO to stay awake, but after that the mortification and fear of losing my job at least kept me from falling all the way asleep.

  3. Oldblue*

    Definitely reading that makes me feel slightly better about how unprofessional I was during two internships in college. One I really wanted to work at and I know exactly why I didn’t get a job there after all was said and done. But it did help me learn a lot about office culture and politics.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    “We had an intern do something so horrifyingly unprofessional and unethical that I can’t even recount it here”

    This cat is DYING of curiosity!

      1. Artemesia*

        Far worse then duck club which is why I can’t detail it because surely it only happened once in this universe in this millenium.

        1. Beezus*

          I just don’t know how it could be THAT BAD and yet not grounds for expulsion. That line is SO thin!

          1. Artemesia*

            I was on a committee that heard his appeal at being flunked and having his graduation delayed; I insisted we should expel him and most of the committee agreed. We were overruled by the administration which basically said ‘well on appeal we can’t give him a worse penalty than the department already gave him’ i.e. the flunking, removal from the internship and failure to graduate. They did agree to let him know that the committee not only rejected the appeal but felt the penalty was far too soft.

        2. Kat*

          Was it the intern that confirmed the names of the Air Asia flight that crashed at SFO?

          I know it’s bad, but that still makes me laugh. Who DOES that?

        3. Katie the Fed*

          Make up a new name and tell us in Friday’s thread, ok? Because someone with that poor judgement probably isn’t going to be reading AAM anyway and we NEED to know. We deserve this. We’re good people and we need this.

  5. louise*

    This reminds me of some of the family of origin discussions I’ve seen here in the past. I grew up with parents who modeled that you don’t miss work unless an emergency/must arrive on time and stay awake/how to dress professionally…but if I hadn’t learned that at home, I’d have been at a real disadvantage. I think a lot of businesses would like to get the interns who already know those norms, but I feel like we have a responsibility to society to help people, at the youngest possible opportunity we have access to them, to learn how to be productive citizens and workers and not wring our hands over “kids these days” who don’t come pre-programmed.

    1. Artemesia*

      And if you do this as part of orientation of the interns then you don’t have to deal with it punitively later. It is discouraging to be 20 and meet a series of reprimands for behavior you have never been called on before to exhibit.

      1. Jessa*

        And if it’s standard, they can’t say “you never told me that,” because you, by policy tell every single intern, every single year, the same thing at orientation. Preferably with handouts.

        For instance the calling out policy should be in writing with the phone numbers/emails and names of the specific people they must call on it, what time they must notify by and how that notification should be made – phone, text, email, and if you phone and get voicemail do you need to call a backup number? Must you get a live person?

        One thing used to drive me nuts at any job, was trying to get a list of phone numbers for critical people, and I’m the sort of organised person who goes and makes up such a list if I don’t get one, and lo and behold everyone wants a copy of my list. Because the company couldn’t take five minutes to put one together. Every company I’ve worked for in the last 25 years somewhere is passing around notes, or charts or lists that I’ve made because nobody else thought to do it. Don’t be that company. Give out a phone/contact list.

        My husband right now works in a call centre. It took 3 weeks for him to get back to me with an on site number I could call if there was an emergency. Mostly because they were so disorganised that they did not have the supervisors lined up yet. This kind of information needs to be available on day one. Even if it’s going to change later (IE in training you do this, once you’re in the office/on the call floor/on the factory floor, you do that.)

        1. Nobody*

          Yes, definitely give them a contact list the first day. I once had a new coworker who was less than two weeks into the job when her grandmother died. She didn’t have the phone number of the boss or anyone in the department, and HR (the only contact she had) wasn’t in yet, so she drove 45 minutes to work just to ask for the day off. Now every time a new person starts, I leave a contact list on his or her desk the first day.

        2. Linguist curmudgeon*

          One time at a new job, I got an orientation packet from the department one level higher than my immediate supervisor (and no packet from my supe). Fast forward to a bad snow day, I call in AS DESCRIBED IN THE PACKET (that I’ll be in late, after my street is plowed), and when I get in, my supervisor asks me where the hell I was and why I didn’t call her. I…called the front desk? Like the packet says.

          Ugh. Still have a bad taste from that job’s communication problems.

    2. OriginalEmma*


      Especially when the “kids these days” may come from working class backgrounds where while they are well-prepared to show up on time, follow direction and ask for permission they don’t know how to combat the fatigue of a sit-down meeting. That’s because “falling asleep in a meeting” wasn’t even discussed or modeled by their family members because it’s pretty hard to fall asleep working on your feet as a waitress or construction worker!

      We’ve talked about workplace norm differences between white collar and blue collar jobs, and I think this may be one of them.

      1. Stardust*

        I’m from a working class family and while it wasn’t specifically discussed to not fall asleep during meetings, I certainly knew that it’s rude and disrespectful to nod off while someone else is talking, especially in a business setting (in fact, I am completely baffled why anyone would think this would ever be okay – I mean, that’s just common sense!) although to be fair, I don’t know if anyone in my family ever explicitly said it like that. But I have to say I really do wonder how someone can make it to internship age (I mean, that’s years of exposure too how the world works) and somehow think it’s okay to fall asleep during a meeting, even without specific guidance.

        1. Natalie*

          I doubt any intern thinks it’s actually acceptable, in that they get all comfy in their chair and fall asleep deliberately. It seems way more likely to me that they’ve never developed strategies to not fall asleep in those circumstances, and don’t realize how big of a deal it is that they don’t have those strategies.

        2. Alter_ego*

          yeah, as an ex-intern who fell asleep in a meeting once, I definitely knew it wasn’t okay. It was, however, a very very very boring meeting, during which no information I needed would be conveyed, nor would my input be asked. The room was about 15 degrees colder than everywhere else in the building (ie, the temperature I keep my room when I sleep). It was right at the point in the afternoon where lunch is starting to make me lethargic anyway. I could not. stay. awake. Could not. The problem was only solved by going back to school after the internship was over, and not having had any jobs with a similar setup since then. I knew it was wrong, I promise, but to this day, I don’t know how I would have kept myself awake.

          1. Kate*

            This is what I was thinking after the article. Falling asleep in meetings is definitely not okay, but usually it’s not voluntary, so I feel for the kid … sometimes you just can’t stop yourself!

          2. INTP*

            I’ve done that in lectures in college before. I didn’t want to but in a dark room with theater style seats, I couldn’t always help it.

            That said, most young people I know with energy level problems make voluntary lifestyle choices that contribute – staying up late and/or alcohol and drug use. So I think it can be a professionalism issue even if the sleep itself is totally involuntary. (Obviously there are other reasons someone might get too sleepy to stay awake in some settings, I’m just saying I can see why it would be perceived as a professionalism issue in a general sense. It’s part of your job to show up awake enough to endure boring stuff every day.)

          3. SnoozeBot3000*

            I worked at a temp job once where we were all vying for a few permanent positions (which turned out not to exist, but I digress…) Attendance was one of the criteria that we were being considered upon, which meant that, when I woke up horrifyingly sick one day, I had no real choice but to go into work. I had equally little choice in falling asleep at my desk. Luckily, we were slow that day, and nobody saw!

          4. Anonsie*

            Yeah I don’t think anyone is sleeping ON PURPOSE. I’m going to out myself here, I did fall asleep at work a few times at my first sit-down white collar type job. Each time I was pinching myself under the table and moving around trying to stay awake and I couldn’t freaking fight it.

            I have since had sleep studies done where they’ve found I fall asleep abnormally quickly and easily but no one’s ever figured out why, so I don’t know. Maybe most people have never been trying not to sleep and fallen asleep anyway?

          5. Carpe Librarium*

            Totally happened to me once or twice, too.
            Never even occurred to me until much later that I could have simply excused myself, taken a short walk to the bathroom/kitchen to splash some water on my face or something, and be back in the meeting within 3 minutes.
            Not ideal to walk out of the meeting, but much less disruptive and more productive than sitting there thinking about nothing but trying to keep my eyes open and head upright for the next 20 minutes.
            Now I also make sure I carry a drink into any meetings that fall between 2 and 4 pm – the regular action of sipping on the drink does enough to keep my brain a little more alert.

            1. Stone Satellite*

              Have you considered trying to get at least some meetings switched to stand-ups? Where everyone literally stands up for the entire meeting? We did this for regular status meetings, and now they go much faster with less digression, and no one sleeps.

      2. MegEB*

        That’s a really good point! I come from a pretty white-collar, office job-type family (well, my dad is a teacher, but other than that), but I waited tables for years throughout college and after. Once I landed an office job, I struggled for months with not falling asleep at my desk or during a meeting because I wasn’t used to such a sedentary lifestyle.

      3. INTP*

        And the interns themselves likely have backgrounds in jobs with different requirements than an office. While no call no shows aren’t appreciated anywhere, for ex, they weren’t something that would get you fired at my retail job. And the managers were a lot more micromanage-y and direct about telling you what you were doing wrong, whereas in an office you have to read between the lines more.

    3. Manders*

      Well said! I think some of this confusion might be on the employer’s end too: are they thinking of these people as short-term entry-level workers (who should already know these office norms), or as interns (who are in this program specifically because they don’t know office norms yet and need to learn them)? The letter talks about frustration with having to “police entry-level employees” and that’s not the same thing as training an intern.

      1. MercyMe92*

        Yeah, I feel like nowadays, everybody gets mad at interns and entry-levels for not already knowing everything while conveniently forgetting that this is the exact reason internships exist. I know training new people stinks, but when internships are turning people down because they ‘lack relevant experience’, something’s not right.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m kind of baffled though that the number of unprofessional young folks seems disproportionate to the number of those who, like you said, learn this from early on. And, even if they didn’t have good role ideal at home, didn’t they learn anything while attending school? You have to show up for class on time, turn in your work, etc or there are consequences

      1. Natalie*

        Maybe, maybe not. I just finished a class where I showed up 4 times – first day of class and three exams. There are plenty of classes like that in college, especially if you’re a good test taker.

        1. Manders*

          Yeah, colleges leave it up to professors to enforce consequences for not showing up to class, and some of them don’t penalize students for lateness or absences (or participation is a small enough part of their grade that they can pass while still skipping classes). It’s also considered weird to call your professor if you’re going to be out sick–students usually email or just don’t show up. College classes can teach students some work skills, but they’re not a perfect analogue for the office.

          My high school was a bit stricter about lateness, but the penalties were so mild that a lot of students would show up late anyway, and your parents were supposed to call in if you were sick. My first internship had a flexible start time, so it took me a while to learn the rules for lateness/sick days.

          1. Zillah*

            It’s also considered weird to call your professor if you’re going to be out sick–students usually email or just don’t show up.

            It’s also worth pointing out that there are plenty of work environments where an email (or even a text) to your boss is an acceptable way of saying that you’ll be late/out sick.

            1. Manders*

              Also a good point! Sometimes students are only thinking about black and white rules (Is it against the rules for me to show up late? Do the rules say I have to call in? What’s the penalty for breaking a rule?) and they need to hear “The norm in this office is that you call in if you’re going to be late, and if you’re frequently late or you forget to call in, that will harm your reputation and you might get a worse reference from us.”

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Growing up, I don’t remember specific lessons about workplace norms. But I did absorb a (working class in an economically depressed city) basic attitude about work – if you’re one of the lucky few that actually has a job, you need to be damn grateful and work your ass off no matter how awful it is.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          I should also add, this attitude has been a curse as well, especially after moving to a new city and gaining more education and experience. I put up with a lot of crappy conditions that I should of walked away from.

    5. Cheddar2.0*

      Interesting point. Growing up, my dad owned his own (very small) company and had a very flexible schedule. In undergrad I was lucky enough to get part-time jobs where I could set my hours (tutoring, usually), so I struggled A LOT with learning to follow someone else’s schedule when I began working full time.

  6. OriginalEmma*

    Oof, can I confess to nodding off in a meeting once as an intern?

    Lots of these issues Alison already covered beautifully. However, going from a piecemeal schedule composed of classes and part-time work with down time in-between to a full 8-hour work day is a serious change for young adults. When I first started interning and working, it was a struggle to stay awake and be consistently “on” for that many hours. Especially doing work that isn’t as dynamic, engaging and differing as school work. But it’s a habit you learn just like any other.

    It definitely requires habit changes that precede the workday and it’s up to OP whether or not they want to go the extra mile to say “Look, working a full 8-hour day is more strenuous than a few hours a day of part-time work or classwork. Here are some strategies that worked for me to make the transition: consistent sleep, exercise, etc.” It might a kindness, depending on how involved OP wants to be, to offer this sort of advice beyond the typical advice re: workplace norms. Because “You can’t fall asleep in meetings” isn’t helpful if the intern doesn’t know what workplace-appropriate strategies to develop to combat that (e.g., taking notes, excusing yourself to take a quick walk, etc.).

    1. Colette*

      I would hesitate to tell them how to accomplish staying awake in meetings – that’s the intern’s problem. (There could be any number of issues there, and the manager is not a doctor.) The manager’s job is to set the bar, it’s the employees responsibility to figure out how to meet it.

      1. Robles*

        But it behooves a manager to help with the how when they can. If you have information that might be helpful, keeping it secret isn’t helping anyone. I’d agree that “how not to fall asleep in meetings” isn’t something a manager should coach over and over again, but a quick email with tips allows the manager to not only call it out, but gives the intern the fuzzy feeling that their manager actually cares about their success.

