Proud Professionals Struggle at Lower Skill Jobs

A friend’s husband who lost his job has started delivering pizzas as he looks for regular employment.

He’s been having the same schedule each week, and so he was startled and panicked when he got a call from his manager on a day he typically isn’t scheduled. “Are you on your way in? You’re on the schedule.”

He raced to put on his company shirt and run out the door. Before he left, he jokingly told his wife, “If I get myself fired from Domino’s Pizza, I will personally drive myself to the morgue, open a drawer, lay down in it and pull the sheet over my head.”

I laugh every time I think of this comment, because gallows humor seems to be the only coping strategy left for dealing with these bleak situations. Of course he wasn’t fired, and he won’t be, short of an act of violence. He’s eager to work, reliable, works any hours he’s given, and is courteous. They are thrilled to have someone of his maturity to count on.  

Similarly, I once worked an inventory day for a much-beloved retailer that offered a generous discount. Most of the other workers that day had jobs outside of this retail gig – they were realtors, flight attendants, even a research engineer at UAB – and were, like me, working with an eye toward a large furniture purchase. Many worked at the store a few hours a month just to furnish their homes using their discount.

When the manager said she was ordering pizza for lunch, what toppings did we like, I assumed that, as with previous employers, this was the company’s treat for us working minions. Imagine my embarassment when, one bite into my slice, I was told, “We need $3.25 from everybody for the pizza.” I rarely carry cash! So now I had to leave and go across the street to the ATM to pay back this manager who had just spotted us $40 of her own money for lunch.

Later that afternoon, as I was clumsily wielding the inventory gun, the manager came around to ask, “Do you have an estimate for how long you were gone during lunch? I’m just updating the time sheet.” Of course! I hadn’t thought of clocking out to go to the ATM, not having literally “clocked in” at a job since college. So now she was having to dock me for time running around to find $3.25, an amount I should have had rattling around in the bottom of my purse.

By the end of the long day, my inventory gun wasn’t even balancing, and I was feeling less and less competent. Nevermind that furniture discount; I had complicated this manager’s day enough already. At this point, I just wanted to be treated with the respect accorded any anonymous shopper the next time I came in the store.

Being “underemployed” isn’t so easy, and the retail/restuarant managers of the world certainly agree.