‘Do your job’

by Mémé

We don’t have many small business owners with employees among our active contributors, but at least one of the farmers has often commented on the difficulty of finding reliable employees at the fair wage offered. Yesterday I had to stop in at Petco to drop off 24 cans of dog food (no dogs in our house) that had been included in our regular repeat order of cat food. My order was complete, I wasn’t charged for the extra stuff, but it was not the first time that my order had been incorrectly picked at the warehouse. I gave the box to the store manager and she said she would donate it to a local shelter. She also said that it was a known issue – she rarely got the correct inventory shipments herself. I asked if the company used contract job fillers – we have had local exposés on the practice of bringing a van to a neighborhood of poorly documented non English speakers and charging for transportation even if there is no work for the day when they arrive at the remote warehouse. She said, no, we hire our own employees, information I confirmed by some simple internet sleuthing.

That got me thinking about pride of work and the nobility of labor. A lot is made of the precipitous decline in work opportunity and wage levels for men with no more than a high school education. There are also stories of wage theft, demand scheduling and other abusive employer practices. But that doesn’t explain why many workers who have jobs do sloppy work, don’t arrive at work on time, why they don’t get any satisfaction out of doing their job well.

Totebaggers, do you think that the cultural denigration of hard work with one’s hands plays a large part in this? Is it just the relatively low wages? Is the decline of organized labor related to a lack of respect for jobs which by their nature do not require or even permit self-direction or entrepreneurial spirit?

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131 thoughts on “‘Do your job’

  1. But that doesn’t explain why many workers who have jobs do sloppy work, don’t arrive at work on time, why they don’t get any satisfaction out of doing their job well.

    Is it anything new? I bet your average 1970s GM assembly worker could give Petco warehouse guy a run for his money.

  2. Not a hijack, but a supplement:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-norquay/what-i-learned-four-years-working-at-mcdonalds_b_8682928.html

    I’m not sure what to make of the author. She seems to believe that she is now enlightened because she no longer denigrates her coworkers as people who are beneath her. But she still denigrates her former employer as a “shitty company,” and apparently feels no obligation whatsoever to even begin to justify or explain that position–she just accepts that as a given.

  3. Also, she’s one hell of a writer:

    “This was the bias that both me and the people around me were applying to my job.”

  4. But she still denigrates her former employer as a “shitty company,” and apparently feels no obligation whatsoever to even begin to justify or explain that position–she just accepts that as a given.

    She did explain it:

    At McDonald’s, there were people with disabilities, overweight people, people who weren’t conventionally attractive, people who couldn’t speak much English, young teenagers and a lot of racial diversity. These people made up the backbone of the store. They were respected as some of our best workers.

    Then I would look at a store like Starbucks, and the majority of the time, I would see people who looked like me. White, early 20s, reasonably attractive, slim, English speakers.

    I think she means “shitty” as in the bottom. McDonald’s exists at the very bottom of the job market employing the lowest of the low in terms of employability. .

  5. DH has a hard time finding college grads for entry level white collar jobs who don’t have a substance abuse problem. He finds about half of those he hires for certain roles have to be fired in the first 60 days.

    I’ve heard the same from other local small business owners, and I suspect it plays into the error rate at Petco as well.

  6. Is it anything new? I bet your average 1970s GM assembly worker could give Petco warehouse guy a run for his money.

    You’re correct. There was all kinds of industrial sabotage from within. Workers who worked too fast got beaten up. The conflict was more politicized — Labor v. Management — but the work didn’t get done any more correctly or efficiently.

  7. Sky, without giving too much away, can you give any hints about what type of white-collar labor your DH is hiring for?

  8. Rhett –
    [blockquote]
    I stopped equating dislike for big shitty companies with dislike for their foot soldiers. I developed more empathy.
    [/blockquote]

    I thought your previous comment about CPK and Olive Garden was spot-on. Just extend that same mentality a bit more. It’s not a shitty company. It’s a fun outing for a lot of families. I was there not too long ago having lunch next to some grandparents who had taken multiple grandchildren to McDonald’s on a Saturday while their mother was working. They called her on speaker to tell her how excited they were about it.

  9. “Workers who worked too fast got beaten up.”

    I am glad this didn’t happen to me during my first days in BigLaw! Yikes.

  10. I think “pride of work and the nobility of labor” are fundamentally MC (or LMC aspirational) values that many people just don’t have. The premise is that hard work is the path to success, or at least some degree of security. My parents told me to always do my best, even on the scut work, because employers want to see attitude and dedication and that’s how you move up.

    But some people aren’t raised that way; they might learn it through experience, but probably not as a 22-yr-old. And some people who are raised that way may blow it off until they grow up a little (it’s always cooler to stay detached and skate by than to be the earnest “Up with People” type).

    And some people just don’t buy into the premise in the first place. If I’m making $9/hr at Generic Big Box Store A, what’s my incentive to do more than the bare minimum? I need to believe two things: (i) that I want that next promotion or raise or whatever; and (ii) that busting my ass will get me there. If either of those two beliefs fails — e.g., the raise is so low that it doesn’t offset that extra effort, or a higher salary will just increase my chances of getting hit in the next round of layoffs, or promotions and raises seem to be given out based on politics or unfathomable corporate policies — then the whole concept is illogical. OTOH, if I slack off and get fired, I can probably get another job for the same pay at Generic Big Box Store B. And when you have minimal upside and minimal downside, then why would you bother to doublecheck the inventory when you could spend that time watching kittens on the internet on your phone?

    And of course that’s for the logical planning crew. We also have Rhett’s perpetual point that someone with lower cognitive ability or poor executive function isn’t going to have the ability to place the long-term rewards ahead of the short-term desire to watch cute kittens on a daily/hourly basis.

