Work Ethic, Anyone?

September 17th, 2013 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

Recently, I
was looking to purchase some sewing needles at a fabric store. This seemed an
eminently reasonable place to shop for such an item. The store had been rearranged
since my last visit, so I asked for assistance from a 40’ish female employee
standing at the checkout counter with nary a customer in sight.

“Hmm,” she said. “I’m
not sure where those are.”

While that didn’t
seem a sufficient answer to me, she made clear that our conversation was over
by breaking eye contact and flipping through a magazine. Wandering around the
store, I found the needles and returned to checkout. This time, a second lane
was (wo)manned as well. Both women looked decidedly nervous that I might
approach them.

One quickly
stammered, “I haven’t started my shift yet,” while the other, my original
helper, said, “My machine isn’t working right.”

“Is it possible to
buy something?” I asked.

“Maybe he can help
you,” said my non-electee for employee of the month, pointing at a young man
helping someone at the custom framing counter.

While the thus
anointed employee wasn’t supposed to handle regular purchases, taking pity on
me, he did so.

Another incident,
shortly thereafter, showed me a contrast as strong as one finds in the popular
children’s book, Richard
Scarry’s Book of Opposites
.  Unlike the book’s series of
contrasting pictures, for example one showing a tall tower of blocks and the
other a short, piddling one, I saw strong contrast between various salespeople
and tradesmen.

My husband was
speaking in Denver and we used a taxi app to find a ride to a friend’s house.
While we were still in our hotel room, the driver called to let us know he was
downstairs and to assure us that there was no need to rush; he would wait for
us. When we came outside, a 40’ish male driver was standing outside his yellow
cab. He proceeded to open the car doors for us as if he was a limousine
service, closing them after we were seated. Although the ride was short, by the
time we arrived at our destination we felt so well taken care of that we wanted
his number in case we needed further rides. Before we could ask, he offered us
his card, with his profession proudly listed across the top—transportation expert.

Over the next few
days, the contrast continued. A young helpful hotel worker who went above and
beyond his job description when he saw us struggling with cumbersome luggage
was counter-balanced by a waiter who couldn’t seem to remember that we had
placed an order and told us that the kitchen was out of items. Meanwhile, a
nearby waitress cheerfully served those treats to diners who arrived after us.
I contrasted the behavior of a gracious and warm bank employee with an
irritating encounter at a TSA checkpoint

The tally of good and
bad customer service fit no pattern of gender, race, country of birth, or age.
What it did make clear to me is how unemployment figures, labor statistics and
poverty analysis cover up more than they reveal.  Our taxi driver might be
a laid-off lawyer who is driving a cab until his chosen field picks up. Maybe
he simply loves driving and constantly meeting new people. Either way, if I had
a company in Denver, I would have asked him to come in for an interview in the
hopes that we could find a slot for him. If he is committed to driving and
wants to increase his income, I would lay odds that in a few years (if
government regulations don’t prohibit) he will own a fleet of cabs or be
earning serious money as a personal driver for one or more people who want
flawless service.

Our lackadaisical
waiter and my fabric store women should be replaced as soon as possible if the
establishments that hired them want to stay in business. If those two people
then lament the high unemployment rate or other external factors as the cause
of their difficulties, they will be missing the point. Raising the minimum wage
or agitating for better working conditions won’t help them be successful. By
providing federally protected union employment, the government is reducing the
chance of a TSA position being a stepping-stone to greater work and instead
encouraging any bullying tendencies the agents might have. When all is said and
done, different people ostensibly doing the same job often deserve different salaries.

I cringe every time
politicians talk of the importance of sending more kids to college. Even
ignoring the troublesome academic content and social environment, four years in
a service or sales job, serving others cheerfully, respectfully and competently,
would do more to bolster future success for most young adults than university
can. Do we make a mistake lumping people into earning categories, such as
“fourth year teacher,” or “new unionized construction worker”?  By making
it more difficult for businesses to hire and fire whomever they please, and to
decide freely what to pay, are we being less helpful to people, whose souls
crave productivity? Are we also harming society, which falls apart when too
many people feel entitled to jobs and money, rather than proudly earning them?

P.S. My husband and I
are hosting the Ancient Hebrew Wisdom Experience in Dallas, this October. Aside
from sessions on business and making money by my husband and others, I’m going
to be speaking as well. My husband and I are doing a multi-hour presentation
focusing heavily on marriage wisdom from the Bible. You can find out more by
going to www.ancienthebrewwisdom/event. I’d love to see you there!

Don’t forget to check
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3 comments

James says:

One of the wisest sayings of my life came from a fortune cookie: “Every man is master of something.” How humbling! There are low skills and high skills, and every single person I meet on the street can perform at least one of these better than I can. Likewise, a Harvard educator, seeing far beyond the truncated “I.Q.” box, has proposed EIGHT multiple varieties of intelligence. Some are off the map, far beyond mere verbal and mathematical, like musical, spatial, interpersonal and naturalist intelligence. Wow.
Still, one subtle spiritual dimension of intelligence or motivation is missing: perceiving the value of service to something higher beyond oneself. He / she who works only for money will receive but a small paycheck or maybe none at all. For the purpose of work is not to make money, but to serve others, to integrate usefully with society, and to learn the joy of work and of service to causes higher than oneself. How pitiful one’s life must be if one is self-absorbed and blind to the joy and the liberty of serving others.

Jean says:

“When all is said and done, different people ostensibly doing the same job often deserve different salaries.”
Thank you for pointing out that although the job descriptions between two people may be the same, the quality with which each person does his / her job makes a huge difference when it comes to both salary and promotability. According to too many who hold political positions, this is “unfair” and “needs to be regulated” so that the outcomes for slacker and server are equal. Merit still matters to the private sector, because the better employees generate more revenue (or save more money if they discover methods of doing a routine job that are faster and more efficient.) Their creativity and service benefit the company as a whole, which also benefits customers of that company. Just showing up doesn’t qualify as beneficial.

Carol B says:

Your comments really do drill down to the problems the soul of America. We no longer stand and serve; now we sit and read magazines or text. By previous measures we held in this country, one could easily detect which people in your comments would rise to a greater level of success. Now that we have a country’s mindset that wants to eliminate those measures so everyone is mediocre. They think mediocrity levels the playing field when in reality it eliminates it completely. Wonderful comments as usual!
Shalom,
Carol

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