Opinion

Work ethic needs polishing

It’s time to come clean and let everyone in on my secret past. I hail from a long line of — wait for it — people who work.

This matters, living in Aroostook County, an area long known for its work ethic. 

It used to be that if employers from elsewhere in the state and regions beyond found out someone was from The County, they’d hire them in a heartbeat. They knew that County folk were willing to tackle a job quickly, give it their all and smile as they did it.

For generations, my family members carved out their livings in this County. They put in long days in the fields, in business, raising kids, caring for family, often struggling to make ends meet. Love was plenty but money was scarce, and work — all work — was noble and met with gratitude.

My dad recalls that as a boy he’d often be sent to family or friends’ farms to lend a hand. He wouldn’t think of complaining about those duties because it would have smeared his integrity — and, worse, brought his father’s disappointment.  

The idea used to be that you showed up at a job with a desire to retain it. You dove in, many times on the bottom rung, and earned the privilege to keep working.  

Now, we are a generation removed from that. Talk to anyone today who hires people and they’ll echo the same frustration: They can’t find enough people willing to work. Three employers have told me this in the past couple of weeks. Some employees call in at the last minute; some just don’t show up at all. Some complain constantly over every task, or offer a halfhearted effort. The diligent ones are left to pick up the slack.

You see it every day. There are folks dashing about, using what seems like four hands and looking frazzled, while some others wander around with a cellphone permanently attached to one hand while trying to make a sandwich, ring up a purchase or find your order from the back room with the other hand.

Something has taken the wind out of the proverbial sails of the County work ethic. 

Is it because baby boomers are aging and many are no longer in the workplace? That gratitude towards employment is a rare commodity.  

Is it the fact that minimum wage doesn’t mean a good living anymore? At one time earning enough to make ends meet was … well, enough. It isn’t anymore, for reasons ranging from inflation to the desire to possess the newest and best of everything.

Or is it the philosophy of entitlement that needs to change? Nobody is “owed” a job, but nobody wants to start out at the low-paying bottom rung of the corporate ladder anymore.

I don’t pretend to have solutions to this complex problem; it’s going to take the whole village of us to ponder that.

But I do have an idea: If your job involves customer service, put away the dang phone.

I really enjoy my smartphone.  I use it sometimes more than I should.  (Anyone familiar with the addictive “Simon’s Cat” game?) But let’s use some common sense.  For example, anyone who waits on customers shouldn’t slouch around, texting or Facebooking like mad, while waiting on customers. 

Imagine you’re at the dentist, who is coming at you with a drill. Do you want your dentist texting with the other hand?

I rest my case.

Paula Brewer is the assistant editor for weeklies, TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com at Northeast Publishing, a division of Bangor Daily News. She can be reached at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com or (207) 764-4471.

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