Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Cashier, grocery bagger, fast food worker, janitor, pot hole filler, crop worker, paperboy ... Most of these positions earn minimum wage and too often the people who work at these jobs display an attitude of boredom and a slip-shod carelessness. They hold an air of disrespect toward those with whom they interact. It is clear that they despise their work and won't stick around a moment past the end of their shift regardless of the situation. But it doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way. Whatever happened to pride in our efforts? To an honest day's work? To being respectful toward others? To honoring our employers? Whatever happened to taking ownership of the things that we can control and the areas where we are positioned?

Over the past several years I have been working on a project at my laboratory to build a sophisticated piece of experimental equipment. A portion of the work was overseen by a university group, and much of the actual construction was accomplished by teams of hourly paid undergraduate students. Many worked without ever really understanding how this equipment would function or how it would be used. For them, the project represented a chance to earn a little extra money. However, a few of the student workers rose above the level of the others. They took it upon themselves to learn more about the equipment that they were assembling, how it would be used, and why it was being constructed to such exacting specifications. I had the privilege of working with some of these students when they delivered the equipment from their university to my laboratory.

The other day I was working with one of these students to complete some final tests on the equipment before it was to be installed. At 6:00 p.m. we had reached a stopping point and we went home for the night. Later that evening I was checking out the equipment remotely from home and noticed some potentially worrisome readings on some of the power supplies. At 10:00 p.m. I decided to head back to work to check things out to be sure that nothing was wrong. As I was leaving my house, I sent the student an email with my concerns and gave him some instructions for the morning. Yet when I arrived at work, he met me there and wanted to help me complete my investigation. He didn't have to show up and stay until around midnight. He certainly wasn't getting paid any overtime. He had simply taken ownership of the work that he was involved with. If only we all had that same attitude.