    Practically speaking, I think taking pride in your work is excellent advice for anyone — it may or may not pay off, but the other alternative basically guarantees failure. But the concept itself is the crux of the capitalist social contract: this is what we, the employees, offer, and in return you, the employer, reward us appropriately, so that the best workers get the best rewards, and it’s all objective and fair. And the more the employee part of the equation doesn’t think its efforts will be appropriately rewarded, or believes the system is stacked against it, the less incentive there is to give a damn.

  11. My dad owns a small business and he’s employed two men for over 30 years – one is great and one needs more guidance. He pays them about $50K per year each to paint houses which is probably way above market but as I said, they’ve been with him a long time. When he tries to hire college or high school kids they last about a week or two and then don’t want to paint houses anymore. When he hires immigrants they spend half of the year painting with him and then go back to their home country for a few months and then come back to the U.S. and collect unemployment. My dad is highly disillusioned with hiring new people and would retire except for the fact that his long time employees still want to work a few more years.

  12. Milo,

    I agree that she’s unfairly blaming McDonald’s for the existence of zero (or almost zero) marginal product workers.

  13. I think that the decline in organized labor is directly related to the structural changes in the industries that employed lots of union workers. At least in the private sector. As we know, unions are thriving in public employment.

    Another obstacle to employment for many youngish men, especially blacks, is a criminal record.

    DS is annoyed by the number of required meetings at which employees are reminded about going good work for their customers. This company hires only after a multi step interviewing process that presumably helps weed out slackers. As he put it, shouldn’t it be understood that you’re going to do good work, not crappy work, for your customers? His previous employer was a large law firm that did not waste billable hours on such things.
    Is this now a thing at many companies?

  14. Other facets:

    Evolution: As a practical manner, for basically all of recorded history, the community has always required the best efforts of everyone involved to survive. So it makes sense that natural selection would favor those who are to some degree hard-wired for that sort of behavior.

    Psychological: The reality is that when you throw yourself into doing your best on something, you *always* feel better than when you skate by. I have days of playing mental hooky, where I just crash and futz on the internet or watch Netflix or whatever. I enjoy the hell out of it during the day, but then by about 4:00, I have the psychological version of a hangover, where I’m just sort of nauseated by all the mental popcorn and crap I’ve ingested. OTOH, I’ve had really hard days where I’m walking out of the office at 7 or 8 at night after finishing a brief, and I’m so exhausted I can barely think, but I am surprised to find myself smiling and almost exhilarated.

    I suspect that these two reasons are why community-focused entities (e.g., governments, organized religions) would advocate those behaviors, because it’s one of the few areas where what is good for the individual (both physically, in terms of having the resources necessary for survival, and psychologically) is also key to the ongoing survival of the community.

  15. As he put it, shouldn’t it be understood that you’re going to do good work, not crappy work, for your customers?

    Almost all people are vastly more concerned about doing good for themselves or their team, very rarely do they base their decisions on what’s best for the customer.

  16. My first job in the U.S. was in the college cafeteria scraping plates and getting them ready to load in the dishwasher. In the beginning of my shift, I had to stack the silverware, plates, trays in their correct places. Needless to say, it wasn’t a job that was high on any student’s list. I smelled of food at the end of my shift and couldn’t eat anything right away. I saw tons of food wasted. I was however, well liked by the permanent staff of cafeteria ladies because I showed up, kept up with the dirty plates and completed my shift. At the end of the semester, a job in the library came open because though it was a genteel job, the student workers still wouldn’t show up and had to be fired. I moved up in the world.

  17. “Also, she’s one hell of a writer:

    “This was the bias that both me and the people around me were applying to my job.” ”

    Perhaps if you can ignore the poor grammar.

  18. Doesn’t surprise me. Take a look at the lack of effort a lot of kids put into high school. Cousin is a teacher and not allowed to give grades below “C” even if they literally do nothing. Half the class takes a nap or otherwise completely refuses to participate; she asks the kids who actually want to learn on a given day to come sit up front because trying to force the others to care is a lost cause. Sounds heartless, but if they’re like that at age 17 there’s only so much you can do to try and motivate them. People with that kind of lack of motivation aren’t going to magically start giving 100% just because it’s a job and not school. Maybe sometimes when it’s something they enjoy and/or are passionate about (i.e. a kid who hates academics but discovers he loves working with his hands and becomes a mechanic), but the lowest achievers are usually eligible for only the least-interesting jobs.

  19. “I thought your previous comment about CPK and Olive Garden was spot-on. Just extend that same mentality a bit more. It’s not a shitty company. It’s a fun outing for a lot of families. ”

    CPK is a treat for my family.

  20. if you can’t find reliable employees at the “fair wage”, then I suspect the wage isn’t “fair” enough.

  21. And today’s low wages for manual laborers compared to high wages for “knowledge workers” is where we see the lack of respect for hard work. Fix the wages and the respect will follow

  22. Maybe sometimes when it’s something they enjoy and/or are passionate about

    For others it’s also about a maturing brain. At 17 their executive function skills just hadn’t matured to the level they would be at 25 when they’d finally be able to buckle down.

  23. I think it is a cultural shift. My dad grew up in the Depression and is all about honesty and decency. You do your shit job properly because you agreed to do that job for that amount. If you don’t like the pay you can leave but that is not a reason to do a job poorly.

    I agree with Rio. It seems that the kids don’t want to do anything extra. We have a number of kids who are failing the final math exams because they realized that it wasn’t a high enough percentage of their grade to materially impact their final grade. That blew my mind. I always did as well as I could on any test. In my house you always gave your best effort. The reward wasn’t the grade it was the knowledge and the ability to show that you had mastered it. It seems that all anyone is invested in anymore is the tangible outcome.

  24. “McDonald’s exists at the very bottom of the job market employing the lowest of the low in terms of employability.”

    Which is a very important role in our society.

