Posted January 15, 2019 by

We need to stop blaming hourly, service industry workers for being poor when we pay them crap and treat them worse

More than 10,000 talent acquisition and other human resource professionals are avid readers of Hung Lee‘s excellent, weekly, e-newsletter, Recruiting Brainfood. If you’re in TA, HR, or an affiliated industry like I am, then you need to subscribe if you care about staying current with new technology, trends, and ways of looking at the world of recruitment.

Hung recently shared an article published by Huffington Post by Lauren Hough. The article, “I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America”, was a fascinating, first-person view into the life of a lesbian (her sexual identification was quite relevant to the article) cable installer for a telecommunications company.  She made — and admitted to making — some mistakes and some ethical lapses, but for those of us whose jobs require far more muscle between our ears than on our arms, legs, and backs, it provided an incredibly powerful reminder of how hard service industry people work, how poorly they’re paid, and how awfully they’re treated. I shared the article to the new, Recruiting Brainfood group on Facebook, and that sparked an interesting discussion.

Some agreed with me that the article was a jarring reminder that, even in first-world countries like the U.S., these workers face a combination of low pay, dangerous work, commission-driven incentives, zero health and safety, and sexual and other kinds of harassment. I paraphrased a comment recently made to me by one of our employees about what she had to tell a previous employer, “You can treat me like crap or pay me like crap, but not both”. At that point, insensitivity started to come forward by a member of the group who, unfortunately, likely shares views with many, many in human resources. That is, when faced with the reality of people working in jobs like the author, it is far too common to blame the worker for making “poor educational and vocational choices and self-victimization”.

I wasn’t having any of it. I responded, “If you think this about one hard working person who knowingly is sacrificing her body in order to pay her rent, then you need to think the same about most Americans. And, if you do, is it the individuals who are making the wrong decisions within the options available to them in our society or is it society which is making inadequate choices available to the individuals?” The “blame the victim” group member pushed back saying that he was merely sharing a recruiter’s perspective and not making a broader social commentary. Perhaps, but I don’t see much of a difference. Recruiters, of all people, should be more empathetic to people forced into jobs which pay poorly and offer terrible working conditions and recruiters, of all people, should be advocates for those employees by pushing their employers to improve the pay, working conditions, or both.

There is a tendency of recruiters and almost everyone else in society to blame the poor for being poor. It allows us to feel more comfortable because we feel less vulnerable. If we admit that what has happened to them could happen to us, we’d have a lot more sleepless nights. And we’d feel more compelled to commit ourselves to taking significant action to help those who are busting their asses every day just to survive, like the author of this article.

I wasn’t pointing a finger at the group member individually. I was  pointing a finger at all of us, for this tendency to blame the victim is pervasive and, ultimately, self-defeating.

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