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Americans value work? Options
Sarachan
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 3:21:29 PM

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Hi!
I'm currently taking classes in which "American culture" comes up as a topic fairly often. One notion that has been repeated is that "Americans value work." People who have espoused this notion go on to say that we see value in ANY work - being a janitor, working in fast food, collecting garbage, etc. Do you think that this is part of American culture? Though it might have been fifty years ago, I'm not so sure that people are proud to hold these jobs anymore.
Perhaps I should say that I'm part of what was known as "Generation X" - currently 31 years old. Is this a generational thing?
NicoleR
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 3:34:04 PM

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I agree, I think the notion of Americans valuing any kind of work may have been true a few decades ago, but I think our baby-boomer parents instilled the idea in us Generation X and Y kids that we don't have to settle for working in fast food when we could become lawyers or doctors.

I think a lot of Americans have been taught that they are too good for certain jobs, and thus they can't really see the value in being a custodian or a garbage collector. In reality, though, these are the types of jobs that we should value the most, because we couldn't live our civilized lives without someone doing these jobs. And in hard economic times like we are experiencing now, there are tons of college-educated people without jobs, but the world will always have a need for garbage collectors and custodians and manual laborers.
nick
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 3:44:07 PM
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I came to the US 15 years ago and I cannot say if the respect for less prestigious jobs has diminished or not. What I can say though, and say it with certainty, is that these jobs are valued a hell of a lot more than where I came from. In my native country a businessman would not consider a janitor worth his finger and the word respect will not cross his mind. I find Americans far less snobbish (on average) than most and I like it very much.
Demosth
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 5:54:23 PM

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An interesting topic. American culture, I think, is viewed quite ambiguously. Many people now feel that it's "every man for himself" in America. I would agree with this, but I would also add that "every man for himself" was probably the idea when the country started.

I have studied other cultures, and America is unique in that no one is expected to do anything at all. If you are polite, it is your decision. If you are rude, it's because you want to be. Although there is still a considerable amount of "group think" going on in America, I still see a general theme of "every man for himself". No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we will always be moving in the direction of *more* freedom.

Therefore, it doesn't really make sense to put someone down for their job status. If someone is a janitor, who can really blame them? You have to take the jobs that are available in this country. If you find a job that you like, do your best to fit in and make friends with the people you work with. I would say that is the exception to the theme of "every man for himself" -- once you are employed, you're expected to behave like everyone else. I find it somewhat ironic...

Will I get to keep my next job? I can already see my boss defending his melodramatic sense of authority --> Not talking

Good luck out there.
kaliedel
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 7:48:28 PM

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I think there was once a premium on hard work in America; my mother is an immigrant and there was a general expectation in her family that you must work hard, because the world doesn't owe you anything in particular. Over the years it seems that the situation has reversed - that jobs, in general, owe the prospective employee a certain number of conditions before it's considered a "worthy" position.

Personally, I think it's a double-edges sword - it values the worker moreso than a "take it or leave it" attitude, but at the same time, it devalues the lower-paying positions that were once considered respectable work. People working at a fast food restaurant are considered "desperate" or "futureless" for not making more demands on their employers or for aiming higher, despite the fact that they can work their way up in that same fast food company and become an executive one day.
Citiwoman
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 10:54:14 PM
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I've found that it's simply human (not American) nature to complain and to always seek more, more, more. That said, my travels to Latin, Asian and European countries have underlined (in my opinion anyway) that Americans generally do their work cheerfully and with pride. I personally know janitors and bus drivers who love their jobs -- not for the pay for the sense of accomplishment. We all could learn from embracing what we've got (appreciating it in this economy) and giving it our all.

Americans definitely have a sense of urgency (and immediacy) that is also shared by some Asian cultures. I'm not sure if that is good or bad, but it certainly incites promptness in certain service industries.
MiTziGo
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 12:24:40 PM

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I think there is a lot to be said about taking pride in what you do, but I think that much of that is from a bygone era. There was a period in American history where just doing your job well was a source of pride, but in today's society of frivolous law suits and reality TV, I think Americans have developed an unflattering culture of "the world owes me something."

The term "customer service" seems almost laughable today. When I go shopping now, I see employees in the aisles or even behind registers talking on their cell phones and texting. On several occasions, I've had the cashier at the supermarket stop ringing up my order so that she can text someone on her cell phone. Shouldn't that be a fireable offense?