        1. Colette*

          Most adults are able to figure out why they’re tired and how to stay awake on their own, though, and I think providing guidance on that can come across as condescending, not apply to the intern, or possibly even cause problems (“But I’ve gotten more sleep and tried to take notes! It’s not my fault I fell asleep, so you can’t hold it against me!”)

          If this were a specific work skill, I’d agree the manager should think about what guidance is appropriate, but “stay awake” is something everyone needs to figure out on their own.

          1. Anonsie*

            The exception I can see is letting them know what they can do if they feel like it’s going to be an issue, like excusing yourself to the rest room to get up and try to wake up, or standing in the back of the room (if it’s a meeting where that would make sense to do). They might feel like they have to just sit there and fight it and don’t realize that a lot of people get sleepy in long meetings and it’s not usually frowned upon to try to move around to stay alert.

      2. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

        I don’t think it hurts to provide a “this is what works for me” push in the right direction. It at least gives them a starting point in trying things to see what does work for them. This is not “open heart surgery” these are basic pieces of advice that most people recognize is needed in order to be fully functioning…eat healthy, get plenty of rest, exercise. It doesn’t have to be prescribed by a doctor.

        1. Colette*

          But the manager doesn’t know the intern isn’t already doing that. (Maybe they have a sleep disorder or another health problem. Maybe what works for the manager (who drinks 7 cups of coffee every morning) won’t work for the intern who doesn’t.

          In general, adults already know they need to eat healthy, rest, and exercise – it’s not like this is secret information the intern can only get from their manager.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the best employees I ever had fell asleep his first day. I was very unhappy with him and explained it couldn’t happen again. He apologized profusely and embarrassingly told me he’d met a girl the night before and they stayed up late talking and before he knew it the sun was coming up and it was time for his first day at work.

      Anyway – he ended up being one of my smartest, hardest working employees and I’m glad I let it slide. And the girl? I was a guest at their wedding – it was a great story they told that night :)

        1. Katie the Fed*

          It would have been a very different outcome if hadn’t been so sincerely mortified. I’m a softie :)

  7. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

    “you’re expected to be here every day, on time, except if you’re sick or you’ve cleared it with me ahead of time”

    “if you’re not able to come in, please call and let us know before 9 a.m.”

    “you need to call with that message, not text it,”

    “please keep the use of social networking sites to a minimum during the day”

    I suppose I agree that it’s worth stating these things at the beginning of the internship but I can understand OPs point that this should be basic knowledge at this point in the interns lives. I find it odd that these are considered “office” skills and not basic “life” skills. These are all rules that kids are required to follow throughout all their schooling (with the exception of calling in for college classes), and probably umpteen social events they’ve attended throughout their lives. They have presumably been modeled this behavior by their parents and other adults as well.

    I believe it’s happening, but I really find it sad that young adults haven’t figured out that they need to be on time and pay attention to their responsibilities. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to some solid reasoning that makes this acceptable or understandable? (Psychological / developmental reasons?) Because I’m missing it. Perhaps because I was never like this, even as an intern, and neither were my siblings or most of my friends. These skills were taught to me throughout my whole life and I definitely didn’t need my employers to tell me to be on time.

    1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

      I feel I should add that I wasn’t trying to be snarky, I’m just genuinely surprised and genuinely interested to understand why this is happening.

      1. JennG*

        Hey, long-time reader, first time commenter.

        Part of the original goal of an internship, at least in my understanding, is to provide a kind of class leveler. Yes, upper-middle-class kids with proactive parents may well be aware of all the standards of office behaviour, but kids who come from families where parents work in other kinds of jobs or who haven’t been explicitly given guidance may not be aware of those expectations. Sure, you have to show up to class on time because the class starts on time, but at a desk job it may _look_ like showing up on time is not critical.

        I’ve worked with a bunch of interns and although you get some crazy stories from every socioeconomic bracket, as an overall trend I would say the interns that were least office-aware were basically class-jumping; they came from single-parent working-class families or were making a career move that was wildly off whatever the family path was. To me that’s actually one of the biggest values of an internship; it should provide explicit mentoring and immediate, blunt feedback.

        Whether the interns then apply the information though, is kind of up to them. I’ve fired interns too. I have some wild stories…the intern who slept at her desk despite being asked not to; the intern who cut her hair in the bathroom and then asked her supervisor to trim the edges up for her; the intern who was late, whose work was abysmal, and who asked me every day when she would be hired; the intern who made herself business cards and attended industry events as a staff member….

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

          <blockquote.but kids who come from families where parents work in other kinds of jobs or who haven’t been explicitly given guidance may not be aware of those expectations

          This is what surprises me actually. Usually it’s those jobs where the employees have an even higher expectation of showing up on time, calling in appropriately (with notice), not sleeping on the job, and not doing non-work activities on the job.

          And to be clear, I’m specifically talking about the things I quoted. I completely understand that young adults, of any demographic, wouldn’t be fully versed on office specific expectations. However, these things are not office exclusive.

          1. Natalie*

            That rigidity is actually the problem, IMO. Employees in that environment never learn discretion (in the “figure out what is appropriate” sense, not the privacy sense). If you can’t even have your cell phone in your pocket while on the clock, because your managers trust you that little*, you’ll never develop an internal sense of how much internetting at work is too much.

            *Which suggests to me they don’t remotely trust their own companies’ polices and their own ability to manage,

            1. Jessa*

              Well I know at least one company (my husband works there) that used to be pretty lax about cell phones in the call centre, until they found one employee took a picture at work and you could read the screen behind them. The screen with the HIPAA protected information on it.

              Now, no phones ever. Which is an issue for people when there are not a lot of calls, because no playing a game or reading a book.

              No using your phone for an alarm to let you know when your break is. This is my thing, I need alarms to remind me of stuff. I’d go up a wall if I didn’t have my 15 minute break timer, I’d work through my breaks if I didn’t have an alarm that goes off to remind me. Luckily if I worked there I still own a Palm Pilot (no phone, no wifi, so probably safe for using for an alarm clock.)

              And it was not because they didn’t trust people, it was because someone they trusted screwed up so royally that there could never, ever, ever be a potential repeat of it.

          2. JennG*

            Yeah, I see what you’re saying…it’s still my experience though. I could speculate on reasons like having bought into TV-versions of white-collar work or that parents have said things like “go to school so you don’t have to punch a clock,” but I’m really not sure.

          3. Lyssa*

            Usually it’s those jobs where the employees have an even higher expectation of showing up on time, calling in appropriately (with notice), not sleeping on the job, and not doing non-work activities on the job.

            That’s what I was thinking, too. I remember when I started my first office job being *amazed* at how loosey-goosey people seemed to treat things like this. I recall the woman who was training me saying, mid-morning “Hey, let’s go get coffee!” and being completely flabbergasted that you could just up and leave the office and walk to another location to get coffee without even asking the boss. (I was truly worried that she was doing something wrong and I could get into trouble for going along with it.)

            But I guess Natalie’s point about the rigidity (as opposed to learning to use your own judgment) makes a lot of sense, too.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              This is right along the lines of what I was thinking. I would have thought that the interns would have been more rigid at first because of the rigid structure of school and that generally kids don’t get to do much decision making on how they manage their day.

              I could actually buy the argument that those who come for privileged backgrounds may be more loosey-goosey because they are a bit more spoiled (so-to-speak) and have actually seen their parents in working situations that afford them a lot of flexibility. But I still wouldn’t believe that those kids really don’t know that timeliness is important.

              1. Natalie*

                It’s like an exo-skeleton, I think – the minute the incredibly rigid rules are taken away, the whole thing kind of collapses.

                It’s also important to note that no one is saying these behavior are universal for interns. Just more common.

            2. Kelly L.*

              Yes! I went from food service/retail to office work and was just mindblown by getting to just go off and get coffee, or be a couple of minutes late back from lunch without a chewing-out, or even getting to use the restroom without permission.

      2. FuzzyFuzz*

        I completely agree with you. I would have been offended if a boss had told me this stuff at the beginning of an internship.

      3. Anonsie*

        You don’t know what you haven’t seen before, even if it seems like it should translate. Things like notifying your workplace when you need to be out vary a lot, too. Some places expect a call by a specific time, some places by your start time, some places emails or texts are preferred, all kinds of things. An intern is not going to have enough varied experience to know which way to go without being told explicitly.

        Actually, I think the fact that a lot of people at that level may have had just one specific type of experience before could be a big contributor here. They worked somewhere X was ok so they just assume X is ok all the time. A lot of student jobs, for example, allow you to do homework or whatever personal things in your down time, so if that’s their previous work experience then being on their phone whenever there’s a lull would feel perfectly ok.

    2. OriginalEmma*

      Did you grow up in a white collar household where these behaviors were explicitly or implicitly encouraged and modeled? Where your mom might have griped “Ugh, Podrick showed up late AGAIN! I’m going to talk to him about this today because this is getting ridiculous,” or “Sandor really needs to stop texting me 5 minutes before opening that he’s sick. He knows the policy.” That might explain your confusion.

      Otherwise, I don’t see a problem with laying out exactly how communications should occur in the workplace. It’s pretty basic for a company to explain how and when to call in sick, their computer/security policies and their flexibility or lack thereof regarding start times.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        I certainly don’t have a problem with it being laid out. I just found it surprising that it was that big of an issue.

        Yes, I did grow up in a white collar household. However the first 10 years of my career was spent doing outreach to under served neighborhoods that were full of minorities. While I agree that the experience is vastly different and they are not afforded the same luxuries and quality of education as others, my experience has been that these differences have actually instilled a greater sense of responsibility than I’ve seen from more privileged individuals.

        1. JennG*

          With many of the interns I’ve worked with who needed explicit instruction, it wasn’t a lack of responsibility overall. It was more either not understanding the norms, or not knowing how to overcome a roadblock. For example, you’re sick so you take a day off–no problem. But does your deadline a few days away move in response? In a desk job generally not unless you flag it.

          1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            And I completely agree that that is a lesson that would need to be learned on the job. I was speaking more specifically about the general notion of calling in sick, not being late, not falling asleep, which are pretty basic rules to follow.

        2. LQ*

          I don’t know that it is a lack of responsibility, more like not having the tools to understand how to deal with things. If the most important thing is that I show up to work on time every day then I’m not even going to bother showing up at all if I’m going to be 2 minutes late after spending 2 hours on busing and transferring.

          Also a sense that there are no second chances, if I can’t make it on time it’s not even worth it to call and say I’ll be late because I only get one shot to prove myself.

          I didn’t grow up in a white collar house and I worked with minorities for the first chunk of my career. I remember being completely paralized before my first day of work when I didn’t know what the dress code would be. (It wasn’t the location I’d interviewed at.) I called and asked (yeah I was that stupid) I had no idea how to handle it though, and my parents couldn’t help if I’d asked them. I really didn’t know what to do. So yeah, the more times you can not go how can you not understand and instead help someone understand the better.

          1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            I can absolutely see your point here but this isn’t exactly what I meant. These are more shades of gray that take fine tuning. Hard and fast don’t be late, don’t fall asleep on people, etc. rules are usually understood. How to handle all the variations and different situations is absolutely something you learn with experience.

            1. Elsajeni*

              I actually would guess, though, that the issues in the letter are mostly these kinds of nuances, rather than just total ignorance or irresponsibility. Whether your way of calling in registers as “last-minute,” for example, encompasses a lot of questions about how and when to get in touch if you’re not going to make it in and under what circumstances (how sick you are, how bad the weather is, etc.) it’s okay to decide you aren’t coming in; same for how, whether, and when to get in touch if you’re going to be late getting to work. And I doubt the intern who fell asleep during a meeting didn’t know that was rude, but I completely believe that he didn’t know how to handle apologizing for a big, embarrassing screw-up like falling asleep in a meeting and fumbled around making excuses and making himself look worse.

          2. EvaR*

            Yeah. Basically that has been my experience. It is really hard to know if there is a little bit of smoke or if the bridge is on fire. I keep expecting the bridge to be not there when I look. Is being a few minutes late when you are usually early a big deal? If I show up half an hour early because I don’t know how long the bus will take, should I read in the breakroom or hide out next door? If I don’t have anything to wear for an interview when it’s unexpectedly 90 degrees, should I wear a jacket and look weird and maybe smell or should I wear a plain short sleeved cotton shirt? Maybe I should just not show up.

            1. LQ*

              That maybe I should just not show up I heard so often and felt plenty myself. It can be so hard to get past.

              And all this is assuming that there aren’t issues like childcare, parental care, etc that are happening that someone who is new to either/both the workforce and or caring has to learn how to manage at the same time. That’s an entire skillset and people assume that people get to learn how to care for elderly parents or small children after they’ve gotten used to dealing with the workforce when that isn’t always the case.

        3. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

          If you did outreach to under served communities, then you should also be aware that there are some households that weren’t even considered “blue collar”. They either didn’t or couldn’t maintain steady jobs or just decided to not work at all. So this is the environment some kids are born into and what is considered “normal” to them. Given this, yes, they do need someone to break down the rules that many take for granted. I see it all the time with the students in my husband’s classes in community college.

          1. LauraLoo*

            Or they’re a part of jobs that aren’t considered blue or white collar, such as seasonal or migrant work. Maybe they have multiple jobs plus a home business that serves the community. The point is that there are lots of ways to earn a living that wouldn’t teach you about “professional corporate behavior” as it’s generally accepted in the US. You’re more likely to learn it from television.

