“Most Jobs Sucks, Some Really Suck” by Winter Trabex

Nick’s Notes: A friend of mine was willing to donate some of her time and energy into channeling her great writing prowess for my site! I really appreciate this article and Winter taking the time to share her personal experiences with us.


Picture very much related.

If you can imagine employment as a gigantic revolving door the size of a continent through which people are always passing, you’ll have an image that closely represents how people work in today’s economy.

People move from job to job, never staying still, always looking for the ideal fit. Movement can happen from year to year, month to month, or even week to week. People staying at the same job for more than two years is rare.

Making a career out of a job almost never happens anymore.

The problem comes down to management and ownership. Company managers and owners, those who have large enough budgets, don’t have to worry about positions going unfilled. When one employee quits, another will come in. The revolving door is always moving; it never stays still. As such, they face no obvious penalty for treating their people badly. As long as they can keep their training expenses at a minimum and their processes simple, they don’t have to worry about the job never getting done. They can put more emphasis on task completion, obedience to authority, or both- depending on what kind of person they are. There’s no incentive for any manager in today’s world to think about the worker who has been with the company for a year who has one foot out the door because they just can’t take the nonsense any longer. All they need to worry about is whether stuff gets done, and whether it gets done the right way.

Workers who are in jobs like this generally want to leave them. Even if there are good reasons why they have to stay (a mortgage, a car payment, a family), it’s a good bet they’re not satisfied with where they are. The fact of the matter is that those who do make long careers out of their jobs do so because they’re making a sacrifice of personal interest for something they’d rather not do without. The working world of 2017 presents a unique problem to those who choose to participate in it: one can choose happiness, which almost surely means poverty in the pursuit of one’s dream; one can choose steadiness, which almost surely means watching the years pass away while helping someone else get rich; or one can choose to grab whatever assets (cash, property, etc) are available through whatever means necessary.

I only mention the third option here by way of example. No one who could be sure of becoming independently wealthy through hard work and savings would consider the risk of running afoul of the law, going to prison, and possibly entering a violent, criminal world. There are many who take these risks because they feel they don’t have any option. In other words, if money can’t be earned honestly, it is taken dishonestly.

I mention all of this as a prologue to a story I’m going to share. This story is my own personal experience. I lived through it, and I feel there are several salient lessons to be learned from it.

After four years of working as a freelance writer, and cultivating skills such as content writing, ghost writing, professional editing, and publishing, I found myself staring a harsh reality in the face. I rejected the 9 to 5 economy only to have the freelance economy reject me. Perhaps there just isn’t any money in writing anymore. I suspect that people just aren’t reading. It’s a fine time to be someone who make magic with the written word when everyone is focused on glowing screens of all different shapes and sizes. Accordingly, I went back to the pavement, looking for a normal job.

I ended up working for WIS International. The link has reviews on indeed.com. While I don’t claim that my experience is typical for everyone who works there, or has ever worked there, I believe it’s notable enough to be worth mentioning as an example of how managers get everything wrong, have people quit on them, have to continually hire new people, and then repeat the whole process over and over again until it becomes the normal way of doing business. Too many companies operate like this; too many companies don’t know that they’re actually losing money with these sorts of practices. We’ll get that in a bit, after I lay the groundwork for what actually happened.

WIS is a company that does inventory for retail stores such as Lowes, Party City, JoAnn’s Fabric, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Tractor Supply, and so on. As an inventory control specialist- literally a fancy term for “bean counter”- it was my job to go through the shelves and/or endcaps to figure out how much product the store had on the floor.

I was a slow counter, at first. This job didn’t had a very minimal training period, one that wasn’t conducive at all to my understanding of what I was supposed to do.

I knew I was on an overnight assignment, so I brought enough food with me to last for two days (the kind food that wouldn’t spoil in the heat, either). I had to bring toiletries and a change of clothes. I had taken a shower before reporting for my first day, just in case. Turns out, that was the right call to make. I just didn’t know it then.

We all piled into a van around 4 in the afternoon for a drive up to Maine (from Manchester, New Hampshire) so we could do inventory for Party City. If you’ve never been to a Party City store before, you’re not missing anything. One full shift of working there was enough to convince me that the world’s trash dumpsters wouldn’t fill up as fast if they were to go out of business. For, let’s be honest here, what else does anyone do with party decorations and little trinkets from a birthday party except throw them away? No one ever turns thirty years old twice.

Beyond being in a place that didn’t interest me, the assignment ran until midnight. The manager in charge of the shift didn’t appear to care one way or the other. We only had one break the entire shift. Since there was no break room, I sat down on the sidewalk around 10 PM eating my lunch. The shift ended around midnight, by which time everyone was ready to go home. We were headed for a hotel that night- one paid for by the company- except we would have to get up early in the morning. All of us were thinking of the next assignment. I figured I would just have to power through it and remember to drink enough water.

The area manager, the person in charge of the scheduling, booked our hotels on the wrong day. Fortunately for us, there were rooms available, and the hotel staff changed our reservations. If the rooms had been booked for any day before Sunday, we would have had to sleep in the van. I would later find out that this is actually something that happens in America. People working for a job have to sleep in a company van between shifts. When I discussed this with the area manager, I was told that it could be worse: the drivers aren’t allowed to sleep on overnights like that.

