yOU wOULD THINK THAT EMpLOyEES wOULD do something if they discovered that a customer had died on the premises. But that’s not necessarily so according to the Associated Press which reported that police discovered the body of a trucker in a tractor trailer rig that had satâ€”with its engine runningâ€”in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant for nine days. Employees swept the parking lot around the truck but ignored the situation for over a week until the stench got so bad that someone finally called the police. That lack of response doesn’t surprise James Sheehy a human resources manager in Houston who spent his summer vacation working undercover at a fast-food restaurant owned by a relative.78 Introduced to coworkers as a management trainee from another franchise location who was being brought in to learn the ropes Sheehy was initially viewed with some suspicion but by the third day the group had accepted him as just another employee. Sheehy started out as a maintenance person and gradually rotated through various cooking and cleaning assign- ments before ending up as a cashier behind the front counter. Most of Sheehy’s fellow employees were teenagers and college students who were home for the summer and earning additional spending money. Almost half came from upper-income families and the rest from middle-income neighborhoods. More than half were women and a third were minorities. What Sheehy reports is a whole generation of workers with a frightening new work ethic: contempt for customers indifference to quality and service unrealistic expectations about the world of work and a get-away-with- what-you-can attitude. Surveys show that employee theft is on the rise throughout the business world.79 Sheehy’s experience was in line with this. He writes that the basic work ethic at his place of employment was a type of gamesmanship that focused on milking the place dry. Theft was rampant and younger employees were subject to peer pressure to steal as a way of becoming part of the group. asIt don’t mean nothingâ€ he says was the basic rationale for dis- honesty. asGetting on with getting mineâ€ was another com- mon phrase as coworkers carefully avoided hard work or dragged out tasks like sweeping to avoid additional assignments. All that customer service meant was getting rid of peo- ple as fast as possible and with the least possible effort. Sometimes however service was deliberately slowed or drive-through orders intentionally switched in order to cause customers to demand to see a manager. This was called asbaiting the manâ€ or purposely trying to provoke a response from management. In fact the general attitude toward managers was one of disdain and contempt. In the eyes of the employees supervisors were only paper-pushing functionaries who got in the way. Sheehy’s coworkers rejected the very idea of hard work and long hours. asScammingâ€ was their ideal. Treated as a kind of art form and as an accepted way of doing business scamming meant taking shortcuts or getting something done without much effort usually by having someone else do it. asYou only put in the time and effort for the big scoreâ€ is how one fellow worker characterized the work ethic he shared with his peers. asYou got to just cruise thro stuff and wait to make the big scoreâ€ said another. asThen you can hustle. The office stuff is for buying time or paying for the groceries.â€ By contrast they looked forward to working asat a real job where you don’t have to put up with hassles.â€ asGet out of school and you can leave this to the real dummies.â€ asGet an office and a computer and a secretary and you can scam your way through anything.â€ On the other hand these young employees believed that most jobs were like the fast-food industry: automated boring undemanding and unsatisfying and dominated by difficult people. Still they dreamed of an action-packed business world an image shaped by a culture of video games and action movies. The college students in particular reports Sheehy believed that a no-holds-barred trample-over-anybody get-what-you-want approach is the necessary and glamor- ous road to success. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. How typical are the attitudes that Sheehy reports? Does his description of a new work ethic tally with your own experiences? 2. What are the implications for the future of American business of the work ethic Sheehy describes? 3. Some might discount Sheehy’s experiences either as being the product of one particular industry or as simply reflecting the immaturity of young employees. Would you agree? 4. Isitreasonabletoexpectworkersespeciallyinacapital- ist society to be more devoted to their jobs more con- cerned with quality and customer service than Sheehy’s coworkers were? What explains employee theft? 5. In what ways does the culture of our capitalist society encourage attitudes like those Sheehy description
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