          2. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            Yes, I shouldn’t have used the term blue collar. I realize there are many levels here. But also, we are talking about interns. Most interns are interns as part of a college program. I don’t think it necessarily follows that most interns, or even many, are 17 year olds with absolutely no education, whose parents are migrant workers or unable to maintain steady employment. Sadly, most of those kids don’t even go to college and they educational system is so poor and fails them so much that they may not even know financial aid is an option.

            I feel it’s important to make that distinction. This thread is about interns, not about the legitimate disadvantages that many under served communities face. As such, my comments were geared towards the knowledge that I anticipated most interns would have.

            1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

              Sorry, but I was the first person in my family to go to and graduate from college. My mom worked for a large telecom company, but also managed to take off months at a time. (How did she do that?) I have several family members that don’t work and live off the government (How do they do that?) Because I was an “A” student in school, some people took my hand and led me to programs that taught me (in formal classes) how to work in corporate America (thanks INROADS). I started my first internship BEFORE my freshman year of college. So this easily WOULD have been me if not for the program and the classes, because before then I saw that one could get away with a lot and still survive in this world.

            2. Anonsie*

              I think that’s the issue, though, anticipating a certain background in anyone who’s coming in on the ground floor. Yes, most people like that don’t go to college and don’t intern. I was the only one of the kids I grew up with who did. But education has historically been seen as the biggest way for people from a disadvantaged background to improve their station, so you definitely have a lot of young people coming out of places like this trying to take the same route as everyone else to get a better lot. It pays to give people the benefit of the doubt.

              I did have a lot of frustrating moments when I was a student and an intern where I knew I was being side-eyed but I wasn’t sure why, and asking about it was interpreted as arguing and being bratty. There were many times I wished I could have just yelled “I’m not an asshole, I genuinely don’t know what’s wrong here! Please just explain it to me, I don’t WANT to be wrong!”

    3. Colette*

      If you’re used to sleeping in or skipping classes at will, it’s an adjustment to have to show up reliably at an internship – particularly if you think of it as another class.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        Sure, I understand that it could be a change. What I don’t understand is them not knowing they need to change. Perhaps its more an issue of not caring?

        1. nona*

          They don’t know they need to change if nobody tells them and they don’t have previous experience/education to work with.

          1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            I guess I didn’t express my thoughts clearly in my original post, but I’m really speaking about the very specific notion that a young adult doesn’t understand that punctuality is important in any context whatsoever, especially in terms of work or school. If you are really telling me that there are some people who get through all 18 years of life without being told that they should be on time to things then I am even more shocked and I guess more ignorant that I ever would have thought.

            And I guess kind of jerky. I’m usually the one arguing about the disadvantages that minorities and low-income communities have by comparison to white collar, middle class people (because most of the time the people I’m arguing with don’t believe there ARE disadvantages, which I consider to be incredibly ignorant). I’m a bit sad to think I might have a touch of that myself. Though I do feel that these disadvantaged communities deserve more credit here. I just don’t believe that they are not modeling responsible behavior to their children by and large.

            1. JennG*

              I’ve really appreciated your thoughts in this thread.

              I don’t think it’s a question of over-reaching “responsibility” though; I think that paints it as a very black-and-white issue where yah, it’s not fair to say that kids who come from working-class or poor backgrounds have parents who have never modeled “responsibility.”

              I really think it’s more about some interns not knowing how to structure their time/communicate/figure out norms/focus on a job that may look like school…and that might result in lateness issues. Just because someone’s late doesn’t make them irresponsible in all ways forever. I was thinking how we model “on time” for my kids, and it’s actually more about the fact that you can’t be late for martial arts or you miss the class, and so on, than my husband’s and my jobs where we actually have flexibility on our start time…so we may be modeling backwards!

              That said, before my kids start an internship (if they do) I will tell them look, be on time, listen, smarten up.

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                First, thanks. :)

                Second, yeah I can really see your point. I guess I was taking the rules at their most literal. I completely understand that they need to be taught all the nuances, I was just thinking about the general concept of being on time and not falling asleep through meetings, which I was astounded to hear wasn’t simply understood. I’m definitely not astounded to hear that all the little “what if’s” about that are not understood.

            2. Kara*

              I think painting this as a disadvantaged vs. advantaged issue is the wrong approach, because while some of it might be due to that, I think most of what you’re confused about, Holly, isn’t.

              I am going to take a wild stab and say that you’re not a Millennial – or at least if you are, you’re an older Millennial?

              In my experience a lot of kids (and I use kids in the sense of new to the workforce, late teens/early twenties) simply have never been asked to be 100% spot on time. I don’t know of a single event that I’ve been to in the last 10 years – whether it’s a movie, a meeting, a wedding, a karate class, or even a workday that has started on time. The concept that 5-10 mins late is ok or even “on time” is not just common, it’s accepted.

              I’ll be honest, even in my office, people are given a lot of flexibility in their arrival and departure times. Officially my “log on” time is 9 a.m. (I work remotely). Some mornings I log on at 8:50. Some mornings I log on at 9:05. It all depends on what’s on my calendar for the day. I still prefer to be early rather than late, but no one in my office cares if I’m 5-10 mins late as long as I’m not expected to be at a meeting and as long I get my job done on time.

              As a mid-40s person who had “if you’re not 5 mins early, you’re late” drilled into my head my entire life, it was a hard adjustment for me to make. But if every situation I was in … all my classes, my other jobs, etc. were the same way? I probably would assume it was pretty normal and not sweat it.

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                Well, I didn’t paint it as a disadvantaged vs. advantaged thing. Other people did, so I responded to it. I actually don’t believe that that is an excuse and I started thinking that maybe I was being ignorant because other seemed to believe it was. I thought maybe I was missing something.

                To your other points, I mostly agree. I can see this point of view. I’m not a millennial (late-30s) but I have a sibling who is and I can honestly say that she was not like this either, nor were her friends. That’s not to say that I have never witnessed a clueless teenager or young adult. Over all, I do believe they are pretty clueless and genuinely give them a lot of slack, because they are young. On this particular point I found it odd, but with the way you phrased it I see what you mean about never being asked to be spot on time.

            3. Colette*

              There are adults who struggle with being on time, or who don’t think it’s important, and those adults sometimes have kids. If you’ve spent your entire life being late, being on time may not be something you value or know how to do. Alternatively, if your parents were overly focused on being on time (to the point of always being extremely early), you might decide that that’s not something you want to repeat and err on the side of being late.

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                But even in these cases people know that they should be on time. The question wasn’t about telling interns how to be on time, just that they should be. I’m not arguing that some of these skills need to be developed. Just that I find it surprising that interns don’t know that they should be on time.

                1. Colette*

                  But why would they know that, if it’s never been important before? If “event starts at 9” means you leave the house at 9, it might not occur to you that other people have different expectations.

                  Growing up, my aunt was always late. If they were coming to my grandparents’ for lunch at noon, they’d get there at 12:30. They didn’t miss lunch, because my grandmother would feed them when they got there. Basically, she’d expect that whatever was going on would wait for her to arrive, because that’s what happened. Why would a job be different?

                  (I mean, a job can be different, but if you’re always late and there are no consequences, you don’t see a problem with being late.)

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  People can “know” things and never act on what they know.

                  If I had a dime for every time, I heard “Yeah, I know”, I would wealthy-wealthy.

                  Matter of fact, I had to develop a response to “yeah, I know”. I started saying, “Well it seems to me that if you knew that, then you would be doing it. Since you are not doing it, I can only assume you do not know you are supposed to do it.” I even had the opportunity to develop toned down versions of the same thing, when the situation called for a softer, more informative type of approach. sigh.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  ” Just that I find it surprising that interns don’t know that they should be on time.”

                  It could be me, but I find that at least 50% of people I have worked with need some coaching about the basics of how to hold on to a job. It’s really not tied to age, either.

                  Personally, I never learned any of this stuff as a kid. My parents did not believe in teaching and they felt that my teachers in school should take care of “all this stuff”. I grew up in a white collar family. Looking back on it I think my parents lacked the words/phrasing to explain some things. If you don’t see others talking about their jobs then you don’t learn how to express yourself. This maybe what happened with my folks.

                  I think the best approach is to assume that each person has some gaps somewhere. As Alison says, lay it all out before they start working so that they know the boundaries and what is expected. One can target the common mistakes such as tardiness and absences, etc.. There is no real way to prevent the weird one-of-a-kind behaviors.

            4. nona*

              Oh, I agree about punctuality. It’s a little looser in school, but not that hard to figure out that when your manager wants you at work at nine, you get there by nine. And you’re not being ignorant or jerky imo; just missing that people who grew up without certain professional norms are going to need to learn somehow, and it might be during an internship.

      2. Robles*

        For real. I skipped classes all the time in college without there being much consequence. And really, on this blog we talk a lot about how being 5 minutes late shouldn’t matter for most jobs…. if you go about thinking that that’s the expectation, when the reality is that, with interns, they’re looking for a much more stringent sticking-to-the-rules than they are with regular employees, it can create some confusion and/or feel like an invitation to slide (and if you’re not called out on the slide, you’ve basically been given permission, and then it’s like a game of chicken where you figure out how much you can slide without your manager calling you out on it)…

        Can you tell I’ve been around some interns?

        1. the_scientist*

          This is another good point. In most settings, there are rules, and there are “rules”. As a student, sure you’re supposed to be on time for class because you might miss announcements and it’s kinda rude to walk in late, but if your lecture is 400 or 500 people, the worst the prof can do is make a snarky comment- they don’t know your name, generally, and aren’t grading your assignments (that’s what TAs are for) so there are few to no actual consequences for being late.

          Likewise in an office, there are all sorts of “rules” and I think interns might often make assumptions about rules that are ultimately incorrect. Example: officially, everyone is supposed to start at 9, but Intern Bob sees Full-time entry-level employee Jane sneaking in at 9:20, so Bob assumes it’s NBD to be a few minutes late. But the reality is that Jane has cleared this with her manager because of daycare drop-off time, or she’s just earned the privilege by being a stellar employee. An intern doesn’t have the life experience or office experience yet to pick up on that nuance and read the situation correctly.

    4. Natalie*

      They may not actually be held to similar rules in college. Work-study jobs are often pretty flexible and it’s totally fine to do homework or hang on Facebook when you don’t have a specific task to do. I’m over 30 but back in school with undergrads, and I’ve seen more than one classmate fall asleep with no mention from a professor.

    5. Koko*

      I’m pretty sure I took way more than 10 sick days a year when I was in high school. And my mom was the one who called me out sick – school didn’t let students call themselves out. I vaguely remember how frustrated my mom was that I missed so much school for nondescript stomach-related complaints and spent all day playing video games and watching TV in bed, but I was making good grades and she was a single working mom and I think she chalked it up to a “pick your battles” eventually.

      Definitely nothing in my high school background would have prepared me for the notion that no, you cannot in fact have vague illnesses that cause you to miss school/work several days a month.

      And social media wasn’t a thing when I was in school, but I imagine if I saw older people with jobs posting on Facebook during the workday it would lead me to believe I could use Facebook at work, too.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        Definitely nothing in my high school background would have prepared me for the notion that no, you cannot in fact have vague illnesses that cause you to miss school/work several days a month.

        Ok, I can totally see this point. There is a distinction between the level of illness you are expected to have before calling in. When I was in high school I missed way more than 10 days too. But I still understood that I wasn’t supposed to and that my grades (performance) would suffer and that my teachers wouldn’t be too pleases with me (reputation).

        And social media wasn’t a thing when I was in school, but I imagine if I saw older people with jobs posting on Facebook during the workday it would lead me to believe I could use Facebook at work, too.

        Very true that social media wasnt a thing when I was a kid. But having been involved in education for many years I’m fairly confident that rules surrounding use of social media in schools are actively discussed with students at this point.

        1. a*

          I’m 19. At my high school, use of cell phones/laptops was pretty strictly regulated. It was essentially “Don’t let anyone see you with a cell phone during school hours.”

          However, in college, a lot of professors don’t care at all whether the students are texting or on Facebook during class. Of course this will vary across universities, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of students actually aren’t used to the idea that it isn’t allowed. Even in high school, where things were stricter, no one ever explicitly told us that it was considered unprofessional or rude, just that cell phones are not allowed in school.

          Personally, I’ve always thought it was obvious that it was professional to give your work your full attention, but the professionalism of using social media wasn’t actively discussed.

      2. Allison*

        “And social media wasn’t a thing when I was in school, but I imagine if I saw older people with jobs posting on Facebook during the workday it would lead me to believe I could use Facebook at work, too.”

        Basically. People take their cues from those around them. When I saw that my boss often had Facebook tabbed on his browser, I figured it would be okay if I did too – although I don’t, I access it on my phone, just in case.

        I’d like to think that if my manager, or any of my superiors, felt I was goofing or slacking off at work, they’d tell me I needed to stop and focus on my work, rather than just fire me for it without any warning. I know the latter is legal, but it’s unreasonable to send someone packing without any prior indication that there was an issue with their performance.

      3. lowercase holly*

        we failed classes in high school (public school in FL) if we missed more than 10 classes without a documented reason. 3 tardies (coming in after the bell) equaled an absence. so there are definitely school districts that begin teaching this sort of thing early.

        i also remember most teachers not being cool with sleeping in class.

        college classes varied. some had attendence policies, some did not. some were offended by sleepers, some figured you were paying for it so it was your waste of money. but finding a job that will pay YOU to sleep? that would be amazing.

