Friday, July 25, 2014

What Is It That You Have to Offer?

"When I was 25, all I did was just scream, "Sellout! F***ing sellouts. Corporate sellout. Industry bull***t. Meh-meh-meh." I look back on it and I realized, "oh, I was screaming 'sellout' because nobody wanted to buy what I was selling."  - Patton Oswalt

This rant is in response to the recent trend with fast food workers demanding $15 or so an hour. So I’m sure I’m about to make a lot of enemies today... oh well. And I’m going to start it with my core question to these fast food workers (or any other unskilled worker from another industry that feels the deserve more)…. what is it that YOU have to offer?

In other words, what skills do you bring to the table that’s worth that pay increase? What added value do you bring to your employer in the course of your job? What is that extra something that you do that makes you worth that much?

I’m afraid that for the vast majority of you, the answer is either little or nothing. And this is not a slam on you, but rather it’s a simple acknowledgement that when it comes to the restaurant making money, the difference between having an good fast food employee and a mediocre fast food employee is usually not that great. These jobs are built on the premise that someone with no employer-valued skills will be able to do the job with a very short amount of training. Now there are a rare minority of said workers that are fast and motivated enough to easily do the same amount of work of two mediocre workers, and if I were the employer I'd consider bumping THEM up to $13-15/hour (less employees doing the same work equals less overhead, and I'd pay one person the equivalent of two if they can pull that off). But are all the other coworkers worth that? Hell no! Realistically speaking, I bet managers at some large franchises don't have that kind of leeway to reward their truly exceptional workers. So IF you are truly exceptional in your workplace…. excellent in dealing with customers, getting work done faster than your co-workers, proving you can be trusted to handle some responsibility…. then really you should already be an assistant manager or manager or on the track to being one. Assistant manager may not be rolling in the dough, but it’s far better pay than fry cook or the like and can open a lot of doors to other opportunities inside or outside your company. 

“But there are no opportunities for advancement here!”, or "My boss is a greedy tool who doesn't even give raises to the good employees!"

So then look somewhere else! I've had my share of crap bosses too, and I responded by looking elsewhere. And I also understand sometimes advancement opportunities are limited, especially in this economy. A given restaurant or store only needs so many management & supervisory positions, and sometimes there might be a pay or raise cap for regular shift employees. That just means you need to look a little harder and not just expect the opportunities to fall into your lap. Go find a different job, one that has better opportunities for advancement. I’ve worked a lot of fast food jobs in my teens and early 20’s, and do you know what I did when I felt the pay and opportunities were too low, or at least too low considering the crap I had to put up with? I looked around and went to work somewhere else! In America, fast food jobs for the most part are meant to be stepping stones to something else. They give young adults the chance to break into the working world and develop some minimal work ethic, and being able to demonstrate you’ve survived a fast food job for 6-12 months shows to your next potential employer that you already know how to show up for work on time and perform basic tasks. Barring being a store manager or working in district management, it's not suited to be a career! So stop pretending that it is!

“But the job market where I live totally sucks! There are no other jobs here!”

Then MOVE! If that’s really true, then you need to take initiative and move to someplace where there are better opportunities. People have been relocating themselves for thousands of years for the purpose of finding better opportunities, and most of them had to work harder and sacrifice a lot more more than we do in order to pull it off. Do YOU have to ride in the steerage compartment of a steamship or in a covered wagon for weeks or months to relocate? Hell no! We even have this wonderful service called movers and U-haul that makes it a snap. The point is that change is inevitable, and if you don’t want to be a victim of change you need to find a way to adapt. And sometimes that means changing where you live and work.

“But I can’t move or change jobs because of (insert reason here)!”

Is it “can’t” or “won’t”? For most of these people, if they’re honest with themselves the answer is “won’t”. They just don't want to move. But hey, I do understand some people do have priorities or circumstances that prevent relocating or changing jobs. And in those cases, if you REALLY want a better opportunity then you will probably have to create it yourself. Take inventory of your talents and skills and figure out if there’s a way you can turn those into a side business or a way to work from home. And if you don’t possess any such skills, go out and learn some. Heck, if you’re reading this you probably already have a computer and internet… you have a learning tool of immense usefulness at your disposal. It will require a lot more effort compared to simply changing jobs, but the world is not fair. You have to deal with the world as it is, not as it should be.