I woke up at 4:45 after about four or so hours of sleep. There wasn’t enough time to get a shower, and I was too tired to drag myself through one anyway. We had to be out of there by 5:30 in order to report to our second assignment in twelve hours: this one at JoAnn’s.

After criticizing Party City, I’m going to praise JoAnn’s. Anyone who wants to start their own business creating made-to-order clothing (such as dresses with pockets), can stop in, pick up everything they need, and get to work. If you don’t like strange size variances of clothing between different companies, or overpriced garbage where 0.01% of the price you pay is actually the clothing and labor itself, JoAnn’s is a good place to go. Besides which, as farmers and hobbyists will tell you, homemade is always better than store-bought.

The shift at JoAnn’s ended around 2 or 3 PM. I don’t remember which. The car ride back took at least three hours. When my first paycheck arrived, I found that the company didn’t make good on its promise to pay every hour after the first at minimum wage. I was in a company vehicle on company time, and I didn’t get paid a dime for it. No one told me I would be a partial volunteer. I expected to be paid for the time I invested in the company. I wasn’t.

Shortly after that, I had to quit the job. My discussions with the area manager about how it’s not okay to force people to work on very little sleep- both because they won’t perform at optimum levels, and because it’s immoral- caused her to change my schedule at the last moment so that the job I expected to do on a Thursday suddenly changed.

I woke up at 3 AM expecting to report for work, only to find that something else was in its place. There was nothing I could do by that point. I received my first official warning for a no-call, no-show.

The area manager decided to retaliate against me for questioning business practices that I found highly questionable. Even then, I was willing to stick it out with the job until I found something better- as I suspect many others do. I didn’t mind going straight to bed ten minutes after coming home from work. I didn’t mind having to do all my cooking for a week on one day. My free time had all but evaporated.

Yet, I didn’t mind, because it was a job and it helped me pay my bills.

But when something else did come along, I was out of there like a shot.

They would have had to have paid me quite a bit more than they did to stay. I guess I would have asked for fifty dollars an hour, instead of the pittance they had me on. So my first job after four years of freelancing- a rejection of the traditional way of working- did nothing to convince me that I made the wrong decision four years ago.

The opportunity costs have always been absolutely against me, yet I’ve been happy, and I haven’t had to deal with managers who are abrasive, abusive, and just downright awful.

So why did WIS International lose my labor? The short answer is, of course, that they completely suck. However, that alone doesn’t explain how the company is losing money by treating people like machines, and by believing that task completion is more important than personal health and well being. There are dozens of different costs that the company incurs as a result. I’ll try to go through them one by one as I go along.

Instead of having a hiring day, or a hiring season, as some companies have, the WIS office where I applied has a hiring day every Friday. They’re that desperate for people. They have to keep someone in the office on that day to coordinate everything. The area manager has to be more available than usual in order to sign off on all the forms, and/or make sure the hiring process is done correctly. The company pays money for a training period of three to four hours, money that they’ll never see again.

Because most workers are generally new, there’s no time for anyone to gain experience on the job in order to become proficient at bean counting with a scan gun. The company has a set standard for individual production; most people don’t meet it. Those that don’t face no penalty for below-standard production. They don’t get fired because the company desperately needs people. Once this is learned, no individual worker has any incentive to work as hard as they can.

Fear of being fired is almost every company’s go to method for trying to motivate their people. Since WIS International doesn’t use it, and since they don’t know any other way, they have no way to motivate people to be their best. The only incentive employees have is to work fast so they can go home early, since most of them don’t want to be there in the first place.

In consequence, the jobs that are assigned take longer than they should. A job that could be over in five hours takes nine hours. The company has to pay workers to be there regardless. On a job where twenty-five employees are engaged for the day, at twelve dollars an hour for each person, the company spends nine hundred dollars more than it has to on that particular day. For other companies, fewer tasks being completed each day leads to less money being made. It’s not brain science to suggest that well-trained experienced individuals can get more done than inexperienced, untrained ones. It’s not even rocket surgery. Every human resources department knows this.

In a very real way, increased turnover for WIS International leads to decreased profitability. Treating people badly is a bad business practice. Who would have thought?

Yet, while WIS International is an outlier for a particularly bad place to work where no one wants to be, it’s not especially unique in how it makes people feel like their time is not valued, they are not respected as human beings, and their concerns are not taken seriously. There is actual science to back this up. People who have positions of power become less empathetic, less aware of risks, and less likely to be sympathetic.

So I can’t necessarily claim that any boss will be good, because all of them seem bad to me. Whether a job is good (ie, tolerable enough so that there’s no urgent need to leave) or terrible to the point where quitting becomes a necessity for the sake of personal health, only seems to be a matter of degree in how much power managers have over individual workers.

It was Lord Acton who said “Power corrupts; absolutely power corrupts absolutely.

Those of us who just trying to survive from month to month or year to year, as the case may be, and who have no interest in ruling our fellow man must do the best we can to survive the many and various perturbations and vicissitudes which managers of all sorts inflict upon us- sometimes, on a daily basis. For, while change is clearly needed, it doesn’t appear to have come yet. To me, abolishing work means abolishing managers. With this world’s continual torrid love affair with authority and authority-based structures, the day when we can all look forward to not having to deal with ignoramuses in positions of power seems far off indeed.

Yet it is a day worth waiting for. The day when workers are treated with dignity and respect, instead of disregard- even outright contempt- is a day when companies like WIS International will realize higher profit margins than ever before.

That’s a win for everyone.

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