A New Normal?

A strange thing happened to me this week—twice. I’m wondering if this is the new norm. I had two first-time interactions with female representatives from two different companies. Each woman explained her poor customer service and tardy attention to my needs by providing me with details of her children’s lives. 

There are many business contacts and vendors with whom I have long-standing associations. We might interact only a few times a year, but over the course of years a relationship develops. When, last week, one of these men apologized for not responding rapidly to an email, I appreciated his letting me know that his father-in-law’s passing led to his missing work. I was able to send condolences as well as dismissing any concerns that his work ethic was slipping. It was appropriate for him to share personal information.  

The two instances this week, however, were completely different. In one case, the company’s agent explained that she might be late for a one-time appointment if her daughter’s doctor visit went too long. Excuse me? As a human being and a mother, I appreciate that doctor visits are unpredictable. That has nothing to do with me as a client. Surely, she should have informed her company of her dilemma at which point they might arrange to send another agent in her place or they could choose to call, apologize and reschedule. As it was, the agent kept me waiting for half an hour.  

The second instance was with a company’s representative assigned to my account. In this case, we are at the beginning of what is meant to be a protracted working relationship. After following up when I did not receive a timely response to an email, I heard back. While the email started with an apology for not responding and ended with an assurance that our account mattered, in between our representative explained how many children she has and how, obviously, they keep her busy. 

I don’t get it. Is this the new professionalism? After socially and financially engineering our society so women both choose to and are forced to work, are we dropping the illusion of expecting the same level of service as a man provides? Has ‘equal pay for equal work,’ which at least sounds fair even if statistics are manipulated to make a case for it, devolved into an open and outright acknowledgment that what is demanded is actually  ‘equal pay for lesser work’? 

I greatly appreciate motherhood. I appreciate many things including caring for elderly parents, community involvement, charitable work, devoting time to strengthening marriage, hobbies and play. I think that life works better when a man and woman combine their talents and time to build a unified family, social and economic life. Our society has chosen over the past few decades to reject that idea, insisting that one person can do it all—work, raise children and still find time for other interests. 

As this idea is shown to be impossible, my experiences this week suggest that we may have moved to the next level where we admit that family and work demands often conflict. Is the new response to basically say, “Tough luck” to those who depend on functioning businesses, throwing another hand grenade at America’s tottering economy?

Was my experience simply a (I hesitate to use the word) coincidence? Are you also finding that the lines between personal and professional are blurring in a disturbing way?

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16 thoughts on “A New Normal?”

  1. That isn’t the end of it, Susan. In doing so, they place a dunce hat on the rest of us. Do they “apologize” to us, or “for” us, not truly regretting their actions but rather remorseful that we are offended by, as opposed to commending, them. If we could cycle such gestures of penitence through a BS filter, I think most of them would be revealed as saying, “I’m sorry that you are a dunce.” Unfortunately, there are those that give such as these accolades in being the “better person,” and so a dunce cap would be appropriate.

  2. I love this word, Nancy – “absolveagize”. This is already old hat with politicians where they apologize “if anyone was offended” when they did something wrong, rather than saying that they did something wrong.

  3. The new normal is that apologies are acceptable without repentance. Does that even constitute a true apology? Traditionally, an apology is an expression of regret, but now, the essence has been modified to be interpreted as, “I absolveagize,” (Ha! Interesting, the spell checker doesn’t recognize that word).

  4. My Grandmother and my Mom could run circles around me in both areas !!. And I must admit , a bit proudly , that I believe my own daughter and niece do much better in both of those areas also ! They see the same lax attitude that you describe , and work to have higher standards in their own lives. This is do encouraging to me.

  5. I was discussing this with friends yesterday and one of them made the point that the whole idea of professionalism is disappearing – for both genders. To be honest, I know that I don’t have either the work or family ethic that my mother and grandmother had.

