Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It - This Labor Day, let's go to a dinner and a movie and laugh at the waiters and cashiers who don't have the day off like us. 

Okay, serious Elizabeth time. I really don’t want to get all soap-box-y but I guess getting what you want is overrated.

What I really want is to talk about that thing we all do. Or aspire to do. Or aspire to retire from doing in a few decades. Work. I think work is really important. Work is good and hard work…is really good. So I guess what I’m struggling with is why some work is respected and some work…is not. I don’t mean work ethic or quality or even pay scale. I mean, literally, the kind of work you do and the kind of respect it receives.

The longer Kyle spends in the service industry, the more I am made aware of the prejudices surrounding jobs in this field. Not too long ago, a customer came into the coffeehouse where Kyle was working and after impatiently waiting to receive his coffee, sarcastically and loudly remarked, “Wow, it’s amazing what a room full of GEDs can accomplish.” This comment is based on six separately damaging assumptions and I’d like to consider them.

Assumption #1: That people who make lattes don’t have college degrees. Ironically, ALL the baristas working that morning had bachelor’s degrees (and one employee had her master’s). This assumption is connected to another troubling belief…

Assumption #2: That people who make lattes do it because they’re not qualified to do anything else. It might not just be an assumption about your level of education but also about your competence, your skillset, your interests, and your inherent intelligence.

Assumption #3: That people who make lattes and also happen to not have college degrees don’t deserve the same level of respect as the degree-holders. Who seriously made that rule?

Assumption #4: That people who make lattes don’t work as hard as people who are doctors or lawyers or professors or accountants or whatever it is that we think of as a “real career.” Don’t misunderstand. I believe some work is objectively “harder” than other work (I imagine brain surgery, for instance, requires more finesse than say, operating a cash register). Some work might be harder than other work but I think baristas can work just as hard as doctors at what they do.

Assumption #5: That people who make lattes don’t have a right to take pride in their work because it’s not a “grown-up job.” There are lots and lots of talented, intelligent people who work really hard just to pay rent and buy groceries and support their families. It doesn’t get more “grown-up” than that whether you’re getting paid six figures or minimum wage.

Assumption #6: That people who make lattes are not worth as much as people who work at jobs that pay more money. Again, to be clear…I’m not saying all jobs have the same economic value. There’s a reason we pay a few dollars for a latte and much more for, say, open heart surgery. But I am saying that paychecks do not determine the inherent worth of a worker. Or a worker’s work ethic.

Obviously when I say “people who make lattes,” I mean, people who make lattes, people who pump gas, people who wash dishes, people who tear ticket stubs, people who scrub toilets and make beds, people who make sandwiches, or people who do anything else related to service.

All of this has made me reconsider my own attitudes about what it means to work and what it means to respect someone for their work. I often find myself complaining about poor customer service but I am beginning to wonder…if people who made lattes or people who flip burgers or people who wax legs were treated like their work had worth…I wonder if they might believe it, too…and I wonder how that might impact our experiences of that service…

Thanks for letting me work out that mind itch.

What about you? Do you have or have you had a job in the service industry? What are your experiences around the way we judge the value of work?

love, elizabeth


Laura Elizabeth said...

Oh this post speaks to me on so many levels! I was a bachelor degree holder working in various service jobs and you seriously get treated like you are nothing. I can NOT believe the way people treat the people behind the counters. As a result, I am so overly nice to "people who make lattes" :) You have to work really hard at staying nice and pleasant throughout the day and that is very draining on a soul!

I remember one time a man yelled at me (at the time I was a receptionist), I can't even remember why and he was like "I've got a college degree and if you'd been smart enough to go to college, you wouldn't be working here". Ugh, people are the worst!

And also... I now work as a vet nurse and SO many people ask if I'm going to do further studies and become a vet. It's like asking a regular nurse if she's going to do further studies to become a doctor. Nope, I became a nurse because I want to be a nurse and that's ok.

Haha, I wrote a small essay here... obviously your post hit a nerve!!

Mrs. Pancakes said...

In this time and age you cannot judge anyone just because at any moment we could be working
Somewhere we don't need our degrees! I'm sure I've judged people in various industries!!! Great article!!

Mary said...

I love this post. Of course, I love all your posts, but this one rings true with every job I've ever had. I'm working on my masters, and I currently file papers. It takes the vast skill of alphabetizing. But I do it because it's what works for me right now. I can only assume individuals who are rude to people in the service industry have never actually had to work their way up. Thanks for sharing your musings!

Ashley @ A Recipe for Sanity said...

I hate that crap. You really can't assume anything about anyone. I feel the same way when people say things about those who are unemployed. Rob has his Masters and is unemployed right now, and there's such a stigma that you're lazy or not working hard enough or what have you. The fact is, we never know someone's story until they tell it to us, so we need to be kind to everyone. People who have formal education and those that don't are equally worthy of respect, regardless of their job or station in life.

Simon Willis said...

so very true in every level

Alex said...

True that. Everyone thought the same thing about me when I worked for Gap. Sigh.

S. Donald said...

Thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful, insightful post! I've only ever worked 'service' jobs, my current one in the school food service in a high school and I can tell you some stories! Most recent case in point: school nurse brings in teenager recently diagnosed with diabetes and assumes we have no idea of proper portion size, why balance in a meal is important, etc! As if we'd never heard of diabetes and don't understand how very important it is to control. Really disliked her condescending attitute toward us! On a positive note, the boy and his mother seemed to feel we know what we're doing and spoke to us like we are normal human beings of normal intelligence. Wow, you really did hit a nerve with this one! Love your blog!

katie said...

I agree with everything you said there! I lived for the past two years with someone who treated service people like dirt when she didn't get her way, and pretended like other service people (specifically waiters and waitresses) like they were her best friends the rest of the time. It was incredibly strange. After a while it was so horrifying to me and my other roommate to go anywhere with her, and eventually we just stopped doing so. It was very enlightening, and while I've always tried to be kind to everyone I encounter, since living with her I've tried to make an extra effort. I don't want to become like that - no one deserves that kind of treatment no matter what job they have.

MeghanSara said...

Thank you so much for saying this! I have two degrees and make $11/hour in a service job. It annoys me when people ask if it's a "summer job" or when I'm going back to school. Believe me, I'd love to be doing something in my field, but unfortunately, there are few opportunities for actresses and many opportunities for cashiers.

MOV said...

Great post. I completely relate. In fact, I could totally write a book on this very topic.

I was a flight attendant for 10 years, and realized MANY people look down on flight attendants. Yet some of the flight attendants I knew had law degrees! Some were Realtors. Everyone I flew with had a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and most spoke a 2nd language. Almost all had some other job/ hobby/ interest they pursued in their off time.

When some passengers would be snobby and consdescending (it could be a family or a business man with this attitude), I wanted to say, "Hey! I am being paid 45K a year to fly roughly 13 days a month. I have free flight passes for me and my family to fly all over the world. I can pick up extra flights working to Hawaii just for the layover and the nice hotel-- on the beach by the way. Yeah, who is the dumb one now?"

(guess I was-- I quit that job. I adore my sons and husband, but I DO miss my old job!!!)


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