        1. Koko*

          We had the same policy for unexcused absences, but the only “excuse” you needed was that your parent or guardian called to say you weren’t coming in. An unexcused absence was more like you just skipped school and didn’t show up and nobody called you in.

          Not only did my mom call me in sick several times, my “father” (actually a male friend) also called me in sick a lot, so I was frequently absent but none of them were unexcused.

          1. lowercase holly*

            i think the thing that would be learned more from our policy was about being late.

        2. Allison*

          At the university I attended, the English department automatically un-enrolled people from courses after 3 unexcused absences. My guess was people were majoring in English because they wanted something “easy” so they could coast through school, and the English department wanted to discourage that. In a similar vein, you needed a minimum GPA to major in Communications, and my guess was you needed to maintain it as well. Again, probably discouraging people from declaring it just because it was “easy.”

          1. Lindsay J*

            Mine didn’t unenroll us, just failed us. And the only excused absences were illness accompanied by a doctor’s note, car trouble with evidence (a police report for an accident, a bill for mechanical work etc) or the death of a close family member (accompanied by evidence like an obituary, death certificate, etc). Being unenrolled would have been preferable for my GPA.

    6. Alter_ego*

      Hell, I’ve been at my job for 3 years, and I would need to be told all of these things, except for the first, I guess. At my current job, there’s no official start time. People typically show up between 5:30AM and 10:30 AM, but people don’t show up at the same time every day, nor is it expected of them, or necessary. We tend to email if we’re going to be out sick, it would never occur to me to call. If I texted, it would also probably not be an issue, it’s just easier to send one email to the several people who need to know I’m gone. We don’t really care if people check facebook and such during the day. We’re all salaried, and we all have hard deadlines that we’re good about keeping. If you want to stay until 6:30 instead of leaving at 6 because you spent 30 cumulative minutes on facebook during the day, no one will blink an eye at that.

      When/if I switch jobs, I will of course look for somewhere with similarly lax practices, but if I can’t find one, then I would really really appreciate being told off the bat exactly how strict the restrictions are. Because plenty of stuff that is fine at my job is probably an issue elsewhere.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        Really? You would need to be told not to fall asleep in a meeting or goof off on social media all day after 3 years on the job?

        The other things are company culture. The first time you called in sick you probably wondered how you should do it and/or had already figured it out by watching what others did.

        1. Alter_ego*

          you didn’t mention falling asleep in a meeting, and, no, I wouldn’t expect to be told that. But you said “keep social media use to a minimum”. What does that mean? Can I check facebook on my lunch break? I can I take a 15 minute brain break every 2 hours, sometimes involving facebook? Can I check my phone when I hear a personal email come in, and respond to as necessary? Can I chat with a friend on facebook as I’m working, throughout the day? “Don’t be on facebook 100% of the time from 8 AM until 5 PM accomplishing nothing else at all” is a pretty easy standard to assume, but the rest of it? It needs to be spelled out.

          The first time I emailed in sick, I didn’t wonder about it. I’m still not sure what the issue with email would be, but I just assumed it would be fine, and if it wasn’t, it would definitely have to have been spelled out.
          And yeah, they’re all workplace norms. That’s why they need to be spelled out. Because if someone is coming from someplace with different workplace norms, they’re not going to know what your workplace norms are. That was my point.

          1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            You are right. I didn’t mention falling asleep in a meeting. I thought I had quoted it but I didn’t. My mistake.

    7. Anon Accountant*

      Me too. My first job was a grocery store cashier and it was clear no call/no show was grounds for firing unless there was a very good reason as to why. In the years I worked there we had a few meetings to review new store rules or state laws regulating tobacco sales, etc. and if you fell asleep you would have had a very stern talking to at a minimum.

      I find it surprising that the interns didn’t have these basic behaviors ingrained in them. Didn’t they hold jobs before where this wasn’t acceptable? Did they think the internship was going to be more tolerant of such behavior? I’m not understanding.

        1. Windchime*

          And I think this is where the disconnect is. I had jobs in high school where it absolutely mattered whether or not I was on time. Mine weren’t desk jobs, so there was no possibility of falling asleep on the job since I was on my feet and active while at work. But apparently a lot of these interns don’t have previous work experience, so I think it’s only fair (as others are saying) to lay out those expectations for the interns when they first start. Especially since being on time (or even showing up at all) isn’t an expectation for their classes.

      1. Koko*

        There’s not a ton of overlap in the Venn Diagram of people who get their first job before graduating college and people who can financially afford an unpaid/barely paid internship. It’s usually either one – you need money, so you start working while you’re in school and you can’t afford to spend 20 hours unpaid at an internship – or the other – you’re comfortably financially supported by your family and have had no need or motive to find work until you’re ready to begin your career.

    8. nona*

      Did you learn from your family growing up? I can’t explain for anyone else, but I can use myself as an example.

      My dad didn’t like talking about work, so I didn’t grow up hearing about the everyday parts of his job. My mom is a small business owner and most professional norms aren’t related to her job: the schedule’s flexible, she works alone, she wears what she wants, customers prefer texting over calls, social networking is fine, etc. Going into my first internship, I had the norms I’d learned in school and some advice I read online.

      1. Windchime*

        My parents were both blue collar as well. My mom worked seasonally, but she was absolutely on time — it was required, since she worked on what was basically a factory line and they couldn’t start the line until everyone was there. Same thing for my dad; he worked at the post office and being on time was required. So I guess I automatically knew that I had to be on time for work. But if my parents where white collar with flexible schedules, then I can see where a person might not understand the importance of punctuality.

    9. the_scientist*

      As others have said, a lot of what you were taught as a child depends on your socioeconomic background. Not all kids have been raised in an environment where these kinds of life skills are modeled, and not all kids will have white-collar parents. While school should be a stopgap of sorts, it isn’t always (sometimes overwhelmed public school teachers just can’t add anything more to their workload! Also, my high school- a highly ranked public school- had a policy that teachers weren’t allowed to deduct marks on late assignments, for some reason, so sometimes policy contradicts common sense and judgement and precludes teachers from imparting meaningful lessons about deadlines, punctuality, etc.).

      Also, last-minute calling out sick is common in retail and food service environments, as is reactive behaviour (i.e. standing waiting for someone to tell you what to do, as opposed to proactively seeking additional work), so even interns who have a bit of work experience will have experience with norms that don’t align to a white-collar office environment. Speaking of proactive work, most students wouldn’t ever seek out extra credit assignments; they turn in their homework and move on to work for the next class. It’s a weird thing to suddenly realize that you’re expected to check in with your boss because they might be too busy to check in on you or monitor you closely.

      Finally, the post-secondary environment is really insular and it’s 1) a tough transition to the working world and 2) easy to lose touch with outside norms. In post-secondary education, professors don’t take attendance (generally) and in large classes you’re not going to get called out for being late. You’re largely left to your own devices and expected to manage your own schedule and the general flexibility of this environment means it can be a real shock to land in a rigid “be here at the same time, every single day” environment.

      Honestly, I was always like “wtf, this isn’t hard” and then I supervised work-study students for a while (so usually between 2nd and 4th year) and whoooo boy it is shocking how little they know. I mean, think of how useless you were on the first day of your new job, and then multiply that by like 10000, and that’s what student workers are usually like.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Uh the calling out at last minute in food service and retail jobs may be common, but I’m my experience that was in turn reflected on your schedule – the flakey people would get less and/or undesirable shifts, not get the good, busy stations etc

        1. Lindsay J*

          This. Or just fired outright. In my experience, food service and retail are much stricter with call-outs (and requiring documentation of call-0uts) than most white collar jobs. It leads to a lot of employee turnover, but it’s there.

          Most food service and retail jobs I had I was also absolutely expected to be proactive. If I didn’t look busy at every moment I would be reprimanded. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “If you have time to lean you have time to clean,” and similar.

      2. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        As others have said, a lot of what you were taught as a child depends on your socioeconomic background. Not all kids have been raised in an environment where these kinds of life skills are modeled, and not all kids will have white-collar parents.

        I never implied that all kids were raised by white-collar parents or come from the same socioeconomic background. I never implied that because my point was that I don’t think it matters. There are parents who do and don’t model these things across all socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s not a class thing. I don’t think it’s fair to say that disadvantaged people are not learning life skills from anyone. They still go to school and are exposed to many adults and situations throughout their lives that model expected behavior.

        I also worked for a decade in under-served communities and these kids were often told to get anywhere they needed to be better, do better, act better than other people, because there is a bias against them from the start. Now did they all do that? No. But they did know what the expectations were. That was very clear. You want to tell me it’s an impulse control issue, that it has to do with stages of development, that they need to learn the finer nuances of adulthood and the working world, or even that the culture that is part of some of the lower socioeconomic areas encourages particular behaviors, I agree with you. But I don’t agree that young adults coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds don’t *know* or have never been taught these things. They are not stupid. They understand what is expected of them to make it in life, perhaps better than anyone, because its that much harder for them. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is, and I believe most people from these communities have a very firm grasp of these realities. What they choose to do with that knowledge is a different story.

        1. Robles*

          It’s not that they universally don’t know. It’s that they’re more likely to not know. It’s that there are obviously people who don’t know because we see them every day; there are examples all over AAM. And these are not just cases where you fire them and ignore the problem; we also see tons of example on AAM of people who are high-performing and successful who did things like fall asleep in meetings when they were an intern.

          You can choose to believe it’s not true, or *shouldn’t* be true, as much as you want, but the fact is that people are telling you it’s true, they’ve been that intern, they’ve worked with that intern, they’ve experienced these inequities, and if you choose not to believe them then you’re just going to lose the chance to learn from a huge swath of reality.

          1. Robles*

            Sorry, that came off a little harsh. But I wonder if this isn’t more a semantic difference? You acknowledge that socio-economic background can play into this, you just refuse to give anyone the leniency of not knowing (instead preferring to assume that they all know, and that some of them just choose to do worse). It feels a lot, to me, like ascribing a motive to something that there’s no need to … and punishing people for making the “wrong” choices when you don’t seem to believe that there’s any excuse for making those choices, which leaves us exactly where we are now. Regardless of why it’s happening, it obviously is, and what do we do about it? At least being charitable about motive puts us in a better place to help, rather than to punish.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              I wasn’t at all trying to punish people, or suggest that we shouldn’t provide people the information they need. I don’t think we should withhold this information and let people fail. I did not suggest any such thing, at all, even once. Just a disbelief that *interns* don’t have these basic life skills at this point.

              We are talking about interns here, not about disadvantaged communities. Other people brought that up and I responded but it was never my intention to single out any particular demographic of people.

              Let’s face it, the groups of people in the lower socioeconomic categories discussed here are rarely interns. And I can say the same thing you said about choosing not to believe that that is true or not, but it is true. The percentage of low income children who grow up to go to college and get internships is extremely low by comparison to higher socioeconomic groups. It is a problem and YES, I agree we should do everything possible to change that, including education on these kinds of skills.

              BUT that is not what this is about. My comments were specifically geared towards people who ARE interns. Even if from a lower socioeconomic community, those who did get to the point of an internship are likely to have more skills than the ones that are being described here. And that is what I was talking about. That is what I don’t believe. That INTERNS from lower socioeconomic communities don’t have the understanding and knowledge to be on time.

              And to the point that people are telling me that it IS true that interns don’t have these skills, I’ll say that people haven’t actually said that. They have talked about the finer nuances of rules and what ifs, and also about choices and interpretations of rules, and *how* to deal with these things, which isn’t at all the same as saying “when I was 18 I didn’t know that I had to be on time for anything.” Yes, that is narrow view, but it is what I meant when I wrote my original response. It’s an observation and I don’t think its fair to say that I am punishing people for it. If anything, I have given people more credit than others here and not once did I say that people who don’t have those skills should be punished in some way or in anyway deserve less guidance at their job.

              1. Kara*

                And to the point that people are telling me that it IS true that interns don’t have these skills, I’ll say that people haven’t actually said that

                Yes, we have. Repeatedly. Over and over. Again. You’re being pedantic and not hearing what’s being said to you.

              2. jhhj*

                Interns — which I will for these purposes assume means mostly post-secondary students of some sort — can also be underprivileged. It’s not like the second you get accepted into university your history of coming from a working class background was erased.

        2. LauraLoo*

          Your comments are reading as increasingly offensive to me but I can’t quite put my finger on why. There’s a big difference between someone being told XYZ, knowing XYZ, and then changing their behavior to model XYZ. The latter usually takes a long time even in the best circumstances with all necessary resources abundant and readily available. You keep trumpeting this decade of service in under-served communities, but it doesn’t sound like you really understand the cumulative and long lasting effects of growing up in that environment, or respect just how difficult it is to succeed in spite of it. It’s also strange that you just can’t accept that some peoples experiences are wildly different than your own, and so therefore you can’t really judge them on why XYZ is so difficult.

          1. Robles*

            I agree… it reminds me of several people I know who come from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, but managed to “bootstrap” into success, and now are quite certain that literally everyone can and should do that in every circumstances, and if they can’t, it’s probably a moral failing on their part (I definitely don’t think Holly Olly is actually saying that, that’s just what her remarks keep reminding me of). An… uncharitable approach, I think, which is just so harsh when you’re talking about young people trying to make their way in this crazy world.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              That is definitely not what I was trying to say.

