My parents and I were having a discussion the other day. My dad was talking about this former co-worker of his who is now working another job. One day, she was told to head out to the field and supervise a work crew. So, she headed out to the field. A few hours, her boss decided to check up on her. The boss arrives, only to discover her napping in her truck! He woke her up, and asked her why she wasn’t doing her job. To this, she replied that she was doing what she was told to do, and that she could supervise just fine from the cab of her truck. This annoyed the boss, because to supervise, you were supposed to be leave your truck, walk amongst the crew, and take the odd sample and check up on their work, not nap in your truck and lift your head up every once in a while.
My mother soon shared similar stories from her experience with the school division. She told us stories of students told to take out the garbage. When the students do it, they just plop the trash on the school’s front steps. When inquired as to why they did this, the student’s general response is, “You just said take it out. You said nothing about putting it in the dumpster.” There were similar responses and explanations with a request like, “Take these documents down to the paper shredder.” The students just put the highly sensitive documents next to the shredder, and don’t shred them. But, the supreme story was with these family friends. They had just returned from grocery shopping with $300 of meat. The mother said to her kids, “Take the meat downstairs.” So, the kids did that. A few days later, the mother starts asking “What’s that smell?” She opens the basement door to find $300 of meat neatly stacked at the bottom of the stairs, with the deep freeze just a few steps away. When she asked her kids why they didn’t put the meat away, they said, “You just wanted us to take it downstairs. You said nothing about putting it away.”
My dad called it a “lack of vision.” My mom called “weak critical thinking skills.” Whatever you call it, the problem is clear. The current generation being brought up is lacking the deductive reasoning to figure out what the next logical step is. And, if they are figuring it out, they just aren’t doing it. But still, I couldn’t help but wonder. Since I am part of this problematic generation, how much of this behaviour am I guilty of?
This was on my mind at work today. It was a dreadfully slow night, and I was done all my real work about two hours before quitting time. As I was making idle busy work for myself, my gaze soon wandered to the shipment of candy that had just come in. It was sitting all neatly stacked on an unused till, waiting for someone to put it out on the shelves. I began thinking to myself, “I’m bored. I’ve got nothing better to do. I could be putting out that candy.” But I didn’t. Sure, I put out a box of chocolate bars to make my boredom go away, but then I did no more. Why not?
The first reason I came up with as to why I didn’t was that it wasn’t my job. Usually it’s the cashiers who do that, and they are just as bored as I am right now, so they should be doing that. But then, I have seen other baggers putting away candy, so perhaps it is part of my job. But then, everyone says I’m the best bagger and no one really likes the other baggers. So, by not doing it, I must be doing something right. What it all boiled down to was it’s not my job; somebody else does that.
The second reason I came up with was that it wasn’t in my job description. My job description says I bag groceries, return unwanted merchandise to the shelves, and take out the garbage. I don’t do anything more unless someone tells me to. No one’s telling me to put out the candy. No one is telling me to do it.
The third reason has become my general purpose reason for everything I don’t want to do at work: “I have two university degrees and am smarter than three-quarters of the management. Why I should be busting my ass for stupid superiors and a company that doesn’t give a flying fu…n filled trip to Disneyland about me?”
So, I guess, the true question here is how did I get into this mind-set? How did I first start thinking that if no one tells me to do it, then it must not be my job? The answer, I’m afraid, will cause some demographics to hate me. When I went to the movies a week ago, the child next to me spilled his extra-large Pepsi all over the floor, with a great deal of it washing up on my shoes. The boy’s father said, “Oh, don’t worry. They’ve got a person who mops that up.” The little girl in the row behind me said, “Grandma, what do I do with my empty wrapper?” The Grandma said, “Oh, just throw it on the floor. They’ve got people who sweep that up.” Yup, like the spoiled brat that I am, I am blaming my parents.
Think about it. We are the first true generation raised with the video babysitter. We are the first true generation of latchkey kids. We are the first true generation where both of our parents were at work, and we’d come home to find step-by-step instructions on how to make supper stuck to the fridge door. We have to have our jobs spelled out for us because that’s how our parents raised us; with an itemized list on the fridge door. Now that we are in the real world, we don’t know how to come up with that next step because our authority figure, a boss, a teacher, whatever, isn’t telling us what it is. They assume that our education should have given us the smarts to figure it out. But it hasn’t because we are also all very immature (more on that in a later column) and we need our parents to spell it out for us.
And tell me, when you were eight years old, and you forgot to turn the oven on, what would happen to you? Your mom would come home, have a little snit, then turn the oven on and get supper going. What would happen when you forgot to put away your toys? Your dad would come home, step on one of your LEGO blocks, say a few colourful words, then put them away. When we deviated from the list, we weren’t punished. We were shown that someone else would do the job. Of course, there would probably be some sort of lecture about the importance of the list, and then these things you forgot to do would be highlighted on the list, or added if they weren’t there before.
We were raised by itemized lists on the fridge door, resulting in the need to have everything spelled out for us. And we were shown that when a job is not on the list, someone else will do it. We have become a generation of followers, not leaders. We have become a generation that leaves a task half-done, because the other half is not on our list. And if it was our task, it’ll be on the next list. And now, we’re passing this behaviour onto the next generation.
I hate to blame the parents, because it seems like such an easy way out. All I have right now is an entertaining theory. But there’s one thing I know for sure. The cycle must end before we pass it on to our kids. So I urge you, I implore you, when you are at work, always go that extra step. Always do that next step, even if it isn’t on your list. And, when someone else, doesn’t take that next step, kick their asses. We have to start learning that there is more to the job than what is on the list. Take out the garbage TO THE DUMPSTER. Take the papers to the shredder AND SHRED THEM. Take the meat downstairs AND PUT IT IN THE DEEP FREEZE. And being a supervisor means more than watching them from your truck. I’m pullin’ for you. We’re all in this together.