Messages about individuality have hit today’s youth nonstop from all directions. They’re constantly reminded that they are perfect just the way they are, that they have to be their own brand, and to never surrender their personal identity.

Tattoed girl screaming

No wonder your young workers arrive in the workplace thinking, “This is how I choose to look and the way I choose express myself. I shouldn’t have to change for the sake of a job. So hey, boss! Accept me for who and what I am!”

Even if they temporarily go along with the manager’s silly rules for, say, wearing a uniform, chances are, they will twist the logoed hat or turn it backward, sag the pants, and untuck their shirt. Anything to make them appear as if they’re leading your company’s stealth image revolt.

It’s as if they’re thinking “I have to make this look uniquely mine or I’ll lose me and become you.”

As millions of Gen Y’s and Z’s seek ways to prove their uniqueness, they expect the world around them to look on with an approving eye. And when they fall short of that in anyone else’s eyes, their overt mantra becomes “Don’t judge me.”

What they’re really saying (or silently shouting at the top of their lungs) is, “Judge me favorably. Judge me to be a hip, cool, one-of-a-kind individual. And if you can’t judge me in a positive and accepting light, then dammit, don’t judge me at all!”

In reality, to be judged is exactly what they want from their manager, customers, and especially their peers. However, they want the verdict to be 100% positive 100% of the time.

So while they are busy shaping their outer selves with piercings, stretched body gauging, tattoos, and unacceptable workplace attire, they’re also promoting the idea that what really matters is what’s on the inside.

The inevitable train wreck occurs when these workers, whose collective psyche has been shaped by the pervasiveness of personal identity trumps all messaging, show up in all their non-conformity for a job where the manager asks them to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, and act a certain way.

Getting the emerging workforce to dress and act professionally is far easier, of course, when you hire professionals from the get-go. But ask the recruiter or hiring manager and they’ll tell you that the labor pool isn’t exactly chock-full of young traditional-minded conformists. To many employers, that pool may seem more like a swamp overrun with radicals determined to rewrite the company’s dress code, not to mention their entire code of conduct.

Your discontent with the lack of professionalism among young workers may have you hiring more and more based on potential and less and less on who is moldable or coachable.

You may feel that if you get a good raw prospect who comes from a “good home” or a “good school” you can get her to comply with your dress code and then somehow convince her to stop texting when she’s talking to a customer or listening to a patient.

Regardless of your leadership role or industry, this is one issue you can ill afford to ignore.

ON POINT: In the follow-up Don’t Judge Me: Part Two article I’ll post in a few days, we’ll reveal some of the strategies and tactics to deal with this burgeoning phenomenon and show you how to gain better compliance with the professionalism – or the lack thereof – from your emerging workforce.