Book Review: On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, by Emily Guendelsberger

“I get to leave.” That was the mantra going through Emily Guendelsberger’s mind as she endured almost a year of low-wage jobs. Unlike her suffering co-workers at Amazon, Convergys, (a call center used by AT&T) and a San Francisco McDonalds, Emily knew that her time at each position would only last a few months.

When her newspaper folded, reporter Emily Guendelsberger decided it was the optimum time to fling herself into the low-wage workplace, to see for herself the indignities and despair dished out to those at the bottom of the labor market. A year later, she left with burns, a recurrence of PTSD, bad feet, a repetitive-motion injury to her wrist, and never-ending respect for the people stuck in such thankless jobs.

Like many people, Guendelsberger worked fast food in her teen years. She was raised on the rule “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” She thought she had a good idea of what would be asked of her, but instead she entered a new era of technological surveillance. Time management studies, scheduling software, and the ability to track every minute of a worker’s day has made even the thought of having “time to lean” an impossibility.

Amazon stocks vending machines with pain killers workers can access with a swipe of their badge, because that wastes less time than going to see the nurse. Convergys has mind-numbing acronyms and procedures that must be precisely followed – until they’re changed the next week. There’s always a line at McDonalds and the McFlurry machine is always broken because the algorithm scheduling workers ensures that no one has a minute of extra time for preventative maintenance. Fed up enough to quit? Go ahead, no one cares. Constant turnover is just one more accepted business practice.

On the Clock has terrific insights about how these types of jobs deal out stress and despair along with low wages. Guendelsberger provides clear explanations on the beginnings of time management studies, human anxiety, and the current business practices that suck all the personal control and joy out of a multitude of jobs. Why do we have our present government? Why are people so stressed out? Why is there an opioid crisis? Read this book and you might begin to understand why.

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