Digger Cartwright on lack of work ethic and professionalism

Have you ever noticed the lack of work ethic and professionalism in America today? It never ceases to amaze me in my own organizations and those of others. You would think that in these challenging economic times and when America is losing its competitiveness to companies overseas that Americans would be working harder to improve their own livelihoods and protect their jobs. 

Evidently, Americans today suffer from laziness and apathy which translates into poor work ethic which is itself one of the reasons why we’re losing our competitive edge. And more frightening is that large companies seem to be willing to accept this poor performance by employees in their own organizations which tarnishes their images with consumers and gives them a reputation for a lack of professionalism.

Two instances that I encountered in the past week highlight my concerns.

First, I was in one of the large home improvement retailers to pick up some batteries and a couple of plants. It wasn’t busy when I went to check out, but the entire time the cashier was carrying on a conversation with the other two cashiers. She never acknowledged my presence, greeted me, asked me if I found everything ok, or even seemed to care that I was a customer. She didn’t tell me how much the purchase was. I just swiped my card while she and the other cashiers talked about so and so who was seeing so and so and having problems. When I got my receipt, I told her “Thank you, and please don’t let the customers interrupt your conversation and gossip.” She and the other cashiers looked at me in shock. How dare someone say something like that to them! Has this ever happened to you? I thought I was just overreacting so I asked some other people who had also encountered this type of behavior at other stores—retailers, grocery stores, etc. The more I thought about it, the more offensive I found the behavior. So, I called the store and asked for the manager. I wasn’t out to complain; I just wanted to let the manager know, one professional to another, what had happened. If there had been a lapse like this in one of my organizations, I would appreciate the call to let us know where our employees had come up short in dealing with clients or customers. I was put on hold for an inordinate amount of time then conveniently disconnected. I called back and informed the person who answered the phone that I was on hold for the manager and that I had been disconnected. The response was tepid and I was put on hold again. Luckily, I was at the office so I put the phone on speaker and went about my business. Forty minutes later, I was conveniently disconnected once again. Needless to say, I kept trying over several days but to no avail. Guess I just won’t patronize that establishment again.

The second episode happened at one of my regular lunch spots. I was hungry and in a bit of a hurry that day so I thought I would order a chef salad. It wasn’t the first time I had had the chef salad and it wasn’t the first time the waitress had waited on me. She’d been there a while and knew my preferences. I reminded her when I ordered that I just wanted the iceberg lettuce and not the mixed field greens. When it came out, it was the mixed field greens. She was busy and I was hungry, so I just sucked it up and ate the chicken, ham, cheese, eggs and what iceberg lettuce I could find in it. When I was done and she cleared the plate, she made a comment that it wasn’t the iceberg lettuce. I agreed that it was not and her comment was that she put it in as iceberg lettuce but guess we can’t get it right every time. I didn’t say anything but it really annoyed me. First, she should have noticed when she picked up the salad in the kitchen that it wasn’t the iceberg lettuce. So, not only did the kitchen have a breakdown in communication somewhere along the way, but as the second line of defense, she dropped the ball as well. I understand mistakes happen from time to time, and I’m pretty easy going. But when the situation breaks down and the comment is that they can’t get it right every time, the nonchalant, uncaring attitude wasn’t really professional. To me, it showed that the waitress didn’t care. In talking to some other associates I know who frequent the establishment, they also indicated they had encountered this attitude from other servers on various occasions. Even though the food is good, I’m reconsidering future patronization of the establishment.

My colleagues and people here in the office are telling me I’m being too hard on these people. They’re telling me that my expectations are too high and that this is just the business world today. I disagree. When did this become acceptable in business in America? When did not returning a phone call become acceptable? When did customer service get thrown in the trash? Have consumers really become content to accept this lack of professionalism? Have employers accepted this work ethic? Can’t they get better employees than that, particularly in an economy with over 7% unemployment and where many individuals have completely left the workforce?

The solution is simple. Employers need to train their employees a little better in customer service and work ethic. There needs to be accountability in organizations. Employees need to have performance reviews and clear understanding of what the employer expects of them. Employees who aren’t contributing to the organization or doing their jobs need to be let go. Employers need to quit being afraid of having to go to the labor board. Make your case why you fired the person! Employees need to remember the old saying that graveyards are full of people who thought they couldn’t be replaced and found out otherwise. Employees and employers need to have a mutual respect and understanding that collective hard work benefits everyone.

The human resource people in larger organizations need to do a better job screening candidates rather than just relying on computer programs to figure out who to interview and hire. I’m tired of hearing managers in larger companies say there aren’t any good workers out there. That’s total BS! The people in HR are passing over a lot of good, hard workers because they’re afraid someone is going to take their jobs, so they sit back in their offices and go to lunch together and tell the boss they can’t find anyone for a certain position. All the while they’re just looking to protect their own positions in an organization. It’s a lot easier for small businesses to screen who they’re hiring. Most of the time the owners meet face to face with the applicants and conduct the interviews themselves. Having said this, who has better customer service—the mom and pop bakery on Main Street or the international conglomerate with offices all over the world and a corporate hierarchy?

But we also need to do a better job of instilling a sense of pride in a job well done in America’s youth. People need to take pride in what they do. If the only job you can get is a waitress, make sure you’re the best damn waitress you can be. If you’re a janitor, make sure you’re the best janitor there is. Go over and above to do your job. If you’re the head of the company, make sure you’re the best damn CEO there is—hardworking, understanding, fair but tough, generous and be willing to do the same job that anyone in your organization is expected to do.

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