Thursday, February 7, 2013

Overtime Silliness

A police officer in Chicago is suing for overtime that he put in for answering emails while off-duty. While this case has been dismissed as 'silliness' by a former mayor of Chicago, this attitude is just indicative of the 24-hour work culture that North Americans are living every day- and not getting paid for.

There are many factors in this particular case that will have to be reviewed to determine its' success or not, but regardless of the outcome, people should be thinking about the amount of time they're putting into work and never getting back. Despite the argument that Blackberry-strapped employees can choose to turn off their machines when they leave the office, the truth of the matter is that many employers expect their employees to be available around the clock- and this expectation is the problem.

Every workplace is supposedly committed to the idea of 'worklife balance'. Despite this PR motto, most workers live the reality of the unspoken demands of their office. The pressure is more or less constant and employees who don't respond after hours are often overlooked for promotions or perceived as less reliable workers than their email happy counterparts. The virtual desktop also brings it unspoken pressures with it to keep producing, while travelling, sick, or even, at times, on vacation.

Before people dismiss this item as silliness or anti-capitalist, people should remember that it was not that long ago when workers' demands for weekends was also considered 'silliness'. North Americans have seen a steady increase of heart attacks, cancer rates and the cost of living, all part of a perfect storm that predicts early death, mostly caused by work pressures, poor diets and inordinate amounts of time sitting. This is not a hard puzzle to put together.

The constant demands of work and home life have many of us feeling like hamsters caught in a wheel- running and getting no further ahead. We should start re-claiming our time and our quality of life. Our relationships, our private time, our health- these are the 'silly' things that we are trying to protect and preserve. Our jobs are not worth everything.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thou Shall Not Tip

It started off as a funny post, but ended with someone losing their job. Applebee's has fired the waitress at the heart of the 'God Tip' controversy, after the pastor complained to the manager of the restaurant. Many have already seen the 'I give God 10%, why should I give you 18?' which was scrawled on the receipt with an emphatic 0 in the spot for a tip.

Does anyone else find it strange that a pastor would only give 10% of their energy to God? I'm not up on my Church organizational chart, but I'm pretty sure that if you're a pastor, you're expected to take on holy duties as your career and most of us, if I'm not entirely mistaken, are expected to give more than 10% to our jobs. It's an odd calculation and I'm a little more than curious to see the math behind it. Beyond the concerns regarding the insulting jab and no tip, I have to wonder what kind of perfomance evaluation at the end of the year God is going to give this person.

It is off-putting in the first place that someone would use God as an excuse to not tip someone in the service industry, although I bet that people who work in the service industry have heard it all before. A similar case occurred years back when a high end customer at a nice restaurant left the wait staff an unusual 'tip' writing 'get a real job' in the tip line provided. While getting stiffed on tips is something of an occupational hazard in North America, it seems unacceptable to my mind that we continue to undermine people in the service industry by not providing them a decent living wage.

Now I understand that the North American attitude towards service is that tips are incentives. Economists and sociologists have demonstrated that people respond to financial incentives, and this can often encourage them to do more diligent and courteous work. Understood. One only needs to look towards Europe, with their snooty nose-in-the-air wait staff who grudgingly serve you both hot coffee and looks of disdain. Nobody wants to go to that model. What Europe does provide is a living wage to their servers, as TVA (the taxes automatically put on your bill) include service.

This means that the waiter in Europe know that they don't have to cozy up to you for a tip and they don't bother. It also prevents waiters falling all over themselves to provide excellent service to cheap nasty people. It may be possible to avoid both pitfalls if we would get rid of the notion of tip-based wages and just give servers minimum wage. Tip-based wages are often lower than the minimum wage with the idea that incentives will follow from the customers themselves. But what we should strive for is a minimum wage so that waitstaff can live and a tip option so that they can thrive.

The shift in the culture will then veer away from the 'I will tip you if you're nice to me, but you've earned nothing from me yet', or the 'I don't tip people' approach. Wait staff will then know that they can get more mileage if they provide good service, but also, that they won't be insulted at the end of the night by someone who had to be served. And then we could all avoid scenarios like this one, when a waiter/waitress turns to the internet for sympathy for something they shouldn't have been made to suffer in the first place, and then be fired when their employer refuses to back them up and protect them as their employee.