Monday, August 20, 2012

Vol #2, Col #7: Service with a Smile

I remember even up to just a few years ago, the delight of being able to dock my car at a fuelling station for a fill-up and being greeted ever so politely by the attendants who were more than willing to oblige. The appropriate inquiries were made in regard to my gasoline preferences, and if I were in a rush or feeling particularly lazy, I didn’t even have to exit my vehicle to have my purchase processed and receipt hand-delivered. The best part of this experience was the fact that I knew my money was being well-spent and in said scenario, a gratuity didn’t have to be built right into the purchase for fear that it wouldn’t naturally be merited by the courteous staff.

Nowadays, any visit to a big box store will quickly prove that the so-called “customer service” agents are as ignorant as the general public when it comes to where anything is (or for that matter, whether the store even stocks the items in question). Moreover, by and large, said sales associates are seemingly too busy social networking to even bother to make momentary eye contact, while ringing through one’s purchases. To add insult to injury, if service is even provided (and that’s a big if), there’s a fairly high probability it’ll be with a grimace and sense of bitterness, rather than a wholehearted smile.

The ironic part about all of this, of course, is that as we continue to progress through the “information” age, the importance of maintaining strong relationships and developing interpersonal/communications skills is emphasized, all the while our actual contact with each other becomes increasingly superficial and disconnected (at least in “real” time).

While one is able to trace the roots of the aforementioned described worker-type alienation associated with menial labour back to Marx’s heyday during the time of the Industrial Revolution, there is clearly something more here at play.

I don’t think anyone has ever really had grand delusions that being a lifer at a supermarket or fast-food joint is a part of living the “(North) American Dream”. However, there was a point in recent history during which people were satisfied simply with the idea of having a job that allowed them to get by – that allowed them to pay their bills - and perhaps provided them with a bit of extra spending money so that they could occasionally treat themselves and/or savings money that they could put into an investment for their future retirement. They may not have been pursuing their ultimate passion in life, and several I’m sure quite likely hated the work that they did, but there was a sense of motivation to work hard, to work efficiently, and to work fast. It was understood that money did NOT in fact grow on trees, and the idea of getting oneself tangled up in credit card debt was something to be desired.

Comparatively speaking, the modern employee devotes far more time to gossiping with/about their colleagues and coming up with excuses for taking undeserved breaks, than actually working. Not only are we plagued with unionized workers who go on strike and demand higher wages during times of economic crisis, but further as recently reported in the news, incidents of on-the-job substance abuse are on the rise.

Inflation is definitely a factor. I mean one cannot reasonably deny that the expectations for the modern employee have risen while the benefits and pay-scale, in many cases, have remained stagnant (or worse decreased). The idea of hitting the “glass ceiling”, for young up and comers (BOTH men and women), due to the eradication of mandatory retirement and “seniority rules” has too likely contributed to a lack of motivation (why try so hard if there’s no room for growth?). Further, “credentialism” and accordingly, the amount of employees who are currently in “underemployed” positions (ie: positions for which they are overqualified) undoubtedly can be cited as a source of the development for the modern employees’ poor work ethic and poor attitude. BUT, I also think it’s generational. How else can you explain to me the striking contrast between the pleasantness of the older British woman and the general disinterest of the bubblegum-chewing teenaged girl; both of whom work as cashiers for the same low payrate at the pharmacy just down the road from my house (something too to consider is that the older woman likely has HIGHER expenses just based on demographic factors alone)?

A lot of you will likely hate me for saying this, but I think it comes down to the fact that frankly we’re too privileged. People my age and younger (in rich industrialized nations such as Canada, that is) have never had to worry about being drafted for a war, or developing a fatal condition due to poor sanitation and health regulations on the job. Most of us continue to be spoiled by our parents far past the point (and age) of reasonable. Further, the vast majority of the most undesirable and dangerous jobs have either been outsourced overseas or are completed by illegal migrant workers under the radar. As a consequence of all of this, a sizable portion of the youth population has developed a rather disgusting “sense of entitlement” – like they’re big shit and should be treated accordingly, without ever having to work for said status, and if you call them on this, they’ll go and cry to their employer (literally).

If this sounds like you, listen up and listen well. Barring extenuating circumstances (such as winning the lottery, being born a Hilton, or plainly just selling your soul), we all have to start at the bottom. Some of us are fortunate enough to rise up after years of recognized hard work and networking, while a good majority never get there (unfortunately a lot of this is still based on discriminatory treatment towards selected minority groups. Don’t be fooled by the delusion that we live in a fair meritocracy – we don’t.). But guess what? That latter group, as much as they may bitch and moan about being underappreciated and underpaid, are still thankful they’ve got money to put food on their tables. Perhaps a reality (and attitude) check is in order.

You may not have to worry about everyday expenses such as making sure there’s enough t.p. supply for your living quarters just yet, but when you do, you’ll realize pretty damn quickly that the world’s an expensive place, especially if you want to be able to take in some of the luxuries it has to offer. Maybe therefore, you should be thankful you have any job (and accordingly, thankful to the patrons of the establishment for keeping you employed) – whether you love or hate it. Bottom line: you’re there to work, so work.