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Friday, April 6, 2012

Thankless Jobs are Important Too!

My career started out as a gopher with my grandfather’s oil field business. I did whatever they told me to do and I was glad to get a paycheck. I filled in for the secretaries when they were on vacation in the summer and I ran to do all kinds of errands once I could drive. It definitely wasn’t the most glamorous job on the planet. I was so proud of my first paycheck I copied it and framed it. I’ve still got it somewhere.

I learned to take pride in everything I did no matter how small of a job it was. That’s what they taught people back when I was younger. I know, I know … did I walk uphill in the snow 10 miles as well to get to school yadda yadda. Well no, it’s Texas, so as a matter of fact there is no snow here. I just wanted to point out that I learned the value of earning every dollar I made.

Retail was my first ‘real’ job. I was a salesclerk in housewares and small appliances at Wal-Mart. Sam Walton visited our store once and the Wal-Mart then versus the Wal-Mart now is quite a bit different. They let us take care of our own departments ordering and our part of the warehouse. I could tell you on any given day what we had in backstock in the warehouse from memory, because I had worked with it and knew where to go get stock to fill the shelves. I didn’t have to look it up on some handheld computer to see if we had inventory. It does come in handy to be able to look up what inventory is coming in, so I’m not knocking that. However, it’s hard to find a floor associate these days with the way they have cut back personnel.

I didn’t truly experience what I call a ‘thankless job’ until I worked at McDonald’s part time. My husband and I decided before we were married, we would get part time jobs. We wanted to use the money we made to pay off all our wedding expenses. So we both ended up working part time in the McDonald’s that was in the same Wal-Mart we both worked in.

I’d get off work from Wal-Mart, change into my shirt for McDonald’s which they provided as part of the uniform. I trained in most all the positions but seemed to be best and fastest at the counter position. So the counter was where I spent most of my shifts. I can tell you by walking up to the counter if the French fries are on the old side and I always ask for fresh ones. I will wait the 4 minutes it takes for fresh fries, but I digress.

You simply would not believe the difference in the way people treat you when you work at McDonald’s. It’s almost like people treat you as a second class citizen. You get talked down to, ridiculed, and pretty much all around treated badly all while having to smile and attempt to give the best customer service you can. It’s very demeaning. I can absolutely see why people get burned out on working in the food industry quickly.

Take wait staff for example. They don’t get paid that much and do rely on tips as a good portion of their pay. They have to take the order, keep your glasses full, bring your food and make sure it’s right. They have to deal with the bar staff and kitchen staff and even in a lot of cases, be your cashier. They do this for multiple tables at once, all with a smile and trying not to show any frustration with how their day is going.

I was lucky to have other jobs to compare my short stint in the food industry to. I was treated entirely differently as a salesclerk than when I was behind the counter at McDonald’s. I was the same person, nothing changed but the uniform. I have to say I have the utmost respect for anyone that is in a position to have to wait on our table in a restaurant, serve me behind a counter in the food service or even in the retail sector as a clerk or cashier. I remember all too well holding those jobs and bearing the brunt of other people’s bad days.

In today’s economy, where jobs are scarce, one cannot discount that the person behind the counter so to speak could be very well educated but unable to find a job anywhere else. Let’s applaud the fact that they are trying to do something instead of doing nothing. Everyone working has a story to tell and until you walk in their shoes for a while, you really have no right to judge or treat them as a second class citizen simply because of the job they are currently in. Every job out there serves a purpose.

I know I myself, was guilty of not treating others well prior to holding the job at McDonald’s. Part of that was the stupidity of youth, but the other part was simply the fact that I had not learned the value of treating other people with respect and dignity. That’s as much a lesson to be learned as all the knowledge in books or what a college degree gives you. As you become more aware, you can change how and what you do. While some lessons are best learned personally, I believe some like this one can raise awareness and prevent mistakes having to be made. It is a simple personal choice as to how you treat others around you.

So my simple request here today ends with, ‘Please treat everyone you meet as you would want to be treated.’ This includes anyone who might serve you in a food establishment or wait on you in a retail establishment including cashiering. Please tip those that give you courteous service and don’t automatically blame your server for the food conditions. We always tip well unless we have just been totally ignored, which rarely happens. I believe in many cases, that you reap what you sow.  If you are discourteous to those that wait on you, then it makes it much harder for them to give you the customer service you think you deserve.

Kathie Hitt