The Workplace: Do People Want To Work?

From Steve, a business owner:

“What’s peculiar about today’s workforce—and perplexes me to no end—is people ask to earn more money, but when we give them additional work and hours, they go home. Hence, our recruiting job never ends.”

In this QBQ! QuickNote, instead of a big story or profound lesson on Personal Accountability or outstanding QBQ!-esque customer service, we’ll dive into the world of work, mostly because, like Steve, I’m confused.

I’ll share several examples of what I see happening, and ask you to assess and comment. Here we go!

  • Our fav fudge shop in Winter Park, CO was closed one evening recently at 5:25 pm. Wha … ??? The store owner next door told us, ”She closes at 3:00 pm now because she can’t find help.”
  • While working at King Soopers groceries (Krogers), one Miller daughter would come home and tell us which staff member vied to clock out early.
  • A Hacienda Colorado restaurant GM said, “I catch staff hiding near the bathrooms texting while on the clock. It’s like they can’t help themselves.”
  • A 22-year-old asked her small business owner/boss, “I found a great deal on airfare to Europe next week! Can I go?” The manager responded, “I’m sorry, but you’ve not accrued vacation time yet,” Employee: “That’s not fair. I have a passion for travel!” The short story? They let her go, but she went unpaid for a week—and was happy as could be.
  • A Starbucks barista said, “Why call in when you can’t make it to your shift? Just don’t show up—that’s what everyone does.”
  • A Subway franchisee: “Sometimes people quit without even telling me or I just get a text.”
  • An AMC Theater team member called in sick but came to see a movie that same day at the theater that employs him. He casually greeted supervisors and peers as he bought popcorn and entered his show.
  • I asked a Lowe’s GM, “What’s your biggest people challenge today?” He said, “Getting them to show up.”

I know these are random and disconnected scenarios, but they bring these questions to my mind:

Is this a natural outcome of a low unemployment rate?

Is this a negative reflection on our society/culture?

Is this a result of poor parenting?

Is this reversible?

Is this a problem?

Some of you are employers and most are in the workforce. Plus, since we are all consumers, we’re all in the marketplace regularly. So, I’d love to hear your observations on my observations.

Bottomline, what’s going on in today’s workplace?

Jump right in!


27 Responses

  1. I think it is cultural and poor parenting. But some of this has gone on for decades. My brother-in-law was looking for a job back in 1999. I knew a guy who did finish carpentry on upscale houses and asked if he had any job openings. He told me that he had a hard time finding good help. He would gladly teach anyone the trade if they would just show up on time and work hard. He hired my brother-in-law who showed up on time and worked hard and is till working in the business today. All that to say, just doing the simple things of being responsible, showing up, and working hard will get you a long way in life just because there are some many who don’t do that.

  2. I am assuming based on the mentioned employers that the individuals are under 25 yrs old. I think they have a mindset of this is only a part time job and not my career and don’t care about the job much. I think it is a mixture of parenting (teaching responsibility & work ethic), society and low unemployment rate (they can get a different job easily).

    It is definitely a problem for both the employer and the employees who have to cover for the individual. I’m not sure if it is reversible because it has been going on for many years. I am 49 and I know the same attitude was around when I was in my 20’s.

    1. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if it is a part-time job or their career, the same attitude towards work carries over, at least in my experience.

  3. I also find it very perplexing. Not only do people now feel they don’t have to show up, they also feel they are allowed to refuse to perform various functions because “they don’t like doing that part”. I had a friend give me an example of one of her employees who worked a week and was never on time, took long lunches, and always found a reason to leave early. He was talked to each day regarding hours and responsibilities and finally terminated. His response “I don’t understand why you would do this, I’m a very good worker”.
    Have these new workers never been allowed to have responsibility and consequences for their actions related to that responsibility? It appears this entitled behavior extends not only in the work arena, but also in most other areas of life. I know not everyone is following this behavior, but it is seen daily in the workforce now.
    I don’t have the answer as to why this is happening, but it is seem to be a negative reflection on the future of our society. I for one sure hope it is reversible as the new workforce gains experience in the real world.

  4. All familiar scenarios in today’s workforce. It is without a doubt a BIG social and culture challenge in our world today. I employee more than 500 employees in a extremely busy Constrution sector.. Vacation, training, overtime very competitive wages and benefits.. Turnover rate above 40% , profit and re- training dollars are tremendous management challenge to keep budgets, training,on boarding costs ,regulatory demands , capital and most importantly customer service and company morale high!
    JTully, VP Ops

  5. This is a multi-pronged problem with no single answer, but one factor in my opinion that would help would involve managers taking the time to mentor and teach new/young employees. I’m sure that happens lots of times, but equally sure that sometimes managers (busy as they are!) just “assume” that those fundamental soft skills are known and understood. Many people – not limited to the young – have simply never been taught the importance of being reliable, on time, courteous etc. What an opportunity to model, mold and guide employees with skills that will benefit them for a lifetime – and benefit employers and customers as well!

  6. I feel fortunate that I’ve raised two children (17 & 22) who do not fall into the scenarios listed below. They go to work when they are scheduled and they even work extra hours when asked.