              I’m really confused as to why my viewpoint is harsh and uncharitable and punishing. What I’ve been saying is that people are strong and knowledgeable and capable of understanding these things regardless of what their background is. I recognize that people have different experiences. I was hyper focused on interns and perhaps that’s where somethings got lost. However, I didn’t at all say that young people shouldn’t be helped. I wasn’t critical of their abilities. I never suggested that we should just abandon people who don’t know these things. I don’t know where that implication is coming from.

          2. Amanda*

            I think it’s important to discuss privilege and class in a productive way, and to recognize how it informs and shapes so much of what we do on a daily basis, but this conversation does not strike me as particularly constructive or useful. Instead, it feels very reductionist, and I’m really bothered by assertions that people that grew up in under-served communities necessarily have XYZ traits.

            In short, LauraLoo, I acho your assertion that I find a lot of these comments to be increasingly offensive.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              I’m really bothered by assertions that people that grew up in under-served communities necessarily have XYZ traits

              I’m assuming this is geared towards me, but I feel the need to say that I am not the only one that asserted that people in under-served communities have XYZ traits. My responses weredirectly related to other peoples assertions that people in under-served communities have XYZ traits, and I didn’t think it was fair to make those blanket statements. Perhaps I made my own blanket statements in error too. I don’t deny that.

            2. JennG*

              Mine might have started to go that way and I think I may have thrown the discussion using class as an example of _one reason_ why we’ve made a lot of our policies as crystal clear as possible…because we have an explicit view that part of the reason we do internships is to help people from a wide variety of backgrounds become voices in my industry. But I think I got entrenched in that aspect of the discussion, so really glad you called that out.

              But to be really clear I do think clear expectations help everyone, especially people for whom the office environment is less like their life experience for whatever reason. Class is just one reason. I was raised in an environment that was definitely WASP middle class but I had disadvantages about office behaviours and policies for other reasons.

          3. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            Well, I apologize if my remarks sound harsh. I clearly am not explaining myself well. I mentioned my past experience twice. The rest was in response to other peoples comments. I wasn’t trying to say that people don’t have different experiences. What I was trying to say was that I don’t think it’s fair to place all people of lower socioeconomic status into a bucket of not having these skills. My intention was really just to talk about interns. I never meant to turn this into this kind of discussion.

          4. Kara*

            Yeah, I’m sorry Holly, but people keep explaining and explaining and explaining and you seem completely tone deaf to how “I just don’t get how people can not know this” is coming off. It’s starting to sound less like a “I really don’t understand” and more like refusing to hear.

    10. AllisonAllisonAllisonetc*

      “These skills were taught to me throughout my whole life”

      And some people were never taught these skills, or were taught some but not others. Luckily I knew enough when I started working to show up on time and let someone know when I was sick, but it would have saved me some embarrassment if on my first day someone had said “If you need to call in sick, actually call. An email may not reach someone in a timely manner.” That’s something I had never thought about before and no one ever told me… until it was to complain about me doing it!

      1. Allison*

        And in some offices, a text message or e-mail is acceptable, so it’s sort of depends on who you’re working for.

        1. Evan Þ*

          Absolutely. I don’t think anyone in my office has ever called about a sick day. We always use email.

          1. AllisonAllisonAllisonetc*

            True, and that kind of stuff should be discussed at the start of any job, not just internships (hopefully you can leave off the “don’t sleep at work” by then). “This is out start time, and it’s rigid/flexible” “This is how we expect you to let us know when you’re sick/late” etc.

        2. Robles*

          Yeah, and I think it’s worth noting that just KNOWING that there are going to be variances in these things across organization is another thing you might not know as an intern!

    11. HeyNonnyNonny*

      “These are all rules that kids are required to follow throughout all their schooling (with the exception of calling in for college classes)”

      I can tell you that when I taught Freshmen in college, a LOT of them did not fully realize that being on time mattered– in class or in the real world. I think the disconnect was that a lot of them thought “I’m an adult, I can do what I want” without realizing that being an adult also has actual responsibilities.

    12. the gold digger*

      young adults haven’t figured out that they need to be on time

      Could that be “young adults who have never had a job before?” I already knew how to work because I had my first W2 job before I could drive. What I see happening now is middle-class kids who do not have part-time or summer jobs, for whatever reason. I didn’t need an internship to teach me to be on time. (However, it would have been useful to learn strategies for not falling asleep, as I had never had to sit motionless for hours on end before, not even at church.)

      1. Scott M*

        They may not have had summer jobs, because those are going to middle-aged adults and senior citizens who need the money.

          1. the gold digger*

            I did say “for whatever reason.” I know of teenagers who want to work but can’t get the jobs we used to get, like lifeguard and paperboy.

            However, I also know of wealthier kids whose parents just give them cash and don’t require them to work, even when there are jobs available, such as babysitting (which I would happily do now for the wages it pays!) and yardwork. (And don’t even get me started on parents paying someone to cut their grass or shovel their sidewalks when they have perfectly good teenagers at home. Isn’t that the reason to have kids?)

            1. Treena Kravm*

              This. My cousin is very wealthy and doesn’t want their kids “taking a job from someone who needs it.” While I understand that sentiment, you can still create a system where the kid learns to work/responsibilities.

              I’m not going to have children, but if I were, I would pay them to volunteer at an organization, at minimum wage. That would be their only source of income from me. And I would specifically have a private conversation with their supervisor that they need to have really high standards for their work (timeliness, laziness). They would know that this is not some average volunteer, and they should tell the child when work is not up to par and to call me if changes don’t happen.

        1. nona*

          This really happened at the start of the recession. We (teenagers) couldn’t get retail or fast food jobs anymore.

          1. Spiky Plant*

            Yep! Post-college, it took me 6 month to get a fast food job after having had 2.5 years of fast food experience from high school and summers during college.

      2. Allison*

        You’d think that by age, I dunno, 18, everyone has had some sort of regular commitment they needed to be on time for. Then there’s theater, where you’re considered “late” even if you’re on time for rehearsal. And dance classes, and athletics, all of which I would think require that participants show up early so they’re ready to start on time. And even kids who don’t do any of these fancy after-school things go to school, where I’m under the impression that being late has consequences. How do you get to be old enough for an internship and not know that being on time for work is important?

        1. A Definite Beta Guy*

          How do you get to be old enough for an internship and not know that being on time for work is important?

          Why is it important?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This. If they don’t know, then they don’t know. I am not seeing why we have to know all the whys for that.
            Perhaps this is more about what to say when a person says they did not know they had to be on time. And that would be “From here forward you must be on time. Now someone has told you and you can no longer say you did not know.”

        2. Elsajeni*

          I think it’s more likely that you get to that age knowing that being on time is important, but not knowing how to manage your schedule so that you do get there on time — of course some kids manage their own travel to school and extracurriculars, especially as you get into the last couple years of high school, but even at 18 a lot of kids are still relying on parents, teachers, school bus drivers, etc. to make sure they get where they need to be when they need to be there.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I know 50 plus year old people that still do not know they need to be on time for anything. They are routinely late, sometimes by hours. It’s painful to watch.

    13. Katie the Fed*

      Luckily we’re not allowed cell phones in my office, but I’ve heard from many people that the biggest issue they face is interns and new hires texting and playing on their cell phones all day.

      I’ve had to have conversations with interns and new hires about giving your undivided attention – if I’m talking to you, do not turn around and start typing on your computer while nodding at me. It’s incredibly rude and makes you seem uninterested in what I’m saying. They seem surprised to hear this. It’s a generational thing – they’re used to multi-tasking in a way that blows my mind.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        If I were a boss I think I would be so tempted to implement a blanket “no cell phones sitting out on your desk all day” policy. It amazes me how many people constantly answer texts and check messages all day. I understand wanting to see if your kid got home from school safely, but texting back and forth with friends all day is just too much and I see it a lot. I guess I prefer that to the guy in the cube behind me who fights with his boyfriend over the phone a few times a day (at least it’s in a language I don’t understand but he’s really loud).

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Honestly, I’ve never had a cell phone at work and the world has continued to turn. People can get in touch without cell phones.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        These kinds of lessons make sense to me since smart phones are a relatively new thing

    14. Anonymusketeer*

      As you said, college students don’t have to call in or explain their absences from class. They also can get away with falling asleep in some classes, though they probably know it’s not ideal.

      Today’s college students are used to having near-constant access to their phones; even the most polite student checks their phone between classes, which is every hour or two. Those who are polite enough not to use their phones in class still have access to social media on their computers, which professors can’t really curtail and which might not even cause a problem in that setting.

      The interns might think that because their work isn’t structured in shifts (like their past jobs in food service or retail) that start times are more flexible than they really are.

      And lots of bosses (including my current boss) will accept texts rather than calls when an employee is sick or can’t make it in.

      Some interns (perhaps you?) had parents who modeled professional behavior, or have read some articles before their first internship, or got some good advice from teachers, and they show up knowing these basics. But it’s not something they would absolutely learn in college.

    15. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

      I just want to apologize if anyone thought what I said was offensive. I didn’t intend to go down this road with this post and I feel bad that it did. I’m sorry for any ignorant comments. I honestly didn’t think I was coming off that way but apparently I was. This has given me a lot to think about.

    16. MsChnandlerBong*

      Unfortunately, these skills aren’t necessarily being taught these days. A lot of my friends are teachers, and I am gobsmacked by some of the stories they tell about how parents scream at them or try to get them in trouble for trying to enforce any kind of consequences for bad behavior. A few students did something bad enough to be punished, so the principal told them they couldn’t go on the end-of-year trip to a local amusement park ( a trip reserved for students who have not had any behavior citations all year). Now, if that happened to me as a student, I would have gotten punished at home on top of the punishment enforced by the school. Instead, the kids’ parents came down and threatened to sue the principal because they’d already paid for the park tickets. The principal ended up giving the kids the paid-for-tickets, so their parents drove them to the park and they got to have the same day of fun as everyone who managed to behave appropriately all year long.

      There is also a teacher in our local district who says it is not his job to prepare students for the future. He lets them take tests and quizzes as many times as it takes to get the grade they want, does not penalize students for late assignments, etc. Of course not every school is like this, but kids are picking up bad behavior somewhere.

    17. Labyrinth*

      Many people have commented on the class issue, so I won’t repeat what’s already been said. But I think it’s good to remember that different environments have different norms (duh) – and that the differences can be really unexpected. I also think it’s good to remember that other work cultures or family cultures aren’t bad, just different, and that middle class office values really aren’t the “real” norms that everyone else is imitating more or less badly. It sounds so obvious, but it’s not.

      The working class interns come to their first office job after a lifetime of being taught working class norms. The middle class interns often come to their first office job after a lifetime of being expected to be a middle class child (or at least not-yet-a-grown-up, since middle class kids get to be young for a longer time). For both groups (for everyone except the middle class interns who had proactive parents), this is the first time they’re expected to live up to the expectations of a middle class adult. They may be acting completely within the norms for the group they usually belong to, or slightly overstepping the usual line, without knowing what they’re being measured against.

      For example, what does “being on time” mean? Does it mean the exact minute 9.00? Does it mean “around 9, 9.15 is fine”? Does it mean “well before 9, you’re late at 8.55”? It’s not at all obvious what’s right here, even if you completely get that 11.00 is too late.

      You might also not know how big of a deal a certain screw-up is. For example, being on time is usually more important than working without mistakes, but new people usually assume it’s the other way around and freak out when they screw something up but don’t realise that they aren’t allowed to be ten minutes late.

      Also, some norms about character traits might be different. Would you be able to fit in socially in a working class environment? In my experience (my class background is like a yo-yo), working class environments may be very accepting of other people’s quirks and faults, and you’re expected to carry yourself in a certain way. You are expected to mind your own business, not be easily shocked, not be thin-skinned and to be a bit tough. You have to be able to be brave in a conflict, shut up and work, be a straight-shooter, and to respect a hierarchy. So if a low-level employee falls asleep in a meeting, that’s still a bad thing to do but not egregiously BAD AND WRONG – the hierarchy still works, and the real job will still be done (everyone gets that the important people make the decisions anyway). Since people are allowed to have faults but not to be thin-skinned about it, they may be sheepish and joke self-deprecatingly afterwards, and you respond by teasing them and re-telling the funny story to other people. The person still gets the message that they shouldn’t sleep in meetings, but it’s not necessarily a huge hit to their reputation. In a middle class office, the offence would be worse, and people wouldn’t think it was funny (not in the same way). But being SHOCKED that someone fell asleep in a meeting or showed up late or said the wrong thing or wore the wrong clothes might be very rude according to a working class standard, where you’re expected to know not to be thin-skinned or snooty – just as it would be wrong for an office worker to make a big joke out of it. Those invisible values are really, really hard to put your finger on.

      1. Labyrinth*

        Oh and also I was going to say that college kids who behave in a way that’s expected and normal in college or among young people will have similar problems. They’re used to being expected to act a certain way based on their AGE, while adults are expected to act like their OCCUPATIONS. Just think about how it’s actually expected that clothes are for expressing your identity and for being interestingly good-looking. College students in their late teens, early twenties are “successful” at being young people when they’re good at being funny, charming or playful, and a bit less able than adults (it’s often a norm that they SHOULDN’T assume they can work on an adult level). They have been taught to NOT make up their own assignments or involve themselves in other people’s work, so if they don’t have anything to do, they’ll assume that this is what the person in charge chose for them. Of course they play with their free time – they assume they’re not important, too inexperienced to be expected to be competent, and not expected to behave like something they’re not (office workers).