  25. “And today’s low wages for manual laborers compared to high wages for “knowledge workers” is where we see the lack of respect for hard work. Fix the wages and the respect will follow”

    I think this is a minor factor. I think there is less respect now than in the past, but I don’t think people ever granted the same level of respect to manual labor as to “knowledge-worker” jobs.

  26. “if you can’t find reliable employees at the “fair wage”, then I suspect the wage isn’t “fair” enough.”

    I was about to make the same point.

  27. First, young college grads have often had NO work experience before their first “professional” job. Things that were “flexible” in school are not in “real life” – you can decide to skip class without notifiying anyone and there is only the indirect penalty of missing the lecture, but if you skip work without calling in, you will likely receive reprimand. Same with assignments – professor gives them, you chose when, where and how you will complete the assignment allowing you to not work for a couple of days and then pull some all nighters, but work expects you to have fairly steady progress that they can see. This can be a real rude awakening.

    Second, entitlement thinking is pervasive – One thing I have seen is that young grads seem to think that their standard of living should not decrease when they move out on their own. Plus, they should be “equal” to the person in the job with more experience. Somehow they should be paid the same as their parent who has 20+ years experience as well as the same or more education they do and they should be able to have the same house, same car, etc. This leads to them getting miffed when their coworkers who have the same assignments they do get paid more. The attitude is they don’t pay me enough to do ….. What they don’t ever seem to see is how the output is different – quality, quantity, customer service, etc.

    I recently had a colleague in another organization who has a similar position to mine quit it because she found out the people in government doing a similar job to ours are holding “THIS” title and are being paid a lot more than she is (or I am for that matter). Well, if she had done a bit of research, she’d have found out that (1) her job is similar, but does not have all the requirements of those being give THIS title, (2) her job did not require the same level of education/experience combination, and (3) those with THIS title work in organizations with at least one of her/me underneath them. In addition, she had not finished her first full assignment (it takes at least 6 months), and didn’t give her management the chance to evaluate and reward her for that work.

  28. “DS is annoyed by the number of required meetings at which employees are reminded about going good work for their customers. ”

    How is this any different than client-focused corporate re-branding efforts and new mission statements (which seem to happen yearly) and the related bullshit meetings management and white collar workers are forced to attend?

  29. “Almost all people are vastly more concerned about doing good for themselves or their team, very rarely do they base their decisions on what’s best for the customer.”

    This brings to mind discussions in my World Civ class of ‘enlightened self interest.’

    I believe the point being made here is people act in their own self interest, but most of them do not have the ability to get the big picture of what encompasses that self interest.

  30. It seems that all anyone is invested in anymore is the tangible outcome.

    Anymore? Slackers existed 20 years ago to the same extent to do now. I can assure you of that.

  31. I had the profound unpleasantness yesterday of having to serve on a grade review committee. This is set up when a student is challenging a grade and they can’t come to a resolution. The meeting was pretty horrible with the student screaming at the professor in question, who I thought would have been better off if he had been a tad more organized. Anyway, the F was evidently due to the fact that the student submitted no homework during the semester (though he did submit a few of them on the last day of the term, something I would never allow), and he completely missed one of two inclass projects as well as some quizzes. What left me with my mouth open in shock was that the student kept insisting that he had NO IDEA that he would get a 0 on a quiz if he didn’t take it. He kept screaming that this wasn’t on the syllabus. How did we get to the point where we have to specify in the syllabus that if you don’t take a quiz (or hand in an assignment) that you would get a 0?

  32. My Work Study job in college was permitted by law to pay below minimum wage. I never met so many goof offs and slackers. Until…

    My Work Study job in Law School did pay minimum wage. The law students had goofing off and slacking off down to a science. My personality doesn’t permit that, so after a year, I was offered a Law School Fellowship. Goodbye tuition payments, hello stipend.

  33. It seems that totebaggers are saying that there is no clear economic or social reason for pride of unskilled work, just some sort of innate or inculcated need to do one’s job that, “coincidentally” conforms exactly to the hard work and delayed gratification values that we feel distinguish the responsible middle class, aspirational LMC to professional UMC, from the lower classes and the truly wealthy.

    So what do you see as a solution, or is one really needed?

  34. Yeah, ok, just don’t buy the whole sky is falling thing.

    Way back in the Stone Ages known as the 1980s, I managed to be the top worker at a variety of scut minimum wage jobs, despite any relevant skills or abilities, largely because I actually showed up for my scheduled shift and did the work I was asked to do. Heck, my whole illustrious career as a Kelly Girl was founded on the inability of gainfully-employed workers to show up and do their jobs.

    The biggest difference I see between now and then is that my cohort’s kids are now doing more school/”enrichment” activities, and fewer of them are getting regular paid jobs. Then again, I am now in a completely different socioeconomic cohort than I was then, so I have no basis to say whether DD’s friends are more clueless than the UMC teenage cohort was in 1985. Though based on what I saw in college, I’m gonna have to go with not so much. . . .

    Entitled, disengaged, unreasonable expectations, whiny? I remember when “Reality Bites” just really spoke to me, man.

  35. I believe the point being made here is people act in their own self interest, but most of them do not have the ability to get the big picture of what encompasses that self interest.

    I disagree. If the incentives are properly aligned then what’s best for you, your employer and your customer are often the same. Incentives are almost never properly aligned.

    As an example: A lawyer or consulting engagement manager looking to make partner is almost always going to face incentives that are pushing them to run up the bill (within the realm of acceptable professional practice) vs. doing precisely what’s in the best interest of their clients.

  36. “How did we get to the point where we have to specify in the syllabus that if you don’t take a quiz (or hand in an assignment) that you would get a 0?”
    Maybe he went to the school someone mentioned above, where the teachers were prohibited from giving less than a C.
    Actually, I think my kid has said that teachers at his school are not allowed to give 0’s. They have to let the student make up the work and it is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the student does so. I could see how this kind of environment produces the student who can’t imagine there being a downside to taking a quiz.

