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4 Phrases that Devalue Manual Labour and Service Industry Jobs

While different jobs require different skills and training, all jobs have their challenges. I think it should go without saying that all jobs are valuable in one way or another – perhaps with the exception of jobs that are ethically dubious or flat-out wrong, but defining what those jobs are is a whole other topic, which is not tackled here. What is addressed here is the devaluing of certain jobs, often manual labor and service industry jobs – in other words, jobs that many people assume to be low-paying, and to require little training (which of course is not always the case). Of course some jobs can be “bad” in the sense that the working conditions are bad, which makes the jobs very demanding, but in this case it’s the conditions that should be criticized, not the occupations in themselves.

How much different jobs pay relates to appreciation, but also to other factors, which is why pay differences aren’t discussed here. Another, and perhaps a little more straightforward indicator of appreciation is the way people talk about different jobs. Below are some phrases I’ve heard from time to time, ones that carry harmful underlying ideologies about the value of practical jobs. They may be common and said lightly, but they uphold conceptions of some jobs being somehow bad or unworthy. This is harmful to people who hold these jobs, because it can affect the way they are treated at and outside work, and the way they perceive their professional selves.

1. “I don’t want to be stuck doing X forever”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying this, if it stems from your personal feelings and wishes. Anyone can feel stuck at a job, any job, that doesn’t provide them with whatever it is they need. However, sometimes there’s an underlying ideology here beyond mere subjective experience, and according to this ideology job X is the kind of job that people get stuck at – in other words, it’s a job people who can’t “climb higher” settle for. It’s similar to telling someone they can do better than X. Instead of saying what jobs are “good” or “bad” in themselves, we should talk about how we personally find different jobs (noting the difference between bad working conditions at particular workplaces, and the occupations these workplaces represent).

2. “I also did X when I was a student (but look how far I’ve come)”

Sometimes you hear people boasting about how they took any jobs they could get to put themselves through university, and how heroic they were for getting up for manual labor or serving customers at 6am. Since they brag about having done this, it may sound like they actually appreciate and respect these jobs. Some of them certainly do, but some only appreciate them as (in their mind) the lowest steps of the social ladder, a part of their “rise” to high-status positions. And at the same time, they don’t appreciate people sticking to these jobs for thirty years, even though they find themselves such champions for having stuck to them for a mere couple of summers.

In addition, some people use these summer job experiences as an argument to back up their claim that everyone should be grateful and satisfied with any job, even if the conditions are bad, because they also did it without complaining. By claiming this they ignore the fact that a lifetime at a job is simply not comparable to a few months at the same job.

3. “Well, it’s a job (and someone has do it)”

Sometimes people try to tell others how they should feel about their jobs, based on what kind of status they perceive these jobs to have, or how they personally feel about them. By doing this, they disregard how the people they are talking to feel about their own jobs. Different people enjoy and are satisfied with different jobs, which is why we should listen to each other’s thoughts about our jobs instead of making assumptions. It’s hurtful to say, “Well, at least you have a job” to someone who likes their job and/or takes pride in doing it. If someone tells you they hate their job, “it’s a job” might not be out of place, but leading with it is disrespectful to the job and the person who does it.

4. “Anyone can do X”

The ableist language aside, this phrase implies that job X is so easy that there’s nothing to be proud of if you do it. However, all jobs have their challenges, and people shouldn’t assume they know just how hard or easy everyone else’s job is. For example, I must admit that during my first summer working as a cleaner I was surprised at how much there was to learn, and even after I’d learned some basics to manage the job, my more experienced, professional coworkers were still a lot more skillful and efficient than me. Besides, the qualities you need to do a job are not strictly job-specific skills. They can also be qualities like being punctual, disciplined, or able to deal with all kinds of people.

To conclude, all our jobs are valuable in one way or another. You may have reasons to think some jobs are more valuable than others, but your way of ranking jobs is not an objective truth. Furthermore, some jobs being “very important” doesn’t make others unimportant, and we should respect and talk in a respective manner of each other’s work to encourage appreciative treatment of people in all occupations. 

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