What Happened to Professionalism?

Fred Cole recently asked why employees will regularly skip work yet complain about their pay.  A pattern I’ve been noticing in the last few years is unprofessionalism in the service sector–grocery stores, warehouse stores, post office. Maybe it’s been going on since the Mom and Pop era, but if I’m right about noticing a deterioration lately, I have a theory about why.  I’ll get to that later.  Meanwhile…

  1. Xennady
    Jimmy Carter: Well, Amy, My experience tells Me the Right respects an honest days work for an honest days pay, regardless.

    Only from the left do I hear “…jobs Americans won’t do.” · 10 hours ago

    John S. McCain?

  2. Amy Schley

    Couple thoughts:

    1. The “working class” ethic is constantly shrinking.  The kids who have the gumption. intelligence, and professionalism you expect are in college or generally have much nicer jobs.  I especially notice this with black employees — if they had parents who cared about their potential, they went to college.  If their parents didn’t care, they work service jobs with bad attitudes.  The slice of the population with parents who taught professionalism but who still work service-type jobs is shrinking every day.

    2. Service employees are constantly disrespected by our customers. When “study because you don’t want a job flipping burgers!” is one of the go-to parental threats, is it any surprise that the educated tend to treat service workers as little more than interactive robots?  Teachers are far and away the worst — it never even crosses their mind that the person waiting on them might be just as if not better educated than themselves.  No, to most college graduates nothing done with the hands is to be respected, and that includes sales and service jobs.

  3. Amy Schley

    It is *hard* to be respectful, polite, and attentive to someone who treats you like dirt.  Yes, it’s our job, but a lot of folks would get much better service if they would treat employees with the respect they expect for themselves.

    E.g. customer egos.  I had a customer a year or so ago … he had left teaching to go back to culinary school and needed work shoes.  He started going off on this rant about how “it was so humiliating to have been a college educated professional (clear sign he was a teacher — no one else feels a need to qualify “professional” with “college educated”) and he’d gone back to culinary school to be a chef … and what’s the first job you get in a kitchen? Cutting vegetables for $10/hr!”

    I just leaned over to him and said, “Sir, I’m a lawyer.”

  4. Frederick Key

    You can usually find C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton on top of things, in this case Lewis: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” We have spent the last sixty years mocking and deriding and insulting the value of honest work and can’t expect to find people willing to do it with commitment.

    It’s the same in cube city (even nicknames like that betray the attitude). When I got out of college my parents took me out and bought me two suits for the road ahead. It has been at least a decade since I was compelled to wear a suit for the office. There are homeless people who dress better than some professionals I meet. All part of the same problem.

  5. Jimmy Carter

    I’ll echo Amy, somewhat.

    The left has successfully debased entry level positions. The actions and attitudes You experience from the employees is a coping mechanism dealing with the “embarrassment” for Their current lot.

    With each passing day there is more stigma attached to entry level employment than there is with receiving welfare, if it hasn’t surpassed it yet.

  6. Amy Schley
    Jimmy Carter: I’ll echo Amy, somewhat.

    The left has successfully debased entry level positions. The actions and attitudes You experience from the employees is a coping mechanism dealing with the “embarrassment” for Their current lot.

    With each passing day there is more stigma attached to entry level employment than there is with receiving welfare, if it hasn’t surpassed it yet. · 0 minutes ago

    It’s not just the left — it’s the educated on both sides of the aisle.  Service jobs are thought to be solely the province of the slacker, the moron, and the incompetent.  The college grads who walk into my store aren’t about to suggest *their* precious children work in such low circumstances to learn about patience, humility, and service.  And any college grad who stooped to such mean methods to survive can’t possibly be worth hiring into any desk job, which is partly why I can’t get anywhere in my own job search.

  7. Jimmy Carter

    Well, Amy, My experience tells Me the Right respects an honest days work for an honest days pay, regardless.