        Middle class young people who’ve never had a job (or only “kid” jobs) have literally never been expected to actually do things because the things need to be done. They are used to practising doing things, role-playing doing things, being told about doing things, or doing things because it’s good for them to do the things. They have never been counted on to deliver results for a certain purpose, or to work for other people (for a reason that is about those other people, not their own education). Internships do sound like they aren’t real jobs, just pretend jobs for practice. Accordingly, at least some interns will unconsciously assume that internships are pretend jobs for not-yet-grown-ups that nice adults set up for them to play around with.

        For these reasons I think interns often need a “this is not a drill” talk.

  8. Michelle*

    I agree, spell it out to them immediately, during orientation.

    We ended up having 3 siblings intern for our organization, during 3 different summers. The first girl, was ok. She had basic understanding of what was expected but was not a self-starter at all. When she completed a task, she would just sit there until you told her the next thing to do. The second girl, big mess from the start. First, she wanted to go to Japan at the beginning of the summer, which made her start date in July, which was half-way through the allotted time of the internship. When she finally started, she would wear a hoodie all the time. It was summer in the south and hot as hades, but she always had that hoodie on. She would spend half the day *sleeping* at her supervisor’s desk. Honestly, I don’t think she did one productive thing the few weeks she was here. The third sibling, a young man, ended up being awesome. He had interesting colored hair- blonde, purple and green- but he was incredibly smart and spent the summer creating a database for our collection and then entering all the items .

    The were the children of a donor, so I’m know that’s why girl #2 didn’t get fired. The organization felt obligated to hire them as summer interns. It was kind of like giving them their money back.

  9. H*

    As someone who did an internship I completely agree with being very clear of your expectations from the intern. I had this problem where the manager was not clear about what was expected (she would say one thing when in fact she wanted something else) and about half way through the internship this person decided that she should reprimand me it was very frustrating.

  10. TotesMaGoats*

    Since I supervise interns completing a hefty (450-510 hour) practicum every semester, I’m going to start incorporating some of this in my conversations with them. Thankfully I’ve never really had an issue with it but it’s not going to hurt. They already have a small scale internship as juniors, so we train them up early.

    I do wonder where college kids go that showing up on time, calling out ahead of time and things like that aren’t common sense. The kids in my program run quite the gamut of socio-economic backgrounds. Many are first gen college. Some are vets. So, I don’t want to say that not knowing these things is because their parents didn’t go to college/didn’t have models for it. They clearly learned it somewhere.

    1. Ama*

      I used to supervise student workers when I was in academia, and though I always worked in departments that required our students to show up on time, provide ample notice of time off, etc., the quality of supervision really varied. We had some students in our IT department whose supervisor was located off campus — he did not care when they showed up late/not at all or “worked from home” when their primary responsibility was supposed to be onsite support. I can only imagine when those guys moved to the professional job they had to unlearn some really bad habits.

    2. Allison*

      I do wonder this too. I learned mostly by watching my parents. They made an effort to get to work on time, they called the office when they’d be out – and they called the school when I was gonna be out sick – they made work a priority and didn’t just take days off when they felt like it or when work was inconvenient. And while I don’t think I was ever present in one of their meetings, it seems like common sense to not fall asleep in a meeting because you weren’t supposed to doze off in class.

      I wonder if some of these kids had parents who were high-level executives who modeled that level of entitlement.

      1. Marcela*

        But it’s also very possible that your parents have a work with different rules. My mother was in academia, and like my husband, she didn’t have to be in the office at a predetermined time. There was/is no “on time” for them. If they can’t go to the office, they don’t need to call. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them telling anybody they are working from home or being sick.

        In my case, I was taught to be on time for all other purposes and I learned to behave in a professional way before I started working, but it wasn’t looking my parents work.

  11. HigherEd Admin*

    We hire a ton of interns in our office, and this article really hits home for me. We have an extensive orientation and training session at the outset, but find we have to re-orient and re-train about half the interns every few months. I think part of this stems from a natural tendency for some people to want to see how much they can get away with by doing the bare minimum. So, once interns learn the ropes, they know just how much they can slack off while still appearing to be productive.

    One thing we do struggle with a lot is letting interns go. To my knowledge, we have never fired an intern even when we have all hit our breaking point with them. Maybe it’s because we’re an academic setting and we feel an even stronger sense of duty to provide students with a way to make money while at school, and a stronger sense of duty to provide an educational professional experience? I don’t know, but I would love tips or stories about some other commenters here handled intern dismissals — and how bad you let things get before you let them go.

    1. KT*

      When I worked for a large fortune 500 company, we probably let go half our interns. It didn’t used to be that way, but the past couple years, the quality of interns really went down. They’d be brilliant, educated, with solid portfolios, but they were deplorable in an office setting.

      From wearing sequin mini skirts and tube tops or shorts and a tank for men, to sleeping during the workday at their desk (one set up a cot), telling their boss they couldn’t make copies because they were hungover, to “popping in” to the CEO’s office to talk about future job, I have seen it all.

      We had to set up a strict 3 strikes…come in late, dress inappropriately, sleep at your desk, you’re fired. I’m pretty sure it was the best lesson we could give them.

        1. KT*

          It had sheets and pillow shams. I wish I was lying. We had an open office space (no cubes) and he just set it up along the row of desks like it was utterly natural.

          1. Artemesia*

            One of the things we always taught interns was that the first thing you do in a new internship or job was to observe for a couple of weeks to see how the office works. Who are the informal powers as well as who has formal authority. What are the unwritten rules. How do people usually dress and interact.. What are the lunch habits.

            I am thinking ‘look around and see if anyone else has set up a cot by their desk’ should be on the list.

            1. jhhj*

              What are the unwritten rules.

              Yes, like, do the office cots use prints or solids? One or two pillows each? Do you change into pyjamas when you nap? You wouldn’t want to look out of place.

            1. KT*

              Alas, I was only a low-level worker at the time, so I did not get to see the boss’ interaction with him…I only witnessed him setting up the cot and getting in it for a nap, and our boss’ reaction on seeing it.

              The boss was in meetings all morning (very early in kind of worker, whereas intern usually rolled in at 11) walked by our row, saw the cot, and nearly fell over. She asked my coworker (a legitimate worker who was stuck next to intern) if it was part of some health-awareness event our HR department was putting on, and he looked equal parts terrified/gleeful when he told her it was the intern’s…for you know, sleeping.

              Her face was beyond all description. It was rage, bewilderment, shock, disgust, all in equal measure. When the intern sauntered by with his latte, she tersely told him to get in her office. About 20 minutes later, he came back out, looking as if he may have been literally beaten he was so pale and shaken, and she was huffing like a dragon.

              He packed up his cot (and matching shams! I will admit, it was a surprisingly elegant setup) and off he went, never to be seen again.

              We got a short note later that afternoon from our boss saying Sleepy Intern wouldn’t be returning. From then on, all interns were compared to him. (“So she was drunk during her presentation…but did she set up a cot?”)

              1. Allison*

                “intern usually rolled in at 11”

                “When the intern sauntered by with his latte”

                There are just . . . so many things wrong with this guy. I’m honestly shocked at what some people try to get away with at work.

              2. Artemesia*

                Every office has to have a phrase like that just like every family has a few of those timeless phrases. I am hard pressed to find a better one than ‘. . . but did she set up a cot?’

          2. OfficePrincess*

            I mean, everyone here jokes that I should do that during our busy season, but I don’t ACTUALLY do it. And who wants random coworkers to be able to watch them sleep?

            1. Amanda*

              My last office was in a shared work space, where most of the walls were made of glass. A guy set up in this small corner office, had the maintenance workers bring in a couch, and would then sleep on it. During work hours. Almost every day.

              I don’t know what he did, I don’t know if that was cool, I just know that it was so. weird. to inadvertently see someone sleeping while you were just walking down the hall trying to get a cup of coffee.

      1. Allison*

        Yikes! I made some bad fashion choices in my early days, but sequin mini skirts and tube tops? where did they think they were, exactly?

        1. KT*

          TRUTH. This was a very conservative work environment, where suits were the norm and where navy was a considered a bright.

  12. Anonymusketeer*

    Allison’s advice is spot on, as usual. I might add that employers should try to be flexible with interns as far as scheduling and calling in go. For full-time students, school is still supposed to come first. It’s not quite like an entry-level job where work is supposed to be your primary time commitment in exchange for (hopefully) enough money to live on.

    Not all interns are full-time students, and many who are take summers off specifically for interning, so it might not apply to the OP. But it’s something to consider when you have interns.

  13. Chinook*

    AAM – I just want to say thanks for your advice on interns because I have been using it with my department’s two summer students. I have talked to them casually (which is easy because I do some of their work when we don’t have summer students) and let them know that they can tell me if they heard it before or can come to me to ask questions about how things work that are not technical aspects of their job (since I am not an engineer). I also made sure that they knew how to fill out their timesheets (since they are hired as temp employees) and how stat holidays work for them, something that is never covered in the new employee orientation they get because they technically don’t work for us.

    I have also taken the time to mention to the one female engineering student we have (who I work with the most) to explain why I include her in some things because it may look like I am tasking her with “female tasks” like typing up notes from the engineers (we are currently working on documenting policies & procedures – we usually don’t do things in handwritten form). I wanted her to know that a) she would get these even if she was a guy and b)you can learn a lot by reading the notes you will be typing up (as well as c) summer students get the grunt work and d)you need to prove your work ethic/quality before you get the cooler tasks). By taking a few minutes to connect the dots for her, I saw her facial expression go from “this is boring and pointless” to “wow – I could learn something by doing this” and I hope it made a difference.

    1. Artemesia*

      One of my colleagues had a presentation for our interns called ‘what you can learn from grunt work’ that framed these tasks in terms of organizational knowledge and career development. Powerful stuff. Yes interns should be given tasks that are not grunt work — they are not supposed to be unpaid drones, but there will be some of that and you can also learn from it.

  14. Allison*

    As others have said, part of an internship’s purpose is to teach young people what the working world is like, and what’s expected of young professionals. You’re doing these kids a disservice by letting them think that what they’re doing now is okay, or at least isn’t a big deal. And to some people, maybe that’s okay, maybe these entitled little brats should be set up to fail in the real world. Let them learn later, when the consequences are worse!

    Honestly, you should nip these bad habits in the bud, and let these kids know early on that what they’re doing isn’t okay. Tell them when their lateness is an issue. Tell them when their attire or behavior is unprofessional. Tell them when they’re calling out too often or taking too much time off. TELL THEM STUFF. People aren’t mind readers, and people don’t just magically know what’s expected of them when no one tells them anything.

    Personally, I was familiar with workplace norms, and I think I erred on the side of caution a lot in internships, but if there was an issue with my performance, I would have appreciated it if someone had taken the time to tell me. I don’t understand why people have this mentality of “I refuse to tell someone _____ because I shouldn’t have to, they should already know ______” Clearly, someone doesn’t know, and does need to be told something, and it’s becoming a problem, so tell them before it becomes a really big problem. Direct communication is important, people!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “I don’t understand why people have this mentality of ‘I refuse to tell someone _____ because I shouldn’t have to, they should already know ______’ ”

      Mercifully, I am seeing less of this than when I was growing up, but it is still out there. I think some people have this mentality because this was the way they were treated or because they do not like/want to train/explain. I think that it speaks volumes about the person who says this type of thing. Not the least of which is that they are probably in the wrong job.

  15. Calacademic*

    I am so grateful for this post — I have 6 student workers this summer (2 graduates and 4 undergraduates one of whom is only 16) with widely varying degrees of experience. I plan on incorporating some of these tips as we go.

  16. Intrepid Intern*

    Is there anything you can do to help in this situation as a near-peer?

    I’m interning after grad school, and I just trained a new sophomore intern. She has… she’s sweet, but she’s been full-time for a month and only made it through 3 full days without leaving for something. She’ll be late, but she’ll also start texting me “Where r u????” 10 minutes before we start if she happens to get to the office first. (I have never, ever been so neurotically early). She’s consistently condescending to me, because I’m older so she “must” be better because we’re working the same internship… and then she complains she never gets interesting assignments. She steals my assignments and my ideas– and on the one hand, trying to get credit for every little thing makes me feel like a petty Cyrus Beene. On the other hand, she’s stealing my projects and some staff seem to think she’s an office wunderkind for getting it all so quickly—when really she’s been at my desk five times before noon. (Our floorplan is really weird, so no, they can’t see that.)

    Technically, we’re at the same level. I’m at my wits’ end. Is there any way I can nudge her towards better professionalism as a peer/near-peer?

    1. KT*

      Stop helping? She’s not sweet, she’s an entitled brat.

      Stop helping her with work, stop discussing your assignments with her, and let her fall on her own sword.

      1. Intrepid Intern*

        Ha, thank you. That was good to hear.

        Do you have any advice on… on how far to let get fall on her sword? We’re currently doing a hard-deadline project where we are supposed to work together. I have enough experience in it to say “X and Y can happen simultaneously, but they both need to be done before Z.” Which is helping her– but several people will be affected if I don’t. And I’m not sure how many “Oh by the way I told Intern 2…” conversations I can reasonably get away with. (But if I don’t have them, she’ll claim it as her brilliant work that this didn’t derail.)

