Saturday, May 7, 2016

"World's Worst..."

Recently, I read an article on that was supposed to be an indictment of "the world's worst customers."  (I had to reload that story, or it reloaded itself, at least ten times before I was finally able to read the entire thing...what is it with "a problem occurred with the page, and it was reloaded..."  SO annoying...but that's a different rant.)

Now, I am generally right there with anybody who complains about 21st-century customers; they are rude, picky, entitled, and selfish.  Though I did notice in this collection of first-person experiences, the horrible customers were almost always nasty little old people;  but in my experience of five years running my own restaurant, the seniors were as a group the sweetest, least grouchy customers we had.  I suppose this is what comes of presenting an issue from the point of view of twenty-somethings.  Old people ARE the enemy when you're that age.  But the taint of ageism was not what bothered me about the article.

No...what struck me as...sad, came from one of the longer anecdotes in the piece, where a young woman provided a sort of TMI presentation of background about why she was not necessarily concerned about giving her best to her job at a WalMart deli, where she ultimately suffered her encounter with her "worst customer in the world."  She was young, she had a newborn, she and her boyfriend were not getting along well, she has just graduated college but because of the economic downturn had been unable to get a job in her field, so she was bitter about having to do menial labor to survive...drama, blah-blah, more drama.

It was plain, to me anyway, this girl had no business standing behind a counter in a customer service capacity.  But THAT is a strike against her employer, and against our culture in general.  Service work is looked at as the bottom of the barrel; the thing you do when you haven't the skills to get a "better" job.  I, personally, suck at it, so I know enough to understand good customer service is something not just anyone can provide.  Why can't Americans and American business concede it takes skill, knowledge, patience, and even a particular personality type to graciously deal with the demands of an increasingly ornery customer base? You really need to have the talent for it, every bit as much as you need artistic talent to paint a mural, or musical talent to play a symphony.  So, no...the person telling this story should never have been hired for a position where she could encounter--and walk out on--the worst customer in the world.

But it wasn't her obvious unsuitability for the job that sent up a red flag for me.  It was this young woman's attitude toward work in general which gave me pause.  She chose to devote the first several paragraphs of her story to the dismal circumstances of her personal life, indicating that she places "job" far down the list of personal priorities.  "I had all this horrible, negative crap going on in my life...and, oh yeah...I had this job, but surely you see why I couldn't be expected to be more than a "decent" employee."  Worse, it's plain the author of the article had no problem buying in to her attitude, and apparently assumed readers did, too.

And there's the nugget.  This is the culture of the 21st-century American workplace.    Businesses treat their employees like crap, and employees don't give a rat's ass about the business. Employees have gone beyond dissatisfaction, to disassociation. A job is merely an unpleasant chore that has nothing to do with who you are, or who your friends are, or your personal life in general.  You show up at the job as infrequently as you can get away with, you skate by putting in as little effort as possible when you do show up, and if a more attractive activity should present itself which might conflict with the time you're supposed to be at work, you have no problem at all tossing the job aside and opting for the extra-curricular.