    Only from the left do I hear “…jobs Americans won’t do.”

  8. HeartofAmerica

    My very first job was at McDonald’s. It was a lot harder then it is today. Technology has made it pretty easy for those workers now.  I remember the manager telling me that I needed to “smile at those burgers” which was a reminder that a good attitude  continues even when your back is to the customer.

    Fast forward 40 years later and a trip through the drive-thru is often filled with an order taker who doesn’t speak English well or grunts a response. A person who takes your money and hands back change with nary a look at you much less a comment. They just plop the change in your hand. And a person who hands the food to you without comment. Rarely do I ever hear “thank you” and many times my order is wrong.

    I blame management for letting it happen. Are they so desperate for workers that they cannot properly train customer service? Or do they try and the workers up and walk away? I know that they are poorly paid but you can have pride in your work…wherever (and whatever) it is.

  9. sawatdeeka
     

    Jimmy Carter: I’ll echo Amy, somewhat.

    The left has successfully debased entry level positions. The actions and attitudes You experience from the employees is a coping mechanism dealing with the “embarrassment” for Their current lot.

    With each passing day there is more stigma attached to entry level employment than there is with receiving welfare, if it hasn’t surpassed it yet. · 0 minutes ago

    Jimmy, I’m curious for more examples as to how entry-level positions have been debased. In my mind, if “debasement” is the word, it’s subtle, because the vibe seems to be about sympathy for a supposedly trapped underclass, stuck because of a lousy system where only a few of us get a taste of the pie.

  10. Amy Schley
    Jimmy Carter: Well, Amy, My experience tells Me the Right respects an honest days pay for an honest days work, regardless.

    Only from the left do I hear “…jobs Americans won’t do.” · 0 minutes ago

    Edited 0 minutes ago

    To the extent that most white working-class people lean right, yes.

    When I see a customer come in wearing overalls, dickies, or obvious work clothes, I generally know it’s going to be a more pleasant experience where I won’t have to fight to establish my expertise.  They may not be able to afford my products, but they won’t act like I’m just shooting them a line or that I’m just a go-for with no clue what I’m talking about.

  11. Fred Cole
    Amy Schley

    Jimmy Carter

    Casey: The notion that there is value in work itself is simply idiotic.

    Anyone Who has ever written or received a paycheck, regardless of conditions, should be insulted. · 9 minutes ago

    No, I agree … there is no intrinsic value in effort.  The value of work comes from what is accomplished — a sale made, a meal served, an item crafted.  ”Trying hard” only gets rewarded in elementary schools. · 7 hours ago

    The work only means something if its productive.  You can all day making mud pies, but even if one is crafted with great care and precision  it’s still just a mud pie, and the fact that you put a lot of work into it doesn’t change that.

  12. 10 cents

    If you want to see well trained workers come to Japan.  If you want to see how well American workers are trained visit Detroit.

  13. Fred Cole

    1.) The countdown. 

    About this one, it’s just working people relating to other working people.  I’m always polite to cops not only because its prudent, but because they’re just working people.

    So, I get the countdown.  I’ve done it before, I’ve seen it in all kinds of places.  I wouldn’t say it to a customer, but I get it.

    Numbers 2-5 are intolerable.  I don’t need to see how the sausage gets made.

    I have two comments:

    1. In a lot of cases we’re talking about kids.  Maybe its their first job and they make almost no money.  So, if their professionalism isn’t all there, it’s hard to blame a kid making peanuts.  You get what you pay for.  And if its their first job, maybe nobody’s explained to them that you’re not supposed to do that kind of thing.

  14. Fred Cole

    2. Management matters.  McDonald’s is a good example.  I’ve been to ones where the staff are professional and prompt and I’ve been to ones where all of the above described complains exist and then some.  

    There’s a Hannaford supermarket like a half a mile from my house and its across the plaza from a Walmart.  (The old kind w/o a grocery store in it.)  They pay probably about the same wages, they draw employees from probably the same pool.  I notice the above 5 at Hannaford, the only one I ever see at Walmart is maybe #2, and that only very rarely.