The worst, however, was an experience I had in a hospital. I was being transported from the recovery room after surgery to a private room by a young man who clearly had more important things going on than simply moving a sick patient across a hospital. The entire time he was transporting me, he was on the phone having a fight with his girlfriend. Because he was holding the phone with one hand, he had only one hand free to push the bed I was on. Imagine pushing a shopping cart with only one hand! I was actually hitting the hallway walls the entire transport—after having just come out of surgery! Occasionally, his argument with his girlfriend would take a more private turn, and in these instances, he would leave me lying in the middle of the hallway and walk away to argue at a respectful distance. What has this world come to?

While these are merely individual examples, I do believe that they are indicative of a larger trend in the American workplace. Though the current recession (dare I say depression) has done terrible damage to families and individuals across the nation, I believe it has inspired people to be grateful for the things they do have. Perhaps in its wake, Americans will relearn the strong work ethic that defined previous generations of the country's laborers.
Sarachan
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 12:52:02 PM

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Hello everyone,
Wow! Thanks for the insightful replies. One thing that is clear to me is that the pendulum will begin to swing the opposite way, and these jobs will be valued more now since we have had a taste of what a quick money mindset will do to our economy.
The days of ten percent returns on our investments are over, and - like our parents and grandparents - it's time for us to return to building wealth in small steps over a longer period of time. Maybe this is an incintive for people to start enjoying free stuff more?
kaliedel
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 4:14:53 PM

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I agree that one positive outshot of the current situation may be a greater appreciation.

Coming out of grad school, I assumed a job would be handed to me. It wasn't my own assumption, either - parents, relatives, friends, coworkers, teachers, etc. - all assured me that the added step in education would lead to easy employment, great benefits, and everything else one could want in a career. The truth was quite the opposite, and I've been humbled to an extreme degree. Now I realize that the opportunity is just that and not some quick step to the next ladder.
Sarachan
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:03:52 PM

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Hi kaleidel,
What similar experiences we have! Did you hear this week's "This American Life" broadcast? The NPR financial correspondent interviewed his cousin about the cousin's refusal to finish college. The two consulted an economics professor who sided with the drop-out cousin, stating that people with more practical skills are not (contrary to what we've all been told) the ones who are likely to turn out bad in the "new economy." For more detials, you can download the podcast of the show for free. Just google "This American Life" to be taken to their site.
The show is a fantastic way to keep current on American culture.
kaliedel
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 3:40:31 PM

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Sarachan wrote:
Hi kaleidel,
What similar experiences we have! Did you hear this week's "This American Life" broadcast? The NPR financial correspondent interviewed his cousin about the cousin's refusal to finish college. The two consulted an economics professor who sided with the drop-out cousin, stating that people with more practical skills are not (contrary to what we've all been told) the ones who are likely to turn out bad in the "new economy." For more detials, you can download the podcast of the show for free. Just google "This American Life" to be taken to their site.
The show is a fantastic way to keep current on American culture.


Hey Sarachan - I didn't hear the broadcast, but I'll definitely check it out.

In relation to that, I read an article a month back or two on MSNBC.com about how the older generation, who didn't necessarily attend college, emphasized to their children that college/education was more important to acquire (at least initially) than work experience. The result has been a whole generation of people with degrees but little else in the way of job knowledge. Personally, I think it's made formal education somewhat useless, as it's simply accepted now that a job candidate will have a Bachelor's when coming in for an interview, making four years of college a baseline rather than an achievement.

Education is its own reward, yes, but I always had the additional view that it helped ensure job security. That seems to be a waning phenomenon.
klee
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 5:25:51 PM
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Hello Sarachan and kaleidel,

I think Sarachan's description of our generation as one with degrees and little job knowledge is a little narrow. I attended grad school, and the program I was in made efforts to encourage and assist students to practice their skills by volunteering in the field, or, if possible, working a little in the field. I came out of grad school with a degree, yes, but at least some practical skills for my field.

Also, when we study, we ARE studying "job knowledge." I think the problem lies in the fact that more employers need to be willing to give "newbies" (newly graduated students, let's say) a chance to practice their stuff. That is, after all, the way people get work experience. Someone has to give the new guys a chance. On the flip side, I've heard of employers actually preferring to hire new grads, as it would bring in "new blood," and at the same time, allow the employers to pay the new hirees less, since they are less experienced.
Sarachan
Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 1:10:25 PM

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klee wrote:
Hello Sarachan and kaleidel,

I think Sarachan's description of our generation as one with degrees and little job knowledge is a little narrow. I attended grad school, and the program I was in made efforts to encourage and assist students to practice their skills by volunteering in the field, or, if possible, working a little in the field. I came out of grad school with a degree, yes, but at least some practical skills for my field.