On top of the general low priority given to anything having to do with paid work, there is the compounding issue of today's electronic society.  Young adults are surgically joined to electronic devices that rule their lives to such a degree that they're unable/unwilling to be fully present to face-to-face encounters.  Anything that might interrupt that constant flow of electronic social chatter--like a job--is instantly assigned negative status; so the attitude going into any job is poor, before a person even steps foot across an employer's threshold.
My posts are beginning to look like the sour rants of a crabby old lady.  I try not to be too judgmental of today’s young people and their habits.  And it’s not that I don’t understand the allure of electronic society—between the old AOL Journal Land and Facebook, I’ve experienced my share of that sort of addiction.  But sometimes I can’t help but feel that young adults are missing out on important social interactions—rights of passage, even—which we experienced back in The Olden Days; experiences that helped us grow, shaped our lives and our communities.  Millennials, and whatever we are calling the generation nipping at their heels, may possess technological knowledge completely unheard of when we were young, but they lack life experience and face-to-face interaction skills.  And in a society where one is required to be employed if one desires any kind of decent lifestyle, these social deficits are not doing them any favors.
First of all, if you have to work (and you WILL have to work) it doesn’t do anybody any good for you to go into it with the attitude of, “I’m only doing this because I have to.”  Will every job you have be some expression of your personal talents or heart’s desire?  No, it will not.  But if you can’t do what you love, it’s a good idea to find some way to love what you do—find fulfillment in some aspect of the job.  Why be miserable? 
Then there is the question of life priorities.  “Job” will not be at the top of anyone’s priority list; not anyone who isn’t a total workaholic, anyway.  But it can’t be at the bottom, either.  How can anyone expect to be successful—or content—when one has to spend thirty or forty or fifty hours a week doing something they really don’t care about?  Never mind how it will affect your employer.  How will it affect the people you work with—people with whom you spend the lion's share of your waking hours and with whom it would brighten your own life to get along?  How will it affect YOU?
The thing that was saddest, and most frustrating, about this girl’s tale of woe was the apparent ease with which she wallowed in the drama of her personal life, and dragged it everywhere she went.  Back in the Olden Days, a job was a good place to go to get away from the heavy problems of your life.  Job and home were two different entities; you didn’t bring the problems of your job home, and you didn’t take your miserable home life to work with you.  Work was a great place to step away from challenges at home.  It was a place to immerse yourself in something besides yourself.  It was a place to be social with a group of people outside of whatever mess your personal life might be in.  It was an escape. 
How many times in my own life, if I hadn't had a job, might I just not have bothered to get out of bed, or put one foot in front of the other for weeks, months...maybe ever again.  Young people today don't have that escape.  They can't (won't?) step away from sadness, frustration, failures--drama--at home and into an alter ego where the things they do matter.  They help.  They make a difference.  
I don't know whether the sea change in employers' attitudes toward employees has created this dismal mindset for today's workers.  I suspect it has a lot to do with it.  But I also feel like, somehow, we as parents, grandparents...the preceding generation...failed to instill in our progeny the work ethic that kept us more or less sane and grounded in the workaday world.  Instead, we passed down our resentment of having to work for a living, at something we mightn't necessarily love.  Maybe we believed we could somehow save them from that fate; but things didn't work out that way.   So we did our children no favors by not passing along our coping mechanisms--the things our parents taught us about "work ethic" and "teamwork" and the proper place for those things in our lives.  We created a generation of self-centered malcontents who would rather do anything other than work for a living, and are not afraid to make that very clear from the outset.  Not a great sampling from which to build the army of customer assistance workers needed in today's American "service economy."
So I take any stories about "the world's worst customers" with a grain of salt, these days.  How valid, after all, can these stories be, coming from the "the world's worst employees?" 


  1. In the '60s and early '70s, IBM was a great place to work. Under T.J. Watson, it really was a family. If you didn't do well in your position, you were moved to something more suitable for you, several times if necessary until you found your niche. If you kept your nose clean you had a job for life. In return, employees who felt cared for gave their best. Then, by the mid-'80s, T.J. was gone, and upper management changed from "we're making ourselves proud" to "we'll do whatever we have to, to make money". By the mid-'90s, employees seemed to have become an inconvenience. Older employees especially were seen as a drain, since they could be traded for recent college graduates, who were much cheaper. Axes fell. It quickly was made clear to new IBMers that no matter what their contribution or expertise, they should not expect to retire from IBM. You hire in, you stay a while, you move on. That's how it works. Naturally, loyalty crashed. Nobody really cared anymore. You don't care about me, I don't care about you. You use me to get what you can out of me, I'll get what I can out of you. That's when I retired, when they were beginning to gut the retirement plan, and shortly after I sold most of my IBM stock. That's how it is today. There used to be loyalty to employers, but not anymore. Work is an evil to be endured only so you can afford your real life. You can expect to restart multiple times, with the attendant restart of benefits. And woe to you if you ever get old.

    1. So true. Everything is about money now, and the bottom line. And no one is better for it.

  2. Oh, this hit a nerve with me. I'm working for Big Pharma, and the company pays well, but even if it didn't, there's absolutely no excuse (insofar as I'm concerned) for anyone to be watching a movie or tv show on their iPhone while at work!!!! Yes, that's happened, and not just with one employee, and not just once. And we have another 20-something who apparently thinks she's so brilliant that she smart-mouthed an FDA auditor, to the point that the auditor said in addition to
    her work related observations, she would specifically be addressing the attitude and comments of that particular employee. We actually have to undergo training on how to behave and what to say in an audit; it's similar to what lawyers call woodshedding a witness. The 20-something had undergone the training (but she was probably glued to her iPhone the entire time). And there's no question in my mind that at 66, I'd be walked out in the afternoon if I'd done ANY of those things in the morning. OK, that's my rant.