    A lot of this has to do with how people are raised. If they are taught holding down a steady job, earning money and paying your bills on time isn’t important, then they will act accordingly. If they are taught to respect their employers, hold steady employment, and pay bills on time, then they will meet those expectations.

    I do not have the magic elixir to fix all of this – if I did I’d be retired to an island sipping on a margarita.

    I serve on a local Workforce Development Committee trying to address these very issues as the community I work in is trying to attract even more businesses to the area. However, I strongly believe it is going to take a down turn in the economy to bring people to their senses.

  7. I agree that it is part cultural and poor parenting. Our kids that have worked in the food service industry noticed the same thing. Kids would just not show up to work. Restaurant hires 100-125 employees and within a 1-3 months they have to hire more again because they lost so many from either workers not showing up, calling in sick too much, or just not wanting to do the job when they are there. Our kids would go to work sick instead of call in so not to appear like everyone else. Of course they were sent home. Everyone of my kid’s employers was sad to see them go on to better things. Sad that irresponsible kids have become the norm, instead of the other way around.

  8. As a younger baby-boomer, I have seen the same “decline” in the perceived importance of work and responsibility. In my humble opinion, it seems that the concept of “work/life balance” in recent years has become one of the more salient factors when people are assessing the quality of the job they have.

    I wonder if this phenomena is a result of cultures that are technologically advanced, high in standard of living, and not experiencing traumatic financial crisis, such as a depression?

  9. My first thought is What can I do about societies problems? The issue you pose is a small manifestation of bigger issues. Similar to the iceberg. My kids are grown with their own families and I’m finding I have to let go of issues in their lives I can’t control. Sound familiar? What I do know is ask what I can do to have a positive impact on their lives as adults, spouse and parent. I use the same mentality with people in my sphere of influence. I also have to look at myself and determine if I’m being a good effective employee, spouse, friend, parent, grandparent…. We see lots of dysfunctionality in the world but the most important dyfunctionality I need to worry and address the the dysfuncationality in me. Life’s a lot less stressful when I focus on me. I think this QBQ! stuff is rubbing off. 🙂 It’s a good thing.

  10. Believe it or not part of the problem is low unemployment. I work a lot with the warehousing industry and it is very difficult to get people at entry level. And difficult to keep them. One thing is they will leave on a moment’s notice for $0.50/hour increase. Another thing is there are so many opening not being filled they know they can get another job no problem.

  11. My brother in law works for a large online shopping company in one of their shipping warehouses. They give a monthly financial incentive for showing up on time. His first month there he was the only person on his team to receive the incentive. As a manager, I have seen my fair share of work avoidance behavior. My daughter has always had a good work ethic, and I like to think that I provided a good role model for her as my mom did for me. You always had to work hard even if you didn’t like the work. Having a good job and stability has always been a priority. We often point at the parents, but I have had employees with this type of behavior who have very successful business people for parents.

  12. I believe much of this is attributed to a low level of unemployment. Jobs are easy to come by so no one feels super obligated to put in extra effort since they can easily get another job. It was interesting that during the most recent recession everyone was trying to give good customer service as a way to draw in customers. Now that customers and jobs are plentiful that is no longer the case. (No matter what the kind of customer service)
    Work seems to be a four letter word to many employees instead of a meaningful part of their lives. If we taught our children and employees to focus on the fact that work gives us meaning and purpose in life maybe we would have happier, more content children and employees.

  13. I think it is a negative reflection on our culture. Both employees and employers forget the value of treating one another with respect
    Good employees are often treated the exact same as an employee that is marginal so why try. Good employers often place a heavy load on good employees without additional reward. Reward does not alway mean money but being appreciated counts

  14. We live in SW Florida where hurricane Irma ripped through last September. At my work and at my husband’s small business, dozens of people failed to check in or show up for many days with no valid reason. About eight people were fired at my workplace after being AWOL for a week. Another customer service trend is the inability to return phone calls. It seems we are chasing people to spend money with them. Why? People spend much less time interacting with people these days. Kids rarely leave the TV or computer to go out and play, social media has replaced real friends, and texting is preferred over a quick phone call. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back to more personal interaction soon but until that happens we should get used to this sad trend. Parents can help by limiting computer and smartphone time and kicking the kids outside like our parents used to do.

  15. I just had this conversation with someone yesterday. We were discussing one of their co-employees. My question was “Why is he still there when he is a danger to the rest of the crew?” The response was that the employer could not find another employee. I think we are seeing the results of what a generation being taught that actions have no consequences. There is also the aspect that a number of employees do not want to hire under a certain age due to government child labor laws. That leaves a number of individuals not learning how to be responsible employees because they have no experience.

  16. Hi John, great post as always. Several of the examples you shared come back to this odd phenomenon of “ghosting” — going silent on someone that you have a relationship with, whether personal, professional, or otherwise. Though younger generation workers can be an easy target, people of all generations seem more prone to “ghost” these days than before. If you’re so inclined, check out the LinkedIn post I did earlier this week via my profile:

    I would love to know why this is happening more now than ever before, but as I pointed out in my post, it’s not a new phenomenon. Just a more prevalent one. Surely though the lower unemployment situation combined with the glut of information available on social media (i.e.: it’s easier to job-hunt and find other opportunities) are contributing factors.