  37. I think the point of college kids coming out of school and expecting to live on their own in a place that looks just like their parent’s house is a good one (granite counter, big screen TV, all the modern “stuff”). College age kids of co-workers are living in off-campus apartments that have more amenities than where I live now. They have private bedrooms/bathrooms, kitchens with granite/stainless steel, health center, pool, etc. If you never live in a crappy college apartment, how will you ever learn to appreciate what you eventually have to work to pay for.

  38. My BIL is a college prof and he was telling me that he gets all of these frantic e-mails from students questioning how much each test/quiz counts towards their grade. This info is all on the syllabus (which is online). He answers their questions but I would be so tempted to just write “It’s on the syllabus!”

  39. And in this post I was not all that concerned about the entitled UMC kid who discovers that reality bites. He has a multilayered safety net which usually enables him to bloom later in life, or at least get by (although I know plenty of marginal adults still dependent on their elderly parents). I am thinking about Mooshi’s aspirational MC students (some of whom may not belong in college) or even more so those who will never be tracked to higher education.

  40. How did we get to the point where we have to specify in the syllabus that if you don’t take a quiz (or hand in an assignment) that you would get a 0?

    In my day, it was at the professor’s discretion when or if to accept late assignments. Some said paper X is due Tuesday at 5pm or you get a 0. Others said get it to me whenever. For them, if you didn’t hand anything in all semester you’d get an incomplete for the semester. However, this would revised when/if you ever handed in the assignments.

  41. “They have to let the student make up the work ”
    But this student never attempted to make up the quiz. He apparently presumed that if he never took the quiz, he wouldn’t get a 0 because the syllabus didn’t say he would.
    Do I now have to specify in my syllabus that if you get half the questions wrong, you will get a 50%? And if you get 1/4 of the questions wrong, you will get a 75%? My syllabus is already 5 pages long, filled with legalese to precisely specify what will happen in all kinds of situations. Ugh.

  42. But wouldn’t a lawyer who got the big picture realize that doing what’s in the best interest of their client is also most likely to keep that client?

  43. He apparently presumed that if he never took the quiz, he wouldn’t get a 0 because the syllabus didn’t say he would.

    I don’t think he actually presumed that. I’m going with, “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

  44. I either don’t take late assignments, or have a late penalty, depending on the type of assignment. This is all spelled out in the syllabus. I have a couple of reasons. We do weekly in class lab projects. These are small projects that they can mainly finish in class. They are due the next class. I do not accept them after the beginning of the class. Why? Because I want to go over the solution in depth. That is the whole point. I want them to work on it themselves, and struggle a bit, and then I want to immediately show them the right way to do it. If I had to wait a week or two for all the stragglers to come in, they students will have forgotten about the lab, and won’t gain as much from me working the solution.
    I have to constantly hold the line on this, even though it is in the syllabus and I mention it many times during the first couple of weeks

  45. But wouldn’t a lawyer who got the big picture realize that doing what’s in the best interest of their client is also most likely to keep that client?

    That’s not going to get him made a partner. Making partner means keeping him happy as a client, while also squeezing as much money out of him as possible, all the while staying within the realm of acceptable professional practice.

  46. outcome: professor backed down and decided he would regrade something to get the kid to a D-. We did not ask him to do this – we said we would back whatever his decision was. I think the professor was upset – he said he didn’t want the student to go away so angry.

  47. DH has the most trouble hiring admins and computer programmers – starting salary for those with little or no experience is in the $40k-$60k/year range, plus bonus and benefits. Most went to the state school or local SLACs, got above average grades, and have Totebaggy parents.

    Alcohol is the biggest issue, although years ago he had an employee who was definitely on cocaine. Lots of the under-35 crowd get too wasted on Thursdays to show up on Fridays.

  48. Sky, 40 to 60K is pretty low for a software developer if you want someone who actually knows something

  49. “But that doesn’t explain why many workers who have jobs do sloppy work, don’t arrive at work on time, why they don’t get any satisfaction out of doing their job well.”

    This is NOT a blue collar thing. Plenty of this in the white collar world too.

    “Anymore? Slackers existed 20 years ago to the same extent to do now. I can assure you of that.”

    Oh FOR SURE. At my first professional job, 20 years ago, in my first week, one of the mid-level people taught me that the trick to leaving early was to walk out the door with your coat at 3pm holding a FedEx envelope so that people would think that you were going to mail a package instead of leaving to go to the sports bar down the street.

    I think that the Totebag is populated with so many overachievers that it is just generally disconnected from this mentality. Rhett gets at it with the “cost per unit effort” mantra. People are actually pretty good at calculating the cost per unit effort – and will chose to go to the bar at 3pm with their buddies rather than do an A+ job knowing that the actual “benefit” may be a $1000 difference come raise time. Depends on the company culture and their personality.

  50. IMO, what I saw of student workers who failed to show up to cushy jobs is parents who would bail them out. This doesn’t mean necessarily that the parents were rolling in dough, just parents who would provide spending money and not insist on their kids working for it. It seemed to me that they felt they were doing a huge favor to their parents by physically being on a college campus. They wanted to be on permanent spring break.

  51. “That’s not going to get him made a partner. Making partner means keeping him happy as a client, while also squeezing as much money out of him as possible, all the while staying within the realm of acceptable professional practice.”

    As someone who works in the professional services sector – let me just say – ABSOLUTELY.

  52. MM, I’m not sure about the developer salary – I think they pay developers much more than that. The $40k-$60k is the range for admins and techies doing basic entry level stuff. I.e., when he fires them the work gets done by an intern.

  53. well you said “computer programmer” which is actually a term not used much any more, but which would generally mean a software developer.

    I don’t know the salaries for IT admins as much.