    Management must be the difference.  Employees are one place are better trained and supervised than at another.  Proper management matters.

    But at least they show up and do their job poorly.  Getting a job, keeping it, and showing up to it puts them ahead of a lot of people.

  15. Palaeologus
    sawatdeeka:

    A professional back room stocker at a store can be a professional manager, or district manager, or CEO.  Or can leave the store and be a professional teacher or dentist.  Do we believe that any more?  · · 2 hours ago

    It is probably still true with small-to-midsized corps, but the bigger ones tend to hire from outside the industry, let alone the company, for positions above store manager.

    Which, incidentally, leads to some of the poor training.

  16. sawatdeeka
    Amy Schley: Couple thoughts:

    2. Service employees are constantly disrespected by our customers. When “study because you don’t want a job flipping burgers!” is one of the go-to parental threats, is it any surprise that the educated tend to treat service workers as little more than interactive robots?  Teachers are far and away the worst — it never even crosses their mind that the person waiting on them might be just as if not better educated than themselves.  No, to most college graduates nothing done with the hands is to be respected, and that includes sales and service jobs. · 1 hour ago

    Lots of interesting thoughts, Amy. I think experiences differ by region. I don’t see our workers locally getting abuse or rudeness, and that may be because we live in town of 18,000.  I and most people I know are polite to anyone staffing an establishment. 

    Regional differences probably also account for my better experience than Heart of America’s with service.

    How interesting that teachers are the worst. I wonder why that is.

  17. sawatdeeka

     Amy: The college grads who walk into my store aren’t about to suggest *their* precious children work in such low circumstances to learn about patience, humility, and service.

    Actually, I’ve told my kids they might flip burgers for awhile, to get themselves through school, or by necessity, or for a high school job, and they should always do their best.  I’ve told them that if we have a job that is our only option at the time, we should be thankful for it.  But meanwhile, our society is set up in a way that allows us to pursue higher education and as long as we have satisfying career alternatives, they are blessings and we should work for them.  I told them life might not always have career doors open for them, and in that case they were to bloom where they were planted.

    The girls were probably both under ten when I went into these speeches, so not sure how much they got out of it.

  18. William Laing

    Charles Murray’s Coming Apart has implications about customer behaviour. The customer who thinks “Hey, I used to do a menial job just like t his, and my kid will too”, might be a bit different from someone who just can’t imagine work for less than $100k. The latter type, he demonstrates, is becoming more numerous.

    On the other hand, I’d say a stratified society can, at its best,  have noblesse oblige, in this case in the sense that it’s lain down: “Never annoy someone who cannot hit back”.

    New World societies, (and New-New world societies like Australia and New Zealand) should take care not to fall between these two stools.

    Charles Murray is the go-to guy.

  19. William Laing

    A good manager can demonstrate that some jobs are more fun, even easier, to do well than to do badly. 

    Is this a lost art?

  20. Amy Schley
    sawatdeeka

    I think experiences differ by region.  …

    How interesting that teachers are the worst. I wonder why that is. · 19 minutes ago

    Just as I don’t think it’s a left/right thing, I don’t think it’s so much a regional thing — it’s a cultural thing.  If you or your friends/family work a menial job, you’re much less likely to be a prick to those who also do.  If you’ve been taught that only the people not good enough for anything else go into service jobs, well, why not treat them like drooling fools?

    As for teachers (and I get this vibe from a lot of Asians, too), my theory is that they assume that education always leads to good jobs, and then believe the converse — that anyone in a “bad job” must necessarily be uneducated.  Furthermore, teachers seem to believe that education is the most valuable character identifier, so the chain of logic goes bad job –> low education –> inferior person.

    They get offended when I let slip that I’m better educated than they are — it upsets their paradigm.

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