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?