  54. My HS DD school policy – assignments turned in when specified when given or on syllabus and may vary between assignment. For example, math due turned in electronically by 8:15 am the day it is due regardless of when you have the class, but history “study guide” (means outline) is due on the day of the test covering those chapters and is collected at the time the test is handed out. Extra credit work is only offered to the entire class or no-one. Example – teacher found kids were not doing conversions correctly, resulting in poor homework and quiz grades. She offered extra credit to everyone, come to classroom after school, do conversion worksheet there. Showed up, did sheet, got them right, received extra credit.

    Philosophy – don’t blow it off, you don’t always get a do over or a way to improve it.

    In contrast, my DD’s friend’s school policy – if you get a grade that is unacceptable to you, you go to the teacher and get extra credit work. You can ALWAYS bring your grade up to passing, but most allow you to bring you grade back up to 95. This friend gets low test grades, but then is going and getting enough extra credit work to get her on the honor roll. Somehow that seems wrong to equate her ability with the student who did the work and got the 95 without extra credit.

    Philosophy – it’s never your fault or inability – there is always a way to get the grade you want and the teacher must create the path for you do to it

  55. Interesting topic!

    My husband had a good friend in business school who had previously served as a junior officer in the Army, including a tour in Afghanistan. He was interested in going into consulting, and he (and the two other former military guys in the class) were very heavily recruited by all of the big firms, even though none of them had the “pedigree” (sky high SATs, prestige undergrad) that these firms seemed to require of other candidates. When his friend asked his eventual employer why they liked military guys so much, they told him, “Because if I tell a guy who spent a year in Afghanistan that I need him to go to Sheboygen for a week in February, but that I will pay him $200k per year and have him back to his wife on Friday, he’s not going to complain about it.”

    Definitely an interesting perspective on entitlement.

  56. Slackers are everywhere. The smart slackers in biglaw do the best. Knowing how to balance the fine line between billing a lot to the client but not so much that you piss them off while still getting them the right answer/work product is an art. Overeager Totebag types generally are not good at this. They are usually the worker bees, not the rain makers.

  57. “He answers their questions but I would be so tempted to just write “It’s on the syllabus!”

    DH gets these types of questions on a regular basis. Not sure what he does with emails, but in person he points out that the answer is on the syllabus. He is not always nice about it. In fact, he can probably be heard in the next office.
    And one phrase he uses over and over is “it’s not my job.” As in, it’s not my job to reschedule your final when you failed to follow the college procedures established for situations in which students have conflicting finals. It’s not my job to give you a private class session during office hours because you didn’t come to class the day before.

  58. At my DD’s high school, one never really knows in if a due date is a due date. Last Sunday night/Monday morning, she stayed up until 3:00 am to finish a paper that (on Friday) was due at 8:00 Monday morning. When she got to class, the teacher extended the due date for one day for some students, for two days for another.

    Philosophy–Only foolish people actually get something done by the deadline.

  59. Sky, I apologize, but I can’t remember where you live. I am sure that you don’t want to give away too many details, but just some clue. I was wondering due to your posts today and the posts about the diversity in your classrooms.

    Mooshi – I wish the prof and the school has the balls to fail that kid. I think the problem is that then some of these same kids show up in offices and they seem shocked that they actually have to show up on time and get work done by a certain deadline. It is not as bad now because the job market is still tight in my field.

  60. My kids’ teachers have the discretion to determine whether late work is accepted, and on what terms. It is possible to fail a class and if it’s a required course to graduate, “credit recovery” i.e. summer school or eschool is the way to get back on track. I’m sure that if a teacher was failing some substantial chunk of the class there would be pushback from the administration, but for those students who just aren’t turning in the work, the school doesn’t take the attitude that parents/students are ‘customers’ who need to be kept happy. (Public school.) So, if my kids want to take chances with not turning stuff in on time (and sometimes they do, alas) they have to be aware of whether this is a teacher who will accept it late, accept it for a limited period, accept it with points deducted, or not accept late work at all.

  61. “Overeager Totebag types generally are not good at this. They are usually the worker bees, not the rain makers.”

    Cat +1. There are very few people who can work 10-12 hrs/day (“real” work time) and still do top-quality work. I have seen many a smart, diligent, hard worker not make partner — usually because they were very good at one thing, but couldn’t adjust to different client needs/expectations. People who are great at the $75K brief can suck at the $3K bullet-point outline.

  62. Lauren, DH’s firm is in the city you worked in; we live in the furthest reaches of commuterville, past Ellie. I know at least one person who lurks here but doesn’t post, so don’t out me :)

  63. The smart slackers in biglaw do the best. Knowing how to balance the fine line between billing a lot to the client but not so much that you piss them off while still getting them the right answer/work product is an art.

    I think DD has found her calling.

  64. It seems likes it’s been a constant theme in the historical record for servants/serfs/slaves (not just American South, also ancient Greek or Roman) to be portrayed as lazy and stupid, i.e. probably slacking. You see this in Aristophanes and Terence, for instance. Yet your yeoman farmer types (i.e. self-employed) might be portrayed as hard-working albeit comically rustic. So I think the idea that if you’re working for the Man with no clear path to advancement you’re not motivated to put in 100% is a long-standing one. And for that matter, I believe it used to be a common complaint of feudal lords that the peasantry had plenty of energy to tend their own little plots but when it came to putting in their required days of service on the lord’s fields they half-assed it.

  65. Church says do your best to show gratitude for the gifts given to you. That makes my day chug along.

  66. “And for that matter, I believe it used to be a common complaint of feudal lords that the peasantry had plenty of energy to tend their own little plots but when it came to putting in their required days of service on the lord’s fields they half-assed it.”

    Damn peasants. SO hard to get good help nowadays.