Also, when we study, we ARE studying "job knowledge." I think the problem lies in the fact that more employers need to be willing to give "newbies" (newly graduated students, let's say) a chance to practice their stuff. That is, after all, the way people get work experience. Someone has to give the new guys a chance. On the flip side, I've heard of employers actually preferring to hire new grads, as it would bring in "new blood," and at the same time, allow the employers to pay the new hirees less, since they are less experienced.

Hi klee,
I'm glad that your grad program emphasized job skills. (Mine did not, but maybe that was due to the field?) However, perhaps I should expand my original comments a little by adding that I wish job skills would have been emphasized (or even mentioned!) when I was much younger than grad school age; I regret that I didn't think of my future professional life when I was in high school. College was simply presented as the only way out, and the tacit understanding was that I should go even if I didn't know what I was going for.
Is it safe to assume that you have found a job in your field? Do you find that the culture of your employer is accepting of you as a (presumably) new graduate who is relatively inexperienced?
kaliedel
Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 3:53:30 PM

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I had some job experience during grad school - not only did I do some hands-on teaching, but it allowed me to pick up skills I wouldn't have gotten in a part-time job. That being said, some employers just don't see that, and it's hard to translate onto a resume. In this kind of environment, it seems that they want pure work experience.

In a bit of an ironic twist, many people have told me to leave my Master's degree off of my resume, as it would hurt me in getting a job. Why? I was told because either I would be deemed overqualified (and therefore wanting higher pay/benefits), or the hiring manager would feel threatened. I thought both claims were silly at first, but I've come to realize that there may be some truth to them.
Rhondish
Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 5:03:11 PM
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I am 46, a small business manager and have been since I was 19. This American work ethic has DRAMATICALLY changed and sadly not for the better. American kids today, BTW - I am also a Math tutor, are downright lazy. Many have this sense of entitlement that I do not understand at all. When I was young and it snowed (I live in NH) you got up early, grabbed a couple of friends and went around the neighborhood shoveling for cash. I have lived in my house for over 12 years now with lots of kids in the neighborhood, I have not had a single knock on my door. I manage silly issues with my workers now, so many of these kids today have zero pride in their work, making most of my corrective conversations about "do-overs' because work is being done so poorly the first time around. It will be interesting to see how many of the individuals who were laid off from the Finance Markets accept work outside their degreed field. Do you really think you will see a 30 year old mortgage broker working to help build a wind farm? I know my Mom and Dad would have and I know I would, but my 28 year old nephew, no way!
klee
Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009 5:50:46 PM
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In response to Rhondish, I have to say I feel a little offended by your remarks. I am 29 and my husband is 30, and I do not think we are "lazy." He works in a warehouse from 6-5 every day, and then goes to school twice a week from 5:30-8:30pm. I am home with the kids, but I still work two part-time jobs. I think we have a pretty good work ethic.

I have taught GED classes, and I will say that I have found some of my students fall into the "lazy" and "sense of entitlement" classification-- but not all. I don't think we should lay the blame for being lazy completely on these kids. Our society as a whole has helped develop this have-it-all-now attitude. Although technology is wonderful, I think the way things are so "instant" nowadays can create a stigma that everything in our lives should be that easy and that fast. In addition, I believe that many of these "lazy" kids have a lack of support and example from their parents. If all mom and dad do when they are at home is watch TV, surf the Internet, and get fast-food for dinner, what will their children learn? I attribute my (and my husband's) good work ethic to the example of hard-working parents, who not only worked, but insisted and taught us how to work hard. I'm sure there are many my age and younger who still have a good work ethic.
klee
Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009 6:09:48 PM
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Hi klee,
I'm glad that your grad program emphasized job skills. (Mine did not, but maybe that was due to the field?) However, perhaps I should expand my original comments a little by adding that I wish job skills would have been emphasized (or even mentioned!) when I was much younger than grad school age; I regret that I didn't think of my future professional life when I was in high school. College was simply presented as the only way out, and the tacit understanding was that I should go even if I didn't know what I was going for.
Is it safe to assume that you have found a job in your field? Do you find that the culture of your employer is accepting of you as a (presumably) new graduate who is relatively inexperienced?

Hi Sarachan,

Thanks for expanding your comments. I agree with you that many fields in college should put more emphasis on practical job skills before graduation.

