Ralph Kingsbury Column: Work Ethics Have Changed


I had to go grocery shopping today. It was nearly noon and I decided to stop at the deli section to pick up something to eat. It is something I do often and have gotten to know some of the people who work that section.

Sometimes I have to watch very close because I know the employee isn’t paying attention to what I am ordering. They really don’t care that what they give me is not what I asked for. Other times the employee filling my order is so attentive, trying so hard to do it right that if they were a doctor I would allow them to do a heart by-pass.

Today that is the type of employee filling my order. Always paying attention, and always friendly. You know that she cares that by bringing my business there she has a job. She is the type of employee that we were always taught to be.

As she handed my order to me she let out a sigh and asked if I wanted a job. I told her, jokingly, for enough money I would consider it. Then I asked her if there was a problem. Seems someone didn’t come to work today. Well, what do you expect, it was Saturday. I mean after all you can’t expect someone to work on a Saturday, especially since they might have already worked nearly 30 hours this week.

These workers think that the customer owes them for being there and willing to make the effort to sell an item.  “You’re lucky I am here”. I actually heard a checkout clerk at a major big box store say that to a customer recently.

In a friendly exchange I once tried to explain to a teenager how a marketplace worked. She expressed incredulity that the person doing the selling needed to convince the buyer that they wanted the product she was selling.

She challenged what I was saying by asking if the customer had any other choice when it came to buying food. I told her she was correct that most people, at least that day, needed to buy groceries, but they didn’t need to buy them from the store she was working at. In fact even in a one grocery store town which is the case in most of North Dakota today there is always the alternative of the local café, or the local coops convenience store. They did not have to be treated rudely by her.

She didn’t care. If she couldn’t do as she pleased she would just quit. She could go get another job. When her reputation eventually preceded her there was always unemployment.

Don’t think things like this happen? Well, this same girl that asked if I wanted a job said her department had recently hired a young girl. An hour and a half into her first day she said she was going to the bathroom. She never returned. When they finally contacted her the next day they asked if she was sick. When did she expect to be back? Never, she said. That job was just too hard. Working in a small town deli frying chicken, or making some pasta dish was just too hard.

Studies have demonstrated that in the United States today that attitude is a lot more prevalent. Not completely. Not with everyone. Those who have gone to the oil patch are the same as those who in earlier generations made America great.

What caused this change in attitude? Is it simply increases in the unemployment payments? Is it a change in familial attitudes? Did the “Greatest Generation” create a spoiled group when they gave us “the boomer generation”, and it is getting worse with every succeeding generation?

If our country will only realize that it has citizens, some of them our new citizens, who want to be part of the American Dream of the past and change its laws, it guarantees,  and its philosophies back to what it was we can return to what we were.

If not….