White Collar Sweat Shops: Does Anyone Truly Love What They Do Anymore?

“Management is wrong! They assume that what I do is simple and not time consuming. I am doing my job and I do it well. Management has been misinformed by other individuals and that’s it”!

I overheard the statement above with my own ears. The words flowed from a highly frustrated individual that I have come to know fairly well. I know this person well in the sense that I know the way this person ticks. They wear their heart on their sleeve. Smart, passionate, enthusiastic, seasoned and handed a scarlet F from management that stands for FAILURE punishable by discharge.

As I listened to the further exchange of this situation I started to think about corporate stigma. It’s very easy to be un-liked and far harder to be liked. Once you get a couple people on the hate wagon it’s very easy to get a full load of individuals. It then becomes like a shared ritual. “Oh yeah that so and so is really a trip huh.” It’s the highlight of our day to discuss the latest incidents. We laugh and snicker or just shake our heads in disdain. What if management was wrong? What if this person that was demonized for being TOO outspoken, TOO, TOO, TOO (you can fill in the blanks here) is actually simply …..not?

The thought occurred to me in the all powerful food chain Chipotle! As I am on a low carb eating plan this is one of the only places that I can fill up on quick, easy and satisfying PROTEIN (I digress). As I stood in line I sneered at the two ladies in front of me that joked happily as they stood dangerously distant from the counter and were in no rush to place their order.  I then sneered at the two managers that sat at the table near me. One was probably a district manager and she praised the store manager for all that he had done with the location. As I took a deep breath and tried not to kill anyone I wondered why in the hell this was taking so long. I had been to this Chipotle before and I was usually in and out. I then noticed that there was a trainer present…awesome. Oh yes…she was training the employees on how much to put into each bowl. I noticed one young man behind the counter straining to smile, going slowly and trying hard to make eye contact. He was sweating trying to sprinkle pico de gayo in the perfectly corporate Chipotle approved fashion. I finally made it to the counter and I quickly ordered a bowl with no beans or rice. They were out of chicken…probably because they had raised the price of steak and barbacoa to an astronomically insane price (yes I ordered a bowl that cost me $14.95 when I got to the cash register). I breathed heavily as when on a low carb diet when you need food you need it now. There was a short ethical debate that the trainer had with her trainee. The result…..5 -7 more cubes of steak that they decided to throw on for free since I did not order beans or rice (when the trainer asked me if I wanted extra steak I asked if it was extra which of course it was). Now, I have finally made it to the guacamole. The young man trying so perfectly to be perfect told me that guacamole was extra and that was the straw that broke the camels back.

My entire day flashed before my eyes. I saw the peons trying to be perfect, middle management having to make a judgment call, upper management being ecstatic about the progress of the store while me as the customer was vowing to quit eating there altogether. I found myself questioning the ethics of Chipotle’s decision to charge so much. Shouldn’t it be every business’ goal to produce affordable goods to society? Did Chipotle really NEED to raise their prices?

So what was my problem…

I was stressed! I was stressed because I had to run to a class from work and was on the phone taking a work call as I ran into multiple people (literally). I was also irritated that my professor only offered a 5 minute break for a four hour class and I had not eaten dinner, taken lunch and barely had a chance to make it to the bathroom that day because I had deadlines to meet.

Ok so I was having a bad day but everyone I talk to is unhappy at work. Everyone is complaining from the top to the bottom and side to side. Are we all just that lazy? Does anyone truly love what they do anymore? Are there rock stars in any company anymore or have we all fallen from grace?

The way we evaluate jobs today has significantly shifted. Jobs are not created with the idea to make the people who do the jobs happy, but generally with the idea of making money.  The lived experience of the worker is only considered in setting pay levels and addressing regulatory requirements.  Capitalism has shown a remarkable indifference to the lived experience of the masses who work to create wealth, and the state has shown a equally creative ability to create bleak work environments and soul crushing banality. – Forbes

A traitor to one country is a hero in another…..

Let’s think for a minute and reflect on the opening scenario. It just depends on who you talk to. If Apple successfully fired Steve Jobs I am not sure if any of us are safe. He was bad and unfit. He was unfit because he did not generate revenue. It’s about profit….never forget that. It’s about what you bring to the table. It’s about working 80 hours a week to prove your loyalty to the cause. Blood…sweat….tears is required and we brag about it long before we are disgusted by it.

Nancy Collins remembers when she hit rock bottom. She was in Australia for her investment-banking job at JP Morgan, trying to seal deals on two projects at once.

She thought she could handle the stress. After all, co-workers had dubbed her previous boss the “Prince of Darkness” for making people work until 3 a.m., and she knew she was good at what she did. But then, one night after weeks of 18-hour days and constant travel, she staggered home at 7 a.m. Not to sleep. To shower. As she stood in the water, she started crying. At age 25, she was having a midlife crisis. “I started thinking, there’s got to be more to life than this,” she says.

JP Morgan isn’t the only firm driving its young employees insane. Salomon Smith Barney. Goldman Sachs. High-end consulting firms such as McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group and many tech companies do the same. All hire the brightest Ivy League grads and make them a deal: We will pay you $60,000 or more a year and give you glimpses of corporate luxury, from ritzy hotels to jaunts on the jet. In exchange, you must work 70, 80, 100 hours a week through the best years of your life. – Laura Vanderkam: White-collar sweatshops batter young workers

When will it end…

It is possible to be deemed as unfit in one organization and be a rock star in another as organizations are vastly different. We have to stop preaching appropriateness. That is really what makes us all turn off our brains and “behave”. Preach harmony and communication instead. We have to stop demonizing conflict. After all, when afraid of rats move into the rat pit. You don’t like conflict, learn to thrive in it. Make it something that we are not afraid of. Someway, somehow we have to start caring for people again.

I had a conversation with a family member over the weekend and we were discussing a local firm. My sister commented, “Man. I have friends who work there….everyone knows it’s a sweat shop.”

3 Replies to “White Collar Sweat Shops: Does Anyone Truly Love What They Do Anymore?”

  1. I’m uncertain that we have to stop preaching appropriateness. A good suggestion might be to teach appropriateness, encourage critical thinking and develop healthy work ethics that do not create sweat shops. Isn’t that the reason the term work – life – balance was created.

    1. Good points! I think my point here was that we are all trying so hard to be appropriate and not offend anyone that we are not digging in and solving issues. We need to learn to not take things personal in the workplace and we have to stop making conflict out to be a bad thing. People disagree. It’s going to happen. We need to equip people to manage conflict not in an appropriate way but in an effective way.

      1. Totally agree. Appropriateness can sometimes for some people be disguised as defensiveness and being offended. I can say for me it took a while to understand it isn’t personal but business. Conflict can be a useful tool when talked through in an effort to overcome roadblocks. It takes a strong manager or team to help some people see the goal is at the other end of the field.

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