“But I work really hard damn it!”

… And to quote Clark's father-in-law in the movie Christmas Vacation, “So do washing machines”. Listen, I understand full well that (most) fast food jobs are hard, unpleasant work. I’ve worked several such jobs myself, so I've run that gauntlet as well. My very first job was cashier/server at Godfather’s Pizza at age 16, and it was not only the lowest paying job I’ve ever had it was also the one where I worked my butt off the hardest. But my work ethic developed fast as did my ability to step up and deal with the stress of too much work spread among too few cashiers/servers. And when I asked for a bigger raise and the manager told me he’d love to but simply could not afford that, I immediately found someplace else to work for higher pay and better work environment (BTW that boss did offer a higher raise when I put in my notice to get me to stay, but I'd already secured a better job for what he offered). Now don't get me wrong, I don't think Godfather's was a bad job and I understand my old manager's position, it's just that sometimes you got to move on. Anyway going back to hard work, it's the plain truth that effort and sweat are NOT the sole measure of your worth to your employer. Now, it is often appreciated (or at least should be if your manager isn't a tool), but the end result of hard work alone doesn't result in the company receiving the extra money required to pay you $15/hour. Hard work is only one part of the equation involved in making a profit, and in many lines of work it is actually a smaller part of it. 

Going back to my first statement, “what is it that you have to offer”, you need to offer more than hard work to your employer (or to your customers if you run a business). You have to offer RESULTS!!! Results are what makes the money for the employer and gives them the ability to give raises. Results are what provides incentives to give promotions. And in some cases, especially these days, results are what allow you to keep your job when others are losing theirs. The latter actually played a part for me just three months ago. Back then the group I worked in was being dissolved since that part of our company's contract was awarded to another company. There were other positions available in another team, but only enough for half the people in our group. I had been there less than a year, and yet I won a spot whereas three people who had been there for multiple years had not. Why? Results. The other three were not bad people or bad workers, but they didn't get the same level of results or step up to the plate as much as I did. To be honest it had as much to do with the fact I didn't screw up as much or make nearly as many errors as they did. Yet that still falls under the category of "results".

I know it's hard out there, especially when you're trying to get started in your late teens and 20's. It's harder now than it was for me when I was at that stage in life, and that wasn't exactly a picnic. But I also know that for every fast food or service worker out there making a good effort, there are usually at least two others that just skate by doing the minimum and rely on the good worker to take up the slack. Of the latter group, they tend to keep their jobs simply because it's slightly more costly or inconvenient to fire them than to keep them around. In their mind they feel that as long as they manage to show up for work most days and don't steal or burn the restaurant down, they're a "good worker". Well doing the minimum may allow you to keep your job but it doesn't make you a good worker, and if you expect to be given big raises and opportunities for promotion working like that then you are delusional or high on something. And if you insist with this $13-15/hour fast food worker minimum wage demand, pretty soon most of you won't even have the job you have now. Those employers who don't close their doors for good will most likely raise their prices and automate more of their processes. And that means they'll have less employees needed for your store. Ask yourself who's more likely to keep their job in this case, the slacker or the employee who busts his/her butt and gets more stuff done? So if you're a bare minimum kind of employee, a $15/hour minimum wage is going to hurt a lot of your coworkers but it will hurt YOU the most. And if you think things are hard now, you are going to be seriously screwed 5-10 years in the future if you're still trying to make a living as a typical fast food worker. Inflation and high prices are going to grind you into the dirt.

The excellent Patton Oswalt quote in the beginning pretty much says it all (I don't have to agree with some of his political views in order to appreciate his nuggets of wisdom or his comedic value).... if you don't get what you want in work or life, it might just be because what you're able to offer doesn't match up to how much you're asking for. Patton apparently realized that and stepped up as a result, and he's achieved a lot of success in his respective fields. So if you want more money or opportunities, you have to improve yourself AND position yourslef so you have more to offer. Just like Patton Oswalt did. 

Be the Patton.

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