  67. Great post. My Dad and Meme would have a great afternoon at a coffeeshop. I see a ton of variables that affect her question.
    1) Local job market- our local job market is sufficiently tight (too many college grads chasing too few jobs) that most employed people are reasonably diligent.
    2) Demographics- for physically demanding jobs, more of the workforce is of an age/condition where carpal tunnel or back problems preclude a shift of lifting cases of pet food from point A to point B. People who can do that are working for UPS at higher wages. (My tech mentioned that his granddaughter’s father is sorting packages for UPS just this week.) Obesity and improved medical care (think of cancer survivors) are also factors in this change.
    3) Who controls wages?- Corporations are unresponsive to local labor markets and how those markets change over time (and even seasonally). The managers trying to get work done often don’t have the authority to pay a market rate. I suspect that’s the problem in Meme’s area. Petco’s CEO wants to ship catfood but isn’t willing to pay his packers the rates that UPS does.

    4) Marginal tax rate- it’s Gift Card Promotion season, and I just stocked up on cereal and diapers, saving ~$200 for ~2-3 hr of extra grocery stops/mental effort. I e-mailed my friend whose market rate is ~$12/hr and whose husband is an engineering manager about the $1 healthy Kellogg’s cereal at Safeway this week. Given her personal preferences (standard business hours only), hearing limitations and direct and indirect costs of working (transportation, time away from housework/homework supervision), it is logical for her to be only marginally attached to the labor force.

    I expect “employee quality” issues to be resolved by some combination of automation, higher wages, higher costs for package delivery from stores like Petco and shorter hours for retail establishments (which decrease wage costs)

    The question of “Why won’t people do a good job for $10/hr?” has obvious ties into the ongoing discussion about the social safety net/guaranteed minimum income.

  68. Has anyone read _Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change_ by Nobel-Prize winning economist Edmund Phelps?

  69. “Philosophy–Only foolish people actually get something done by the deadline.”

    @Murphy – I’d say that she shouldn’t have procrastinated to the point that she needed to stay up until 3 but also the upside is that it is behind her and she will now have time to do other work or relax while her other friends are finishing up the assignment. One of these days there won’t be an extension and those kids will get dinged.

  70. Economics is a fascinating discipline. Another thought on Meme’s post that I didn’t mention above is that flexibility, not just wages, is a part of modern compensation. Would Petco have better results if they paid their workers according to number of orders filled and accuracy, rather than by the hour?

    My ability to (largely) set my own schedule and to change it either for personal or work reasons is part of why it makes economic sense for me to work. Mr WCE’s higher compensation is a result, in part, of his willingness to go to Europe several times in the next few months on short notice. But he couldn’t be “willing” to do that if he were primary caregiver for four young children.

  71. Moxie, she didn’t really procrastinate. The teacher dropped the assignment on the kids at the last minute. She had a two day tournament, and other coursework that was due that occurred in the four days between the paper being assigned and being due. Other kids wrecked their weekends/sleep habits to get the paper done, but the slackers got between one and two more days to work on the assignment.

    My kid’s school doesn’t require that the teachers have syllabuses. For the past two days, I have been emailing the kids’ teachers trying to get clarity on when their finals are. As of right now, all but two teachers have set their finals date. Finals are next week.

  72. WCE, from the all-knowing wiki:
    Piece Work Pay and Minimum Wage
    In the United States the Fair Standard Labor Act requires that all employees, including piece work workers, earn at least the minimum Wage. In calculating an appropriate piece work rate, employers must keep track of average productivity rates for specific activities and set a piece work rate that ensures that all workers are able to earn minimum wage.

    So, that means the efficient workers get beat up (from comment above) for increasing the average productivity beyond the minimum output the workers really want to provide. And, if e.g. 8 boxes/hour was the goal, if someone only did 4, they still get paid minimum (unless, of course, they get fired for being unproductive).

  73. Regarding Meme’s example, if could also be that the cost of hiring workers who cared about filling orders accurately was higher than the cost of donating/writing off the misdelivered goods.

  74. I just returned 3 dozen bottles of White-Out to Staples last night. It took me almost 4 weeks to have a chance to drop it off without having to drag my children into the store. Because I know that Terrible Things Might Happen if they waited in the minivan.

  75. Sigh, just caught two cheaters. Both are failing my course, one for the second time. One is a varsity sports guy, the other a very very Muslim woman (full covering). They handed in the same program. It was easy to spot because I was already suspicious the first time I saw the program – the code didn’t seem like the kid could have written it. It was different from what we have done in class and used constructs we don’t usually use. I don’t think the other person wrote it either. I am guessing there is a third party, probably one of our tutoring center tutors, who wrote it. Grrr

  76. I had already caught Mrs Hijab trying to hide a smartphone in her lap during an exam.

  77. This is way OT, but I suffered a mini stroke this weekend. I’m an under 50 yo female with no known risk factors. So if you get some weird numbness, even if it is fleeting, get thee to an emergency room or your doctor stat. Don’t assume it’s because you have a cold, slept the wrong way, worked out too hard, etc. A few hours later, I experienced the most terrifying 10 minutes of my life when I couldn’t move my left side. I’m fine now but am going through a barrage of tests to see if there’s a root cause.

  78. Anon Anon – So sorry to hear that and hope you are OK! Your story just reminded me of a family friend who thought she had a stroke but later learned she had MS. She was also under 50 at the time, but this was ~20 years ago, so maybe we have better diagnostics now. Good luck!

  79. “Finals are next week.”

    I like that. DS, OTOH, has a week of classes after winter break, then finals. As a result, a lot of kids spend a lot of their winter break studying.

    On top of that, there’s a big debate tournament right after finals, and the next week is seating testing for orchestra (which is, in a way, another final exam).

    We had a great trip last year during winter break, but DS asked that we keep any future winter break trips shorter so he’ll have time to study.

  80. AA– a TIA? That’s pretty scary.

    My mom and FIL both had those. The good news was that they both recovered completely. In my mom’s case, it turned out there was something wrong with her liver, and most likely the clot that caused the TIA came from there.

