Friday, January 14, 2011

The Modern American Workforce

The world of work has changed in 34 years of punching a clock. I have been fortunate enough to have never gone more than 3 months without a job. Hell even while on vacation in Alaska I worked for a month in a fishing lodge. I have not had to collect unemployment but once while in my 20's and though I have not always been paid what I was worth in regard to productivity per hour or sometimes not paid at all by certain ne'er do wells, I think it has pretty much balanced out.

There is no consistent theme in the jobs over the years. There was the family business in my youth, working in the shop sweeping up, moving large objects, basically being an unskilled laborer. Then the nursing home where I learned the fundamentals of institutional cooking. I have recapped tires, picked potatoes, cleaned bars, bounced in bars, butchered fish, sold suntan lotion on a nude beach, tended bar, hung drywall, fixed seed display racks, run kitchens, sold hot dogs on the street from a cart with a grill on it, been a professional photographer, oh yeah and there was all that time in the Navy, cooked in a fishing camp, made cabinets, made furniture, made bowls, pens and other objects, sold good equipment in a woodworking store, repaired and refurbished furniture, worked in a Railroad Museum, restored the floors in said same museum while writing a proposal to have $60K more work to be done to the remainder of the museum, sold good woodworking equipment again, made cabinets again and now finally working retail for a large chain. I did not mention a few because they only lasted a day or two for frustration reasons of my own. Like fast food, I hated fast food work. Blah!

With the exception of the family business which seemed more like punishment than work, I have been like the Steve Austin of the work force in all the jobs. Yep you got it, Better, Faster, Stronger. At least that is what I have been told by supervisors and owners alike. And those Navy evaluations! Man I should have been king of the world for what was written about me! (Disclaimer: ok over inflated evaluations in the Navy made the higher ups look good but hey they helped the ego too.)

So where am I going wrong? Why can't I fit in? Why am I not in charge of it all? Because it is the tenet of the American workforce to encourage mediocrity. To feel their personal worth is greater than the job requirement and stick it to the MAN by being less than productive. Now don't go getting all fired up about this and throwing it back in my face. You know that you an outstanding person in your field have suffered the slings and arrows of the underachiever pummeling you to slow the pace, stop making the "rest of us" look bad.

And where has this gotten us as a work force? Why is an American made product so damned expensive over a Chinese made product? Why do we not flood the world market with inexpensive yet well made items that we just can't leave X,Y, or Z-Mart without? Because we have created a less than stellar work force filled with self-important boneheads that do not see the value of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Look outside folks, don't see any smoke from the stacks of the steel mills anymore? They did not get cleaner, they went away.
Don't see the bright and shiny face of a kid wiping down your windshield anymore as another pumps your gas and another checks your oil? You get lip or just a sneer from the kids and adults behind the McCounter or can't understand the person in the McDrive through? And how about that house you live in. Is it within code sure, but was it built well and finished in a fashion that makes you bring in the friends to show them how wonderful the joinery is? Well how do you think we got here?

Not by busting out humps, we leave that to the foreigners who we complain about as we hire another one to mow the lawn or weed the gardens, or hang our drywall. Not by having pride in our workmanship, nope industry took some of that away by creating unrealistic goals for production at the top, and innovative ways around that in the middle and more creative ways to fudge it (ie defective products) at the bottom. So why did no one ever stand there and say "Um this is just not right." Well they probably did. Another worker labeled "company man" or "Over Achiever" or any number of derogatory terms by his fellow workers could very well have stepped forward and said just those things but was drown out by the masses of under achievers and self proclaimed worthy individuals. So what happens to the over achiever, the company man, the self-starter, they either get sucked into the same trap as the others or they quit and leave.

In my current employ, and we shall keep this employer nameless, I am surrounded by a number of people who need this job but are not willing to work to keep this job. They waddle around complaining about how things have changed and it made their job harder but when given the opportunity to participate in that change, chose to stand in the corner and wring their hands while avoiding the whole work thing. No participation just a lot of complaining. When asked to produce something that is slightly outside the scope of their job description they purposely screw it up so they won't be asked to do that again. Meanwhile destroying a $350 item in the process. And why were they not fired. Well for the same reason they were not fired for stealing a commission, or for treating a potential customer like crap, or for being generally insulting of the other personnel around them. Because we accept it as a personality flaw or a quirk and not as a potential loss of revenue. Wake UP!

But wait there is more! Next we have the underachiever's apprentice. A person in their mid twenties who is known to complain about not getting any hours, who is known for talking people out of sales because they just can't figure out when to shut up, a person who is pursuing a career in another field and just needs a part time job while attending college. This person, whose latest statement in the presence of others was the amazing "I am only working a 4 hour shift and I intend to spend it on my ass doing nothing." Along with the rebuttal to advice about how to get more hours was "I am getting sick of new people trying to tell me how to get ahead in this job." which they have had for a year or better. OK maybe I stepped over the line offering advice based on a direct quote from the manager who writes our schedule and rewards hard work with more hours. Nah!

And when one starts at a company with disgruntled employees is it not just predictable that previously mentioned employees are the most vocal, the ones you encounter the most, the ones who have influenced the most people they encounter and unfortunately those who are put in charge of training the new folks. What are we thinking? Longevity through mediocrity and known frustration are not the keys to successfully prepare a new person for the job. As a matter of fact it should have sent me screaming from the premises. Well it was Christmas rush time, it was just retail, and it was just supposed to be temporary. It still is temporary.

I have been told that next month I will be attending a tradeshow in Richmond. Working a 12 hour day testing tools and getting first had knowledge of the stuff we sell and why. Getting to fire up some real man stuff and see it in action. I better update my life insurance and redo my will. So how did this happen?

And more importantly: How did the non starters and under achievers not get chosen for this roadtrip? How did the underachiever's apprentice not get a box of business cards before the new guy? How is it that I am working 10 more hours per week than I want to, and 10 - 15 more than people who have more time on the floor? How I ask you is it then a better strategy of work to work less, bitch more and drag your large entitled ass around at a snails pace? How is it a good idea to go and pout in a corner (we are 60ish in this scenario) when someone else crushes your sales numbers because they speak politely to people and can type? How is it a good idea to destroy company property to keep from getting a better pay scale on a future day when something needs to be assembled? How does this work for the industry? How does this work for the workforce? How does this make us a better Nation?

So where in this equation do we find the common denominator? How am I the one who is all screwed up? How is it that I am not dragged out to the village square and burned for being an abomination? How is it that I still have to carry dead weight? Nothing changes. No amount of reasonable discussion, no amount of personal attention, no kind action like giving over a sale to a less competent person, lessens the number of the same nincompoops who I encounter in every job. And the drag is that I am out numbered and that their numbers are increasing every day.

You may want to check the whole buy American attitude too. Those products are nearly impossible to find anymore and harder to afford every day.


Jenn Howard said...


Janiece said...

...stop making the "rest of us" look bad.

The "rest of you" can kiss my overachieving ass.

Beastly, I suspect that you, like me, do your best and give good value for the money because that's simply who you are. Just as the slackers slack because that's simply who they are.

Doesn't make it right, but there it is.

sdhenson said...

They are simply jealous of your beastly skills. Do your thing. The rest will take care of itself.