Editorial: Nobody benefits from mindless busywork

No one likes a complainer, especially in the workplace. Very rarely does a company stand for employees who whine about daily tasks or add to the pessimism of a Monday morning slump.

This also applies to college student interns.

With the entitlement stigma of this generation and stories of poor-quality internship placements, the relationship between students and their host companies seems to be fraying more and more. Companies left and right are subsequently shutting down their programs just to settle the nerves of unhappy, self-serving past interns.

However, while many cases of this separation are the fault of the student, the companies share some part of the blame. If a company is open to having an internship program, it should be willing to provide ample opportunity for the student to learn, not treat the intern like an inconvenience.

Internships give students a five-second head start on the job race after graduation. They offer invaluable opportunities to learn more about a chosen field that a lecture in the classroom simply cannot touch. On top of which, internships are breeding grounds for networking and connecting with potential employers.

The key to getting the most out of an internship is the relationship between the company and intern: a give-and-take balance. In order for a program to truly meet the criteria previously mentioned, it is the responsibility of the intern to eagerly seek out opportunities to do work while at the job site. This could mean staying on top of assignments, asking superiors for extra enriching tasks or even cracking down on the typical intern busywork.

However, the same qualities must be observed on the host company’s end. It is unprofessional and downright unfair to take on an internship program without giving students quality and productive work to do. Productive work would include interactive shadowing, industry-oriented assignments or just general day-to-day tasks that would lighten the load of the supervisor.

On April 4, magazine publishing tycoon Condé Nast reached an undisclosed settlement with two former interns, a debacle that has brewed since last summer. In short, a lawsuit, Ballinger v. Advance Magazine Publishers, Inc., was filed in New York regarding Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib’s discrepancies with the company. They both claimed they were poorly compensated for the work and effort put into their jobs.

Condé Nast CEO Charles Townsend has since hinted at a potential reboot in the internship program.
While there are probably plenty of unmentioned details in the case, on the surface it appears that these two interns didn’t feel adequately rewarded in experience working for one of the leading publishing entities in the world.

In contrast, many companies view these interns as nothing more than free labor. After all, the majority of these students haven’t received a degree and therefore don’t have ample experience in the field. However, this is exactly the point of an internship: hands-on learning and growing outside the classroom.

If a company views interns as more of a burden than a help, then its program should be disbanded to prevent students from taking shoddy internships. But this ultimately becomes the misfortune for the company because it removes the extra help and brainpower that interns can and should provide.

Interns at any sort of job site should be compensated in some way, either in dollars, experience or class credit, but it is up to the company to meet them halfway to provide the correct environment that fosters these kinds of reimbursement.

Regardless of work or life experience, interns are people too, growing and learning with each new experience. They have a mind and two hands to put to good use that too many companies are missing out on simply because they won’t take the time to foster a substantial internship program.

Many employees currently in the workforce forget that they were once at the college level, hungry to have a hand in the “adult” world, and at one time someone helped them get to where they are now. It’s time to now pay it forward to someone — as long as that someone is willing to wholeheartedly accept it.