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Give us respect and a robot

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

I was standing in front of tomorrow’s workforce, getting the 411 on what makes a job truly fabulous. To them, it was all about respect, good benefits and fair pay.

It was all about the deep desire to pummel a younger brother and get off scot free.

We’d just gotten the results of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon, and I wanted to know from the future workers of Oregon what would make a great workplace. So I headed to Monica Eckrich’s fifth-grade class at Sunnyside Environmental School in Southeast Portland, because when you want straight talk, you want a 10-year-old.

The class was clear on the type of boss who stinks: It’s someone who does “weird and stupid things,” bugs you every minute, yells all the time (much agreement), is cheap, talks behind your back, watches TV while you are slaving away, gives you five minutes for lunch, makes you do their laundry, and (this was the worst) wakes up grumpy from their nap.

Clearly, whether you love or hate your job, it’s all about the relationship with your direct supervisor.

Ah, but a good boss, though rare as an “A” in conduct, is a wonderful thing to imagine.

“They wouldn’t yell,” said Zea. (Much applause.)

“They would appreciate me,” added Makayla.

“They would be kind,” Emily said.

“A good boss,” said Philip, somewhat wistfully, “would have a drawer full of candy.”

This group had surprisingly detailed knowledge of bad bosses. Digging further, I uncovered where they got some of their information — from parents (“Mom’s boss is crazy!”), movies such as The Devil Wears Prada and the TV show The Office.

But their acute insight comes mainly from holding one of the most stressful jobs on this or any other planet: that of “kid.” (Also classified as “slave” in their employee handbook.)

It’s a thankless middle-management position beset from above by dozens of overbearing bosses — parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and cousins, teachers (“But Monica is a nice boss!” blurted one savvy employee) — and from below, by rude, lazy subordinates such as younger brothers, sisters and cousins who give them zippo respect.

“My little brother is spoiled, and doesn’t do his work. And he cries,” noted one disgusted manager, who will remain anonymous to protect his meager allowance.

“Even when I baby-sit, no one listens,” said an annoyed Olga.

And don’t get them started on the lousy benefits.

“There’s no pay!” shouted one worker, and his colleagues all loudly agreed. A side comment from their supervisor that a roof over their heads might be payment enough was quickly hooted down.

Then there is the constant task of “fetching” — get my cell phone, make me coffee, get my keys. Frankly, it makes them feel like a dog.

To improve working conditions, they didn’t ask for much. If they could only get a little more recess, a bit of compensation — really, $1 a week would do it — and permission to beat up a younger sibling or two without HR busting them, that could make all the difference to their job satisfaction. Eliminate the cat-box duty, cut down on the yelling, and you’d have yourself a pretty happy workforce.

So memo to all employers out there: If you want a chance at being picked as one of the 100 best parents, uh, companies to work for in Oregon, think about taking the helpful advice of Isaac: Invest in a robot to do the work of your valuable middle-managers. The slaves in Room 201 would be forever grateful.

Give us respect and a robot

— Robin Doussard
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