Monday, June 17, 2024

I didn’t realize how bad service jobs were until I got an office job

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Now that he has a corporate-office job, Justin Jordan says he has more mental energy to focus on things like his health, which is something he couldn’t do when he worked a physical-labor job.
Kristen Davis

  • Justin Jordan, a 29-year-old, shares his experiences in both noncorporate and corporate jobs.
  • Jordan says the noncorporate jobs he’s worked have been dehumanizing.
  • He highlights the differences between them and says all jobs should treat workers with respect.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Justin Jordan, a 29-year-old social-video creator at Homage. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve worked in a variety of jobs, both noncorporate and corporate. Nobody tells you that once you jump into the corporate space, you realize how stupid certain rules in noncorporate jobs are.

In jobs where I didn’t make as much money, I felt like people would use that as an excuse to dehumanize us employees. As I got older and made more money, I was then treated like I was more deserving of respect.

But that shouldn’t be the case. My paycheck shouldn’t determine the amount of respect I receive.

I’ve worked a variety of service jobs

In high school and college, I worked as a golf caddy, an ice-cream-shop employee, and a server at a burger chain.

After graduating from college with a journalism and media communications degree, I worked as a video editor at an NBC affiliate until the second half of 2019.

Starting work at NBC4.
Justin Jordan

After that job, I thought I’d be able to become a freelancer, given my videography background, but then the pandemic hit and there was nothing to shoot or edit.

I got a job at a shipping company handling packages because I needed health insurance. It was awful and something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

In January 2023, I finally returned to corporate-office life as a social-video creator at Homage, a T-shirt company.

Here are the three biggest differences I saw between my noncorporate and corporate jobs:

1. I wasn’t treated like an adult in noncorporate jobs

When I was 16, I started working at a local ice-cream shop. It was fine, but it was weird to feel like I was constantly being monitored. I was on my feet all day and I had to ask before using the bathroom. When it was busy, we wouldn’t get to take our lunch breaks.

When I joined the shipping company in 2020, it was weird going back to how I was treated as a teenager in my previous service-industry jobs.

We had to ask before using the bathroom because the packages and conveyor belt had to keep moving. I mean, I’m a grown adult and you’re treating me like I’m in high school? I have to ask to go to the bathroom — seriously? It felt like asking for snack time.

I understand that it was logistically necessary to get someone to take my spot for a moment, but there are better ways to deal with it. When I became a supervisor, I would step in to fill my supervisees’ spots while they used the bathroom.

In my office job, no one gets mad if I go out and get lunch. If I leave the office midday to work from home, no one bats an eye because we trust each other. I feel more comfortable because no one’s watching me like a hawk.

2. In service jobs, I felt like I was expendable

When I worked at the ice-cream shop, there was always another teen who wanted to work there.

At the shipping company, it felt like management had the mindset that if we could be somewhere else, we would be there. But since we were here, we had to accept whatever the company wanted to give us because there would always be another package and another willing human to move that package, so it didn’t matter if they were nice to us or not.

But in the corporate world, I’ve felt there’s a sense of: “We’ve picked you for this position, and you’re the person that we want to be here. You have a degree and the specialties that we need or want, so you are deserving of this position.” So they give you more benefit of the doubt. As long as the work gets done, the company doesn’t seem to care what you do.

Some of my coworkers had no choice but to accept this kind of treatment at the shipping company because even though it wasn’t the best job in the world, the pay was livable — at least at the beginning with the bonuses they offered. I was getting paid $25 an hour, which during those two years was better than nothing.

A lot of employees who really needed these jobs were also viewed as expendable. For example, I worked with felons who had criminal records and couldn’t easily find jobs elsewhere.

When these two dynamics are put together, the company could treat you poorly. They don’t have to give you snacks; they don’t have to allow you to use the bathroom whenever you want — there’s always another person to scoop ice cream, move a package, or serve you a burger.

3. Office jobs are less physically taxing and less focused on specific tasks

At the shipping company, I just kept my head down to accomplish the specific task of loading and unloading boxes. But now in my corporate job, it’s nice not to have my time dedicated to specific tasks but rather to the ideation around the task, like how to accomplish it and how it went.

There’s a difference between executing someone else’s plan — like, I’m just here to move this package — and feeling like I’m responsible for creating a solution that works. The latter makes me feel a lot more invested in my job. It also makes the work feel more meaningful by scratching the itch in the creative side of my brain.

Shooting a promotional video for Homage.
Kristen Davis

Noncorporate jobs were also much more taxing on my body. I would have to stand for long periods of time and my feet and back would hurt every time I got home.

Sometimes I would come home from work and be so exhausted that I couldn’t do anything. Even applying for jobs was a huge task because I’d be so tired.

Nowadays, I have more mental energy to devote to more things. I can focus on my health and things that really matter to me because I have the time and energy to dedicate to it.

Every job needs to treat workers with respect

When I reentered the corporate world after my shipping-company job, it felt like I was finally treated like a human again. The job also had real benefits and a living wage that made me feel like an adult. I could finally drink water whenever I wanted and take a lunch break whenever I wished.

This is how it’s supposed to be. Not every job in the world has to be nice to you, but the company should treat you with some respect, or at least treat you like an adult in a way that a lot of lower-paying jobs don’t.

Companies need to pay people better so workers can earn a living wage and feel like they’re valued. I’m much happier now because I’m more financially stable; I’m making more money now and I have better benefits. At the shipping company, I was making $25 an hour working 30 to 35 hours a week. At Homage now, I’m making $53,000 a year.

If there’s one thing I miss about service jobs, it would be the camaraderie of being in a sucky situation with your coworkers. You don’t get that same sense of being “in the dirt” together when you’re working a corporate job. Sometimes, there’s that sentiment in office jobs, too, but it’s a different kind of dirt when you’re working physical-labor jobs.

If you made a career pivot and would like to share your story, email Jane Zhang at janezhang@businessinsider.com.

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