        1. KT*

          So I would ask your boss to meet with the two of you to go over the needs of the project–say you want to make sure you know everything that needs to be done (play the intern card–“this is different than anything I’ve done in the past, and I want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks”). During the meeting, go over exact responsibilities (So I’ll handle the script, KT you will handle the Powerpoint, is that right?”)

          If that’s not possible, meet with her one on one, take diligent notes, and send her a recap email and copy your boss (some mind find that pushy, but when i was in similar situations, it saved my butt). If you’re feeling too heavy, feel free to soften it like the below–you’re an intern, so you can get away with it :)

          “Hey Sword-faller,

          Thanks for chatting over the Westeros presentation with me. I’m a list/tracker person, so I thought it might be helpful for us both if we had a running list of tasks and responsibilities to help keep us on track Below is what we discussed today and who is responsible for what parts.


          Either way (and even if you dont copy your boss) you have a record of who was responsible for what. If she doesn’t carry her weight, there’s a clear note/conversation that shows that she was the one to drop the ball.

          1. KT*

            And I know in this, you’re still helping her–but work needs to get done, and this will clearly show the manager you have your stuff in order and this other girl is just along for the ride.

            1. Intrepid Intern*

              Thanks, this script is helpful! We’ve informally divided the work, so I’ll send a recap email tomorrow– which will be good, because I can already see a few areas where she’s making not-great (but definitely fixable) choices that I don’t want to be blamed for.

    2. Sigrid*

      Yes, she doesn’t sound sweet at all. You need to cut her off, unless the consequences for that would be worse.

      1. Intrepid Intern*

        I’m not sure what the consequences would be if I cut her off– I was told to train her on her first day, and people complain to me of she doesn’t do something right. So, in some ways I’ve been made to feel like she’s my responsibility, but I’ve also seen people marvel at how much she’s picking up on etc.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If training is not going well, you need to check in with a boss or a supervisor. I think you are trying to be a good person and in doing so you are shouldering too much that is not yours to shoulder. Definitely mention the leaving early each day ask the boss how she would like you to handle that. It’s okay to ask questions like this.

          I am not clear why she is at your desk 5 times before noon. Are you answering the same questions you answered yesterday? If so, it is okay to gently say, “oh, we talked about this yesterday and what did we say then?” Don’t just give her answers, ask her questions so that she has to work to develop an answer.

          Ask your boss how much supervision you are supposed to provide her. See, she is being trained to do the work itself. But YOU are receiving training in supervising other people in addition to learning the work itself.

          If you think this fits you could try asking the boss this, too: “Sue seems to go off task frequently. I notice projects missing from my desk and later realize that Sue is working on them with out consulting me. How would you like me to handle that?”

          In short, I think you are working alone too much. Maybe your boss can schedule check ins with you, where the two of you can review progress periodically. These check ins should include discussions of your supervision of Sue and perhaps Sue’s progress on the job.

    3. Allison*

      She doesn’t sound sweet, she sounds manipulative. I mean, I obviously don’t know her, from what what you’ve said, it sounds like she puts on a sweet front so people trust her, and so people want to help her, and ultimately so she’ll get away with everything she’s been doing – while you, on the other hand, would look like the “bad guy” trying to bring her down if you call her out on her BS.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree there is nothing sweet about this person. This person is more like a mess.

    4. A Bug!*

      Agreed with everyone else. She’s not nice, she’s “nice.” She knows how she has to act in order to get what she wants, and what she wants is to take advantage of you. She might not be doing it consciously, but it absolutely is a learned behavior.

      Start asserting control over your own projects and stop helping her with hers. Just be too busy every time she asks you for stuff, and deflect her questions to whoever you’re supposed to go to with questions. If she tries to “help” you with your projects, firmly but politely tell her you’ve got it under control and you appreciate her offer – after all, you’re there to learn, and the best way to do that is to do your own projects yourself. Put some sort of security on your projects so it’s not easy for her to take them – password-protect files, or keep them on a local drive or a thumb drive if you can. And keep a journal of all your contributions to your own projects, so that if it ever comes up with the staff, you’re not caught speechless trying to remember examples.

      You could possibly also go to a staff member with your concern, since you are in an internship. Present it as a small issue that you’d like guidance in addressing: she’s submitting your projects for assessment without telling you, and as a result you’re not able to get the feedback on them that you need, and you’re not really sure how to bring it up with Intern because she’s not asking you first. Worst case scenario, you get some advice on how to talk to Intern about it, and best case scenario, the staff member asks you some pertinent questions that shine some light on the subject.

    5. Hlyssande*

      I would say to talk to your supervisor or whoever is overseeing the interns. If they don’t know about her behavior, they need to.

      1. Intrepid Intern*

        Our office oversees interns by, ah, committee. And since everyone supervises interns, no one does.

        I have tried mentioning specific incidents to specific higher-ups, but the only one I’ve ever seen take action is on vacation for another week or two.

  17. Jill*

    As a former high school intern – that really cared about making a good impression and being a great worker – PUH-LEASE do have these conversations. Part of being young and still in school made working for Very Important People and Very Highly Educated People was intimidating. I wanted to know what the rules and expectations were but I also didn’t want to look like a “dumb high school kid” for asking.

    And if you’re dealing with the whole “I just graduated so I know it all now” crowd, don’t be afraid to be stern about it. Sometimes people need to be taken down a peg to finally get it, especially if you’ve had the conversation before and the negative habits continue.

  18. Cath in Canada*

    Keep an eye on the sleepy one – if it happens again, this can be a red flag for other problems.

    We had an intern a couple of years ago who fell asleep at her desk on her first day, which we all thought was pretty funny. But then it started happening again and again, and she would spend literally hours in the bathroom, sitting silently in a stall (although my friend swears she heard the sound of turning book or magazine pages). We figured it was a possible red flag for major anxiety, depression, or other health problems, or possibly her not having a safe place to sleep at night. My colleague’s husband is a student counsellor at a local college, and he agreed. We flagged it to her supervisor and HR (who were on a different floor and didn’t know what was going on) PDQ.

    Probably not the case here: this was the only person I’ve ever seen fall asleep at their desk, so my experience might be skewed :) But something to bear in mind.

    1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

      I nodded off during a lunch presentation with the president of the company. I had taken allergy medicine and didn’t realize that it would make me so drowsy, I was so embarrassed. Immediately after the luncheon, I went to the president and apologized and explained the medication and thanked her profusely for her time. She was very gracious about it…I immediately told my manager about it as well as a CYA. I’d rather her hear it from me, then someone else. It’s always good to ask if something is going on when it comes to the sleep issue…there really could be more going on.

      1. Artemesia*

        I had a problem with dozing off for awhile (luckily over 35 years into the job). I assumed I was old and tired. The cause? Nonexistent thyroid hormone. Once I started taking thyroid meds, I was back to normal.

  19. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

    I have often posted here under the pseudonym Camp Director Kim. As a Camp Director I feel the need to make the side comment that a lot of these suggestions for how to deal with interns is the same exact way we deal with our counselors, and in fact, even our teen campers.

    Sometimes they simply just need to be told or reminded of something, because often they don’t have the experience to realize the error of their ways. In the case of our youngest counselors, they sometimes make very serious mistakes without understanding what the consequences of their actions could have been, simply because they didn’t think it through. Their brains technically aren’t done developing for a few more years.

    No matter what, we always explain why what they did was a problem, and we rarely see the same mistake happen again. They are always treated like equals, and that is where the difference comes in. If you treat them like clichéd interns, they will feel like they can act like clichéd interns.

    Just because someone is young or “green on the scene” doesn’t make their value any less, and in fact their freshness and new perspectives can be a huge benefit if they are given the chance to shine. Sometimes they just need a nudge in the right direction.

  20. Helka*

    When it comes to constantly pushing for going permanent, I’m willing to bet that behind each pushy, demanding intern is at least one, probably more than one, equally pushy family member insisting that internships are The One True Way to be assured of a professional office job after graduation, and that if you’re demurring on giving them a solid answer Right Now you’re just feeding them the company line but surely if they’re persistent enough you will see that This One Is Special and you Can’t Let Them Get Away and all that other crap that helicopter parents love to dish out.

    (Why no, this totally never happened to me and most of the people I knew in college, why do you ask?)

    1. Artemesia*

      Well if you had only shown enough gumption by just walking up to the CEO and asking for a job, I’m sure your life would have been easier.

  21. Lily in NYC*

    We get really good interns where I work – some of their resumes make me feel like such a slacker. I don’t know if we’ve just been lucky or if it’s because we have a pretty rigorous interview process (we give the kids a case study and very few of them completely tank it – I looked at the sample studies we and I wouldn’t be able to answer any of them without making a complete fool of myself). I can only think of one dud over 10 years (the guy who asked me to get him coffee on his first day; I’ve talked about that here before).

  22. Lisa*

    Oh praise the flying spaghetti monster, it’s not just me?!

    I have my first intern right now and I keep gaslighting myself into thinking I must just be doing a bad job because he has had other internships successfully, and yet doesn’t know basic things. My brain keeps going to “He MUST know this, am I just getting bamboozled? Does he just not care? Does he just think he’s so smart he doesn’t have to use proper etiquette?” (he is VERY smart. Does advanced statistical analysis as a “hobby.” Will have two very difficult degrees at age 22.)

    Shit My Intern Does:

    – Took a nap on the office couch after an all-nighter studying (was sent home and has not done it again)
    – Interrupted the CEO in his first month of internship (actually OK with our CEO in the context it happened, we have a very non-hierarchically minded CEO, but I was shocked he had the cojones)
    – Asks random people in the office if he can help them with work when he has finished a project I gave them (was told this is distracting, not helpful, but has kept doing it)
    – Walks away while his direct supervisor is talking to him (was immediately told this is very rude by everyone present, was embarrassed and apologized)
    – Doesn’t spellcheck… ANYTHING… after being told several times that using spellcheck before sharing even a “rough draft” shows respect for your coworkers
    – Talks over people in meetings and interrupts in informal conversations (Has been told not to do that, seems to be trying but is an eager puppy and bursts out with whatever he’s thinking even if others are talking)
    – Came in when sick (was sent home and hasn’t done it again)

    That being said, I hate to say “bad intern” because he also can be very hard-working and passionate with flashes of brilliance at his job… he is happy to assist with even things like ordering food or answering customer service emails, and buckles down and works late when he has to come in after class/tests in the morning. But I think nobody in the company is accustomed to interns (he’s not just my first but the company’s first) so he has generated some critical feedback which I then have to share with him, and I keep being torn between “I’m a jerk, I am always criticizing the poor intern” and “I’m not hard enough on the intern, new problems keep appearing,” and “He’s a bad intern.”

    This comment thread makes me feel so much better… if this is just normal for interns, I can think “I am not the only manager dealing with this, this is normal” and keep giving the feedback. Thank you!

    1. Hlyssande*

      For that last line about coming in even when he was sick, I think that may be in part because so many jobs actually require you to come in either way, or heavily pressure you to do it. Maybe due to lack of paid sick time or horrible management, but that definitely happens (and it’s especially crappy in retail/food service).

      Even if this particular intern hasn’t had a job previously, he’d probably heard from his friends at some point or another how their manager made them come in even though they were sick.

      That one I can definitely understand!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Sadly, sending him home early seems to be the way to get your points across. That is something of his doing- he has made himself into a person who only listens if he is sent home early. Maybe you can suggest to him that he not allow things to go so far that he has to be sent home, in order for the point to register. It sounds like people are trying to help him.

  23. the_scientist*

    So, we’ve talked a lot here about how students from lower SES backgrounds might be at a disadvantage in an office setting, but like someone said- there are plenty of poor families who model these important workplace behaviours for their children, so I don’t think this can totally be explained by SES. Now I’m curious about the opposite end of the scale. I’m wondering if these are paid or unpaid interns? If the interns are unpaid, and if the internship is in a HCOL city- think about the pool of interns you’ll be drawing from. You will be getting students from primarily wealthy backgrounds who can afford to spend a summer working for free. I wonder how many of these students have *any* previous work experience? Also, students from a high SES are going to potentially have a very different attitude towards an internship and towards their new coworkers- perhaps seeing this as a necessary box to check off rather than a learning opportunity. Lots of research suggests that low SES parents teach their children to be deferential to authority and not ask questions (which can do a lot of harm when it comes to interacting with professors, or with doctors, for example), while higher SES parents teach children to advocate for themselves with adult authority figures- that might be why the questions about permanent jobs keep coming up.

    1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

      You have a good point in identifying the other end of the spectrum. Often times people that are “entitled” are the worst offenders either because they’ve been coddled and spoiled all of their life and can do no wrong or because they feel they are above almost everyone and “how dare you” tell me to be here on time! Good point!

    2. Natalie*

      Probably a mix of causes, really, with the only unifying thread being that they’re basically inexperienced in the professional workforce. And just because one will have more issues with interns doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of perfectly fine interns that don’t come to mind when we discuss bad intern behavior.

  24. Anon Today*

    My favorite intern story was the guy who didn’t show up one day, on the first day of the Egyptian protests in 2011. When I called him to ask what was up, he said that “As a political science major, it was more important for him to watch the news than come to work.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Because news media never records anything and puts it on the internet for replay later on… that never happens.

  25. Liz*

    Speaking as a recent grad (Dec ’14) and a current intern, I would like to vouch for spelling out expectations in some sort of orientation, preferably multiple sets depending on the size/style of the organization, even if those expectations seem obvious. Every office is different.