In response to your question: yes, I have found jobs in my field. I graduated a few years ago, and since have been able to find people to give me a chance. I have found my graduate degree has always helped me in my job search, as people see that I have studied and "mastered" the concepts enough to be given a degree. In some cases, the degree has helped me receive higher pay, too. I definitely think that the more job experience I get, the better, but I have never regretted going back to school to get a master's degree. The culture of my employers has always been accepting of me, although I have noticed that I am often close to the bottom of the totem pole among my colleagues-- but until I have 20+ years of experience, that's to be expected.
Sarachan
Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009 9:41:33 PM

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Hi klee,
I'm glad to hear that you don't regret your degree, and proud to be able to point to one member of our generation (I'm 31) that does work hard. I sensed something in your comments that I think I agree with: there is a definate connection between use of technology and laziness!
To Rhondish - As for a "sense of entitlement," this comes largely from rhetoric that emphasizes how great America is and doesn't explain how we became the country we are. This brings to mind the suffering of earlier generations...I finished reading Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" a couple of months ago and, though the book is admittedly fiction, was reminded of our dirty industrial years. We were, afterall, the China of the nineteenth century.....
kaliedel
Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 4:33:17 PM

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There is always a contingent of people who will feel entitled, and I think that's true of any culture (though it may be a larger percentage in the west, who knows.) However, as I said in my earlier post, today's environment may instill some humility in those thinking they have something owed them; it did for me, as I thought I had already conquered the world when I completed grad school at 24 (I'm 25 now, soon to be 26), only to learn later that it has truly become an employer's market.

My one gripe (and this may be shared by others here) is that too much power has been placed in employers' hands. Thirty years ago, with an education and a clean background, you could walk in somewhere and at least get an interview - an opportunity to sell yourself and your skills. Today it is nearly impossible to do either; the Internet-ization of job hunting has allowed employers to weed out those who don't match their requirements, thereby allowing them to bring in only choice candidates for the interviewing process. In the end, you have thousands of people applying for a job, but only a handful allowed to get past the de-humanized application steps.

It reminds me of that story I saw about the janitorial job in an Ohio school district - which got 700 job applicants!
LiteBrite
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 12:17:18 PM
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I see a lot of good points being made in this discussion, one of which is the idea that the value of work will increase *now that we have no choice* -- as in, now that the economy has tanked and so many jobs, both white and blue collar, are up in the air. I'm thinking more and more lately that unless you work as a doctor, nurse or similar, you're at risk of losing your job. And it's hard to know who's more likely to lose their jobs first -- permanent employees, valued for their loyal service and experience -- or temporary employees, valued for their cheap labor and expendibility (of which I am the latter). Employers have come to view employees as interchangeable parts, easily replaced, and employees have taken the "every man for himself" attitude in response.

The value of work is most relevant to a news bit I heard recently, which said how agricultural day workers coming into the US from Mexico were becoming less and less in demand as Americans in need returned to (including my boss with 15 years w/ the company)day laboring at farms to make ends meet. Apparently this is a common phenomenon -- Americans returning to farms in times of need, then moving on to better (as in easier, presumably) work when the economy improved. Now it's easy for people to say they'll do hard work like that temporarily, in times of need, but there would be a whole different attitude if the expectation was that the hard times were not going to end.

With Gen Xers and such, I think we've learned a kind of "limit" on this hard work expectation -- as in, we'll have to do it only for so long and then reap all the rewards. By age 40 or 50, we'll all own our own expansive homes, have kids in a bunch of clubs and activities, and look forward to retiring with time on our hands. That is, until recently. We can't, and perhaps shouldn't ever have, expect to have what the Boomers aspired to. Just look where it's gotten so many of them -- nearing retirement age with retirement funds cut in half, or worse, just in the last year. I'm not saying this is or was my particular dream, but I must say I expected the quest for prosperity, or at least financial security, to get easier, not harder, and this is perhaps the fallacy of the American dream.

I have a graduate degree, taught some college classes, but during a recent summer worked at a grocery store for around $10/hr. And, yes, I must say I would have been a bit embarassed if I'd met any of my students there. Does that mean I don't value the work I did? Or that they wouldn't? Yes, probably. I certainly didn't like it as much. And physical labor has a bad reputation among people who don't know better the quandary of having *any* work rather than just *good* work. Right now I am lucky enough to have a job using my degree/skills in a comfortable setting, but like so many others have no security in that position (including my boss with 15 years w/ the company; there have been rolling layoffs for months). If I needed to, I'd be back at the grocery store. But if I were still there 5, 10, 20 years from now, I would certainly be more bitter.
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