  17. I am retired from the daily job of managing people, but I often have opportunity to speak to employers who face the same issues mentioned here. I had a young man tell me last weekend that he needed to hire 12 people now but was having no success finding them. When asked about qualifications his answer was “a warm body. I’ll be glad to train them.” Starting pay was approximately $15/hr for inexperienced workers.
    I used to train employees in how to be personally accountable in their jobs and it paid off. However, you have to be able to have employees before you can train them in anything.
    Most youth today are not receiving instructions from parents about how to be responsible for work ethics and being on the job and on time. I remember my son calling me one day on his way to work saying he had a flat tire. I asked him if he had called his boss to alert him of the problem and that he would be late. His answer was “ they know I’m late and I’ll be there” I asked him “If you were the boss and you didn’t have people show up for work, how would operate” His reply was I’d be upset.” “ I guess I need to make a phone call, huh?”
    It seems that the most important things to young people of any age is spending time on cellphones or electronics of all types. As long as they are “given” these items by their parents and not required to work to earn them, they will be content to not work. Young people today have life too easy. I think all young men should be required to serve in the military for at least four years directly after high school and learn discipline. It wouldn’t hurt the young women either.
    Another thing that would be a great help is to make QBQ required reading in the upper grades of high school. Kids aren’t taught responsibility of any type at home or school today.

  18. Is this a natural outcome of a low unemployment rate? Sometimes.
    Is this a negative reflection on our society/culture? Yes.
    Is this a result of poor parenting? Perhaps.
    Is this reversible? Probably.
    Is this a problem? Yes.

  19. Do people want to work? Yes. Do they want to work the same way as in the past? Maybe not. My grandparents, who raised 6 kids during the depression, would tell me they worked really hard and rarely had time to play. My dad (and me) would tell you we worked really hard, but played really hard as well. I think culturally, we are changing towards a “we need to work, but we prefer to play really hard” mentality or desire. I somewhat equate it to a mom that can work from 9-3 while the kids are in school, but outside of that, they want to be their for their children. As a society, most of us would have no issues with this. But if an employee only wants to work six hours so they have more social/casual time, we often interpret this as not wanting to work. So is there a difference between that mom and her kids and a young adult and their friends? I’m not certain anymore. With that said, our organization has the same issues. Not showing up for work and not calling in. Quitting and not telling anyone. Wanting to be paid more if we train them to operate a second machine. Spending too much time texting instead of working. It is always frustrating to see this type of disrespect.

  20. Employers and companies are going to have to start asking the question behind the question.

    – What can I do to help me people take ownership in what they do?
    -What can I do to engage my people on a level beyond just the daily tasks?
    – If I view my staff as customers, why would they keep working here.

    I agree, we have a real problem with work ethic. But in looking at QBQ, it is better to ask, “what can I do?”

    This is a skill that companies are going to have to learn, if they want to survive. Businesses (yes, even sub shops) can have a culture that people want to come in and do their best, and attract the best people!

  21. About 5 yrs ago at the end of my career seminar for some high school seniors – the following question was asks: “Do I have to go to work everyday?” It took me a moment to decide if this was a joke or not. Not a joke. It was sad at that time. While there are some ‘students’ for the most part the undergraduate students in my business classes are motivated by their desire to bring value to themselves and their ‘colleagues’ –

    My HR/ management/organization classes stress a commitment to ‘Hire Right’ – determine the ideal candidate, search for that candidate and then ‘sell’ the company to that candidate with a focus on employee engagement, training and development.

  22. Unfortunately, I have seen this type of behavior getting worse over the past twenty years teaching in a post-secondary certificate program. Students prepare for a career in the health field, we secure an externship, they do not show up for an interview or they just don’t show up for work. Honestly, I have researched professionalism, and it is a learned behavior. I believe what we are seeing is learned behavior from their parents or guardians. No regard for common courtesy. I wish I knew what the solution is but I am at a loss.

  23. Unfortunately, all of the scenarios that you described seem to be becoming more common place. My staff has dwindled over the past year from 25 + to just 13… Obviously, it’s pretty hard to run a department like that, but we still do very well. Most of the issues I experience like what was described in your situations happen with the younger generation. I agree that the sense of entitlement has gotten way out of control. At home, all of my kids have to work for what they get. Very rarely do they get something without some sort of “earning” it. We have checklists on the refrigerator for chores, such as feeding the pets, which in turn also makes them responsible for letting my wife and I know when we need to purchase more food for them . I was taught a very strong work ethic at a young age, basically growing up in the restaurant that my mother managed. I have and continue to try to develop that in them and accountability that goes both ways. Fingers crossed that they continue to buy in and do the same for their kids later on in life.

  24. I have found it interesting that the organization I work for is offering incentive for certain employees to show up every day for work. This will be over $2,000 for not missing any days during the school year.
    Now I understand that this is an industry that is struggling to fill opening, school bus driving.
    As for the questions about the cause, I would say that it is likely a combination of all of them. I believe it is reversible though it will not be easy.

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