    My first internship was at a small non-profit (>10 employees, about as many volunteer-interns). The orientation was short but covered everything from what the organization does on a macro and micro level to office culture and norms. We were told of general office hours, special off-hours events that we might need to be involved in, what was considered business-casual (because this varies way too much between organizations), and anything else that was deemed even slightly useful.

    In my current internship at a very large organization (180,000+ employees) there was a day dedicated to orientation that covered any and everything you could think of since it was used for employees in any and every field from zoology to finance. While that orientation was great, it wasn’t so helpful for my specific office

    Between my two internships there are some major differences, and even with my previous office experience there are things that I still am unsure of how to handle. I know that falling asleep in a meeting is bad, but in this office no one cares if I show up a little late/leave early as long as it’s not a habit. The definition of business casual is drastically different (not just between the two positions, but between the company and the office). I’ve never had to use outlook as my primary mean of communication/scheduling and there are a lot of things that I am still learning (when is it okay to CC someone? How to put my days off on the calendar? What is the appropriate way to label different types of events? You don’t learn these things in school)

    I am also the only intern on my team so I had no one to talk except for my manager about things that I was unsure of. My manager is great and answers all of my questions, but it still would have been nice to have someone in a similar position to bounce ideas and questions off of.

    My industry is newer and interns are not expected to have previous experience which explains a lot about the teaching culture I am currently in, but expecting an intern to have specific knowledge of office culture on the first day isn’t fair to the intern, especially considering how different every office is. Graduating and heading out into the world is really scary no matter how much experience you may have had prior to leaving school, and if you are managing an intern then it is (or should be) a part of your responsibilities to guide them into the appropriate culture while remembering that this is all new and very overwhelming to them

    1. Not So NewReader*

      These are good points. I do stuff at the job I have now that would have gotten me fired at Old Job. I try to explain why it is not a good idea but the boss’ priorities are elsewhere. And I do agree that there seems to be an intolerance, even disbelief, on the part of established workers that any other method could possibly exist anywhere on planet earth. Something as simple as “Do you prefer method A or method B?” can lead to long. pointless discussions how it is not possible that anyone else out there could be using method B at all and why would anyone think that.. and so on. I just wanted to know if I should do A or B, it’s a 3 second answer.

  26. Niki*

    I want to had something that no one has seemed to touch on yet. I think most if not all jobs should go over these maybe obvious things on the first day. For example, your employer might actually prefer a text when you are going to be late or out sick, or they may prefer a phone call or email. It may be an office where 9:00 means you are logged on already at nine and working, and if you walk in 3 minutes before 9:00 then you are late. Those are things that experience can’t always teach you.

    Also, Interns are going to be looking at everyone that works in the office for cues of what is OK and is not OK. They may see John take extra long lunches on Fridays, or sally who talks on her cell phone at her desk and think it is ok or that a variation of it is at least. It may seem obvious to someone who has worked in an office for years or even decades but when you are brand new and young it isn’t so obvious, especially if you see someone doing it and getting away with it.

  27. Is Company to Blame partly?*

    Are you totally sure you aren’t to blame for them ‘pushing’ for an internal/permanent job?
    I’ve been working for a few years now, but I had two unpaid internships in college. One of which, I wasn’t at the age yet where it mattered but one of my peers was. The company kept dangling the ‘you could get a full time job at the end of this’ carrot in front of her nose. It was infuriating. The economy was bad, she was working an unpaid internship after graduation and living at home with her parents. I felt for her.
    The second time, I was old enough, and they said there was one job and pitted me against my peer. The girl who I worked with turned out to be the nasty sort who resorted to back stabbing to get the job. I never did anything wrong, but she totally knew how to suck up (the internship coordinator was also her ‘big sister’ from undergrad sorority). Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. But, now I’m doing way better than she is so that’s fine by me!
    A younger friend of mine recently started working in a low paying ‘internship’ a year after she’d graduated. She did it for 6 months before they offered her a full time position. She was kind of pushy about it – because she’d moved to a new city and signed a lease! She needed to know if she should extend it or not.

    1. Amanda*

      The only internship I ever up and quit did the same thing. The promise of the future fulltime job coupled with the fact that my press internship was very apparently not a press internship at all but instead basically an “unpaid office assistant” led me to bail pretty quickly. If I’m going to work for free, I expect to be at least treated with respect and to learn something. Doesn’t sound like this is the case at OP’s workplace, necessarily, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.

      (And I was not a “I can afford to work for free” intern. I was a “I work at a restaurant and am running from my internship to my night shift to make my rent payments” intern.)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Not consoling, I realize, but I had a similar competition set up for a job I thought I had. I was told I would be assistant managing and we had to set up the new store first. They hired another girl and the next thing I knew we were competing against each other for a job I was told was mine. Foolishly, I decided to ride it out and the story got worse.
      The company went under a few years after I left and I understood why it went under.
      I am glad you made it to a better place!

  28. illini02*

    This reminds me of a running “joke” some people in my office have. Essentially there was this intern that was here a couple of years ago. They still make fun of him to this day because of how bad he was. Besides the fact that it was a bunch of adults mocking a college kid, its also bad because its clear to anyone else that he didn’t do a good job because he really had no guidance. He was hired with no real plan on what he was going to do. I’ve told them how much they sound like jerks for continuing to make fun of this guy. Their response is that “If you knew him, you wouldn’t like him either”. That may or may not be true, but I definitely wouldn’t be acting like this. It just proves that if you are hiring interns, you need to be ready to manage them.

  29. lowercase holly*

    i wish this had been a question about 3 years ago because i’ve already gone through 4 graduate interns and definitely did not realize how much management they require. i had my first office job at 15 so i just didn’t remember how weird some of it is, and probably assumed a 24-ish year old already knew this stuff!

  30. cv*

    One other issue I’ve seen with (a few, not all) interns is that there’s a clash between what they’ve been studying and their role in their internship. Students have often been studying management, finance, business, and policy, or being encouraged to take on leadership roles, and then when they start an internship they feel like they have a lot of value to add at a pretty high level. I’ve seen a couple of interns who don’t understand that internships are usually about learning by observing while contributing through fairly low-level work, not coming in to enact amazing things based on their fantastic education. I think it might be a contributing factor in some of the uncomfortable moments that other commenters have described where interns don’t really understand the etiquette of office hierarchy.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Very good point. Interns think that the internship should match the level they are studying and more often than not it does not even come close. When I was in school I saw internships for jobs on a par with bagging groceries. Not that there is anything wrong with that- I have bagged my share of groceries. However, you have to wonder what the school was thinking when they agreed to post that job.

  31. Allison*

    Think of it this way: there are two reasons why someone, especially a young person, and especially an intern might break a rule or do something inappropriate. Reason 1 is pure ignorance, they legitimately don’t know the rules and boundaries in a professional setting. Reason 2, they totally know what the rules and boundaries generally are, but want to see just how far they can push their luck. In either case, someone needs to speak up and clarify where the line is and what the consequences are (or will be) for crossing it.

  32. CheeryO*

    I think that spelling out expectations for interns on Day 1 is a good idea. I remember wanting to cry on the first day of my first internship because the engineering manager gave us a long lecture about how we were expected to act like professional adults. Looking back, I really appreciate that he set the ground rules, and I think it set me up for what ended up being a pretty great internship. Did I need someone to tell me to be on time and wear professional clothes? No. But that, combined with some things that I did need someone to tell me (to be proactive about finding work, and to make an effort to network) drilled into my head that I wasn’t in school, and that I would need to step my game up a bit if I wanted to make the most of the experience.

    That said, I really think that an adult who needs to be told to get off Facebook, or to show up on time, or to at least feign attention in meetings probably isn’t going to suddenly do a 180 after being talked to. The vast majority of kids are going to pick up those skills from school or other jobs or just by osmosis, and they either respect the job and care about the image that they’re projecting, or they don’t. I know all kinds of highly educated, white collar “kids” who fit into the second category.

  33. Gene*

    This is one thing that makes me want to impose mandatory military service (or the equivalent) upon high school graduation. Serve for two years, then off to college, if desired.

    One may not learn all the niceties of “typical office culture”, but by the Gods, one will learn how to be on time. And “on time” means at least 5 minutes early.

  34. Mockingjay*

    “Should we sit down with new interns and outline expectations about schedule, sick days, etc.?”

    Well, yeah. You would for a new, full-time employee. Why wouldn’t you do that for interns? That is part of orientation. You can mitigate a lot of issues by setting clear expectations up front.

    As far as falling asleep during meetings, we used to watch our program manager (a military officer) snooze while his lead contractor ran the briefing. It’s not a phenomenon limited to interns.

  35. LoremIpsum*

    I’ve had quite a few interns and have aimed for diversity in life experience as well as background leaning heavily on skill: can this person do this work. Almost all of them have been terrific to work with. This is also more of a temporary employee situation in that they are treated like peers, contribute to our product, and are compensated.

    Like Lisa said, I found myself with the last two feeling quite drained. One was recommended by a mentor in our field…and I wasn’t as rigorous with screening them(lesson learned: if there are small mistakes in the application materials, there will be big ones later on).

    The most recent intern has been the most junior so far(2014 college grad, less than one year in a graduate program) and I looked past this when decided to take them on for what I think is a high value, immersive experience, around older, experienced people. Never had any attendance issues or anything like that, but what has come up with these last two is a general impatience and quite a lot of frustration when they can’t find a PC feature, or printer(which no one uses much), or technology fails in some way. Or anything that isn’t on the Internet like the online employee directory: “How do I find someone’s phone number/email?” Also phone aversion, and wanting an instant answer/response at all times. Once one of them was practically in tears over a tech issue. Obviously they are just learning and asking questions is part of it, but often it is without trying to find solutions / answers intuitively or trial and error.

    That’s the difference between hiring interns vs. the experienced. It is starting to affect my work though since there seems to be a lot of back and forth over what is to a more experienced person, very basic tasks which is frustrating sometimes.

    The recommendation on the communication best practices was good too. A reminder to do that on day 1.

    1. FuzzyFuzz*

      POD. Our current intern mentioned throughout his interview that he is ‘incredibly comfortable with technology’ and yet won’t trouble shoot the copy machine or google how to make PDFs before running to me. There are honestly other performance issues there, but that keeps me scratching my head.

      1. Artemesia*

        “Walk me through what you have already done to fix this.” OK ‘What might be a first step you would take to find this out?’ ok, “now go do that and let me know what you find.”

        Many people have to have it made clear that their manager is not their assistant and that the first step is always to try to figure it out yourself.

  36. Jake*

    Imagine the I give you a baseball bat, stick you on a football field with 5 teammates and tell you to go win.

    Sure you’ve used a bat, you’ve seen football and you know volleyball has 6 players to a team, but you’ve never played this game! It looks similar to a game you’ve played, you’ve heard people talk about this game and your teammates seem to know what they are doing.

    Why would anybody expect you to know the rules to this game?

    This is exactly what it is like to be an intern. You cannot expect anybody to know the rules without explicit direction.

  37. Pennalynn Lott*

    Can I just say how much I hate the “If you’re sick, you must either speak to your manager in person or leave a voice mail” rule? When I am so sick that I can’t go to work, I have trouble putting whole sentences together without a lot of thought. I’d much prefer to be able to edit myself via email or text. And I don’t get why voice mail seems to be more accepted than email/text. Either way, the message was sent via digital technology, and the information being conveyed is the same.

    1. Me*

      Gee, maybe it’s the riduculous number of people who claim to be sick but are just using sick time as additional vacation? They want to hear your poor, sick voice. Just a thought. I was called on the attempted “I was too sick to call” in my youth. And if you’re so sick you can’t think of sentences, you’re probably on the way to the hospital, right?

  38. Marie*

    My experience with interns has actually been that those who come from privileged backgrounds are less likely to have worked the kind of jobs where they were expected to be in on time and follow a strict set of rules (they either work for their parents’ companies or friends of their parents), and therefore are less likely to be reliable and competent (always calling in sick for the smallest discomfort). They are using the internship to pad their resume but know that they’ll never go hungry if they can’t get a job right away. People with less money and less connections are relying heavily on the internship either turning into a permanent position or need the reference in order to advance their careers, so they’re more likely to work harder at it. That’s how it’s been in my department anyways.

    1. land of oaks*

      right but those kids are acting like that because they don’t care and don’t need the jobs, so feel free to ignore them or fire them.

      If a kid from a disadvantaged background is not following unstated workplace norms, I feel more obligated to talk to them about it and give them some guidance. Because they are more likely to not know, than to not care, and it will hurt them in the long run.

  39. L*

    People are really expecting a lot from people they don’t even pay. And it was appalling for me to read ‘entry level employee’ in OPs letter because interns should not be replacing entry level employees. If you want someone to behave like an entry level employee, you need to pay them as such. If you want intern labor, then you need to be prepared to teach these kids about how work works.

  40. land of oaks*

    speaking of interns, the student assistant in my office has spent the last two afternoons on hold with the DMV *On his cell phone *On speaker … For an hour each time… The DMV hold music is LITERALLY going to make me lose my mind.

    And I don’t supervise him, so I can’t figure out how to say something without p1ssing someone off because of stepped on toes, etc.

    But seriously. It’s like 8 bars of muzak. Playing on repeat. Over. And Over. And Over…… I am about to scream

  41. Stacy M*

    Wow…I just don’t understand. I never behaved like that, and my internships were unpaid. I missed two days (out of a year) at my last one, and that was only due the shingles.

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