  81. Finn, yes a TIA. I’m hoping a cause is found. Sometimes none of the tests come back with a definitive answer, which I think will be harder to live with.

  82. Anon Anon – hormonal birth control can increase the risk of TIAs and strokes, which I’m sure someone mentioned if you are on it, but am adding just in case anyone else dismisses the symptoms because she is “too young.”

  83. Anon – I hope you find out the cause and thanks for the warning.

    Mooshi – I am puzzled by the slacker behavior displayed by your students. It seems that a lot of them may have loans and are presumably taking computer science to better their job prospects, so I would expect a more sincere effort on their part, so that they can at least graduate. They may not have the aptitude but that is a separate issue.

  84. AA, have you started on aspirin or some sort of blood thinner?

    The good news is that you survived the first TIA, and now you’re on alert. You can educate everyone around you so they can recognize if you have another, and know what to do, which I believe is to get you to a hospital as quickly as possible for a brain scan, and administration of the clotbuster drug if appropriate, i.e., it’s an ischemic stroke.

    Stroke is one of my biggest fears. There’s a family history, and the fact that one could incapacitate me and make me a burden on others is a fear I learned from my mom.

  85. AA – I am glad that you’re going to be ok. I had to look up TIA because I wasn’t familiar with the acronym. Two of my HS friends had strokes this year and they both under 50. no warning signs. In a coincidence, they were with medical staff when it was happening so they got immediate care since the friends recognized the symptoms.
    Strokes are a scary business.

  86. Anon – thanks for sharing. Strokes are on the list of things I think of as happening to other people, not me, so I’m not really aware of the symptoms. Your post made me realize that’s a silly attitude.

  87. Anon Anon- I’m so sorry that happened to you but glad you’re ok. Thank you for sharing your experience and raising awareness. Strokes and blood clots could use a lot more public awareness, IMO. I mean we have “Pinktober” every year and all know the signs of breast cancer, but few people know how serious symptoms of stroke, DVT, and pulmonary embolism need to be taken. Even though they kill many more women (and of course men) than breast cancer.

    If you’re comfortable, please update us on if your tests reveal an underlying cause.

  88. Not much to add Anon Anon, but I do hope you find something treatable and prevent further problems. I also hope it happens quickly. The pace of neurologic workup can be exceedingly slow. I think neurologist are the most thorough doctors out there – which so limits their capacity to see many patients efficiently.

  89. On topic, my parents live in a small town and have a good friend that runs a busy restaurant. She can never find adequate help and they love to moan about too many government benefits that keep people from working.

    However, in their state, income greater than about $300/month disqualifies you from Medicaid, and the local diabetic cook won’t work more than 6 hours a week at the senior center. Losing her Medicaid would mean that she would have to pay more than $500 month in diabetic supplies and not have insurance (they live in a state that has not expanded Medicaid and offers few subsidies).

    Other people find better jobs. The lady who runs the restaurant could likely find reliable help if she paid more – the fancier tourist spot down the road doesn’t have the same problem. It seems pretty straightforward to me – high quality employees require high quality wages.

  90. Anon Anon — Thank you for posting and I’m glad you are ok now. Please keep us updated if you can. I think we could use more education and awareness about strokes.

    “Stroke is one of my biggest fears. There’s a family history, and the fact that one could incapacitate me and make me a burden on others is a fear” — Ditto

  91. [blockquote]
    Other people find better jobs. The lady who runs the restaurant could likely find reliable help if she paid more – the fancier tourist spot down the road doesn’t have the same problem. It seems pretty straightforward to me – high quality employees require high quality wages.”
    [/blockquote]

    It would seem, then, that forcing an artificially higher minimum wage would make it a lot more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. As you and Mooshi have said, without a minimum wage, high-quality employees will naturally find the higher wages that they are due. Forcing them into the same wage pool with the slackers would be doing them a huge disservice.

  92. Anon Anon – just catching up now. So sorry about the TIA. What a panic that must have been. I hope they’ll find a treatable root cause soon.

  93. AA – Thanks for the head’s up on TIA. My partner’s dad suffered from them later in life.

  94. Anon Anon, thank you for posting and so glad you are OK now. Hopefully the cause will be identified. Two neighborhood women (in their 40’s) had fairly severe strokes within the past year. In both cases, estrogen is suspect, in the form of the Pill (birth control) or estrogen replacement therapy. For one of the women, it’s been a long recovery but her spirits are up and she’s slowly regaining mobility. The other one just happened recently. Very scary and unexpected.

  95. Anon Anon,
    It is very scary suddenly to go from perfectly fine to facing a potentially serious health condition. Thanks for sharing your experience and glad you are OK now.

  96. Wow, AA — sorry to hear that. Sending good wishes for a complete recovery and quick diagnosis.

  97. “Forcing them into the same wage pool with the slackers would be doing them a huge disservice.”

    I agree. And if relatively unskilled workers cannot make ends meet with jobs that fill their skill sets, it seems unfair to require their employers — rather than society in general — to subsidize their wages.

    On the broader topic of slacker workers and what’s wrong with kids these days — regardless of general trends, on a regular basis I still encounter workers in so-called dead end jobs who take real pride in their work and go above and beyond the minimum requirements to provide good customer service. I’m thinking of the older guys who work at Home Depot and patiently help me find exactly the right $2 widget to fix my hose, or the clerks at the bakery who search for the biggest scone in the pile (especially the lady who saves one for me if the pile is getting low), or the plumber who stops by the next day (without charge) to make sure that the faucet isn’t dripping again. My college swimmer DS told me about one of the young African-American guys who worked in the dining hall and who would always put extra eggs on his plate with a huge smile, saying “you’re too skinny, man! You gotta eat more!”