  6. Women have been saying ” tough luck ” to their pregnancies, children and husbands for 45 years now, so it is only reasonable that eventually they would feel comfortable saying it to their boss , co worker , and customers too. All the while complaining about being a 24/7 Mom and 24/7 worker and men have no idea how difficult women have it etc. Women , while being “loud and proud” about how “strong” they are , have, in reality been taught by our culture to be whiney and weak very loudly with no shame.

  7. I was really commenting on the lack of professionalism in both these cases. A lot of mothers don’t have the choice not to work full-time, but we as a society have done lots of things to put more and more people into that position.

  8. I’m going to confess and wonder aloud if I have done this as well. I know I’ve witnessed it first hand. You’re right, it is not professional. I have to wonder, if we juggled less in our lives, got better sleep, and were more alert to our words and actions, if stuff like this would disappear. Discretion is the better part of self discipline, including finding a healthier balance in how we let our lives run away with us as opposed to having tighter control of ourselves.
    Also, this behavior immediately reminds me of the ‘oprahfication’ of our culture. For instance, I simply can not believe the things that passed for conversation at my husband’s recent work Christmas party. It was a beautiful and classy place with history and a certain sense of dignity. I was embarrassed to be sitting with these otherwise hard working and generous people. I was also bored, because the topics were so dismal and so coarse.
    Our entire culture has become casual Friday. I can improve myself, anyway.

  9. I think you have it spot on. Children are a FULL time responsibility and those that have taken on that responsibility can’t hope to take on the responsibility of another FULL time job on top of it. People need to come back from fantasy land and get a grip on reality.

  10. I have also read complaints by women who don’t have children or whose children are grown about being expected to pull up the slack of young mothers as if it is a given that children is the excuse no one can question.

  11. You’re making a good point, Michael. The apologies are almost de facto rather than sincere. Like a child who stole a cookie saying, “Sorry, Mommy, now can I have dessert?”

  12. While it’s true that women are pulled in different directions, it’s also true that women in the workplace are held to a different standard than are men. Clearly, the two women in question assumed that their poor customer service would be given a pass by you and by their respective employers because they’re women and women have “kid issues”! And this belief may have been grounded in reality. Employers who insist in genuine equality of effort and / or results are often met with complaints of “discrimination” or “supporting a patriarchy”, when the reality is that they just want to serve customers and make a profit. So, the woman who is absent three days out of five because of “kid issues” is less likely to be sanctioned than the man who may exhibit the same behavior but provide different reasons.

  13. m.overstreet@att.net

    Susan I enjoyed reading your article entitled “A New Normal” unfortunately in my experience I believe that we have “conditioned” most service providers to “apologizes” for their poor service. Equally if not more disturbing is the lack of sincerity or authenticity of their apologies. Nothing disturbs me more with today’s new normal which is come to be known a poor service. Excellent customer service is the exception to the rule in today’s business world. From automated attendants, to voice activitated responses which seldom word well, we continue to try to dehumanize the human experience. My Grandfather taught me to greet people with a smile, a firm handshake, and listen for clues to how one could be of service. As your husband teaches money is a by-product of doing the right things.
    Wishing you well and keep up the good work. I enjoy your muses.
    God Bless,

  14. Although I cannot anecdotally support your thesis, I can offer an impromptu bitter pill of philosophy. It does seem that women especially are pulled to pieces today. The culture screams to them how they are to demand total fulfillment from the world. One women’s magazine drones to them how they can be nice girls and voluptuous temptresses at the same time. Another mentor (mentress?) pontificates how they can conquer the corporate world and remain perfect wives and mothers. The message of the culture seems to be and has been for a long time that they can ‘have their cake and eat it, too.’ This flies in the face of reason. It seems that sooner or later their cake must turn sour or fall apart.
    I prefer the Rabbi’s lesson how women in fact have less choices and for that I do not envy them. In that sense I suppose I am glad to be a ‘man.’ Back in the day (and not so very long ago) people that intertwined professional and personal lives to the point of dysfunctionality were called: UNEMPLOYED.

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