    Perhaps these things are more common in flyover country. Or maybe they stand out because they are outliers.

  98. I am puzzled by the slacker behavior displayed by your students.

    If you look at kids who fail to thrive in college the first time you see a lot of parents thinking the same thing. They somehow assume that an immature 18 year old freshman can somehow will himself into being more mature.

  99. “And if relatively unskilled workers cannot make ends meet with jobs that fill their skill sets, it seems unfair to require their employers — rather than society in general — to subsidize their wages.”

    By the same token, if said employers continue to complain about the quality of the workforce they get for those unsubsidized wages, then it seems unfair to expect society in general to subsidize the education and training necessary to meet the employers’ criteria.

  100. Scarlett – I think that when you find these people, they really stand out in your mind. Two jump out immediately:

    We had a cook in our building cafeteria who knew everyone’s “standard” order. He’d look at you in the eye when you were even 3 or 4 back in line. If you nodded, your “standard” order was taken, but if you shook your head, he’d know you wanted something different. If you asked for your standard, your wait was half as long.

    Then, there is the guy who delivers my mom’s oxygen. He is so sweet to her and was concerned the other day when she didn’t answer the door and couldn’t get me on the phone (I was in my doctor’s appt), that he asked the front desk to do a well check. Way, way above and beyond.

    I think part of what happens is that we are fast to complain and slow to compliment. This is true in all areas of our lives.

  101. I get excellent customer service from all the local breakfast and lunch places I frequent. There are only a few workers who have been there a long time but even with the revolving door the employees are very efficient and at one place very cheerful. I was actually thinking of giving them something for Christmas but it is hard since people rotate between running the cash register and putting your order together.

  102. I feel like good service is more the rule than the exception. Certain places, like Chick-fil-A, have successfully figured out how to consistently deliver extraordinary service. And I generally feel that with decent, average service elsewhere, the limiting factor is not the motivation of the individual employees but the limitations of the business setup. In other words, people generally want to be friendly and helpful, there just aren’t enough of them or they haven’t had sufficient time or training to really learn the products, and so forth.

  103. I can’t recall a problem with poor customer service that was due to an inept low level employee. I have run into problems with poor management.

    I had to dispute a charge with Amex and it was a two minute call and I got my money and never heard from them again. With Capital One it was 30 min on hold, a million questions, and then they mailed me a multi page form so I could hand write all the information I had told the lady on the phone.

    I dumped Capital One and went with a Barclay’s American Airlines card. They had a problem with their fraud detection system where it suddenly though that somehow my traveling on business with an American Airlines credit card was suspicious. I tried to check into the hotel. Decline! Fraud Alert! I tried to buy inflight wifi on American Airlines on a ticket I bought with my AA card. Fraud Alert! I tried to pay for parking at the airport? Fraud Alert! It went on for weeks.

    I’m now onto a Citi American Airlines card. We’ll see how that goes. So far, not well.

  104. I can’t recall a problem with poor customer service that was due to an inept low level employee.

    My beloved USAir flight attendants being an obvious exception.

  105. We only get truly exceptional service at our neighborhood bistro/fancy restaurant. Service elsewhere is fine except at Dunkin Donuts, where it is always really terrible – I try not to go there any more.

  106. @Rhett – have you tried Chase ? If you know you are travelling abroad or even going to make an big purchase just call them up and let them know in advance. The card will not be declined.

  107. Milo, I liked your article on single fathers doing childcare. My divorced BIL’s both have joint custody and my MIL does childcare during their weeks with the kids. I don’t think one BIL could manage otherwise, since he struggles with periodic unemployment anyway. Some of my female techs at work had ex-MIL’s who cared for their children before/after school since they worked 12 hr shifts.

  108. If you know you are travelling abroad or even going to make an big purchase just call them up and let them know in advance.

    Why should I have to do that? I’m not the one who dragged my feet rolling out chip and pin cards.

  109. “I can’t recall a problem with poor customer service that was due to an inept low level employee. I have run into problems with poor management.”

    I tend to agree.
    I received a email notice from Wells Fargo that bill pay on one of our accounts had been shut down. After 30 minutes on hold, being bounced to three separate account reps (at each one I had to repeat name and account info) I was told that no one could figure out why that email had been sent, there was no problem with the account, etc…

  110. @Rhett – it prevents any false fraud alert triggers and your card getting declined.

    I know why they do it. They do it so they can inconvenience me and avoid the results of their slow rollout of chip and pin cards. I’m being forced to do their job because of their inept management.

  111. I think decent customer service is the norm, so exceptional service and really bad service go noted and seem more frequent. Although, of course, do I get decent service most of the time because of my age/race/socioeconomic class/looks/type of businesses I frequent? Maybe partially, but I also have never had a truly bad experience at the DMV, the city clerk, etc beyond the normal long wait times. I think Amazon has the worst CS of the businesses that I deal with frequently.

    Rhett – I agree. I shouldn’t have to pre-call my CC company to let them know that I will be traveling. I do like that in the AmEx app, they will do a push notification to your phone where you can confirm charges as non-fraudulent immediately. I have gotten a fraud alert while pumping gas, marked it as ok, and still been able to swipe & pay. This seems to happen to me sometimes when I do a day trip for business – morning charges in Chicago, mid-day charges in another city 1000 miles away, and then evening charges again in Chicago. When I do a long trip – the algorithm figures out that I’m traveling, but it doesn’t know what to do with a day trip.

  112. “I received a email notice from Wells Fargo that bill pay on one of our accounts had been shut down.”

    Perhaps that email was phishing, and was not sent by Wells Fargo.

  113. CenturyLink cut off our landline for no reason whatsoever. Just closed our account and disconnected us. When we called to complain the customer service reps were baffled and very apologetic, and got us a new account with the same phone number very quickly. But we still had to set up autopay again, and activate all our preferred features. Mildly annoying.

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