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Career > Work

A Day In Their Shoes: Lessons From Service Jobs

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Oswego chapter.

Although I’ve always been a sort of introspective person, sometimes I feel like I get caught up in my own world. It wasn’t until I started taking on service jobs that I truly understood the impact of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Now you may be thinking, “Why should I read this?” but bear with me when I tell you that it is this sort of mindset that creates the central issue. Although you may not work a service job yourself, society around you is molded and actively propelled forward by service jobs. The Dunkin you get on the way to work, the clean floors in your residence halls, the customer service representative you lean on, and the physician you visit when sick all fall under the umbrella of service work. Our society is one built on service work and it is something that impacts your life every single day, even when you don’t see it explicitly. To say it doesn’t concern you to learn about is to push the narrative of ignorance forward. 

In order to gain this understanding of the importance of service work, I had to gain some hands-on experience. At a young age, I entered the service world when I joined a relative in her job as a housekeeper. With that experience, I transitioned into custodial work; a job that I’ve done for three semesters now at a residence hall here on campus. This summer, I experienced my first food service job at a very popular Mexican food chain you all probably know pretty well. Every single day I’ve worked these jobs has been a learning experience. 

The first lesson I’d like to share with you is the idea that small things can lead to big things. In my custodian job, I’ve seen people treat common spaces as if they were in their own house, leaving a disaster and not being mindful. Mindfulness is defined by Oxford Language as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” If I were to provide you with an example it would look like this; you don’t pick after yourself and you think someone will pick it up eventually. Sure, it’s probably true and it’s that person’s job, but you should also keep in mind that it’s polite to at least do your part. Clean up after yourself and whatever you can’t do will go to the person whose job it is. 

Another lesson I’d like to share with you has mostly been obtained through my food service job; it is that you never truly know what someone is going through. This lesson can go both ways, it can be a positive or a negative. Here’s a hypothetical; let’s say you’re having a bad day and you’re in line to get your food. It’s taking too long, so when it’s your turn to order you greet the worker with a nasty attitude. It’s not necessarily their fault, but you’re taking it out on them because of things you can’t control. However, what a lot of people fail to remember is that the food service worker is doing what’s in their control. They can’t help the fact that they’re understaffed and there’s a huge line. So now they’re having a bad and stressful day and you come in with this attitude that just makes them feel worse. They feel discredited and lesser than others, even though they’re only trying their best. Personally, I took many trips to the back of the store to collect myself when customers decided to take out their bad day on me; there is nothing worse than being made to feel like you’re beneath basic respect. 

In a more positive light, let’s say the food service worker is having that sort of day. A positive comment could go a long way. I fully remember every time someone complimented me or asked me how I was doing when I was having a bad shift. Something simple like a warm smile or a short conversation about the weather always lightens things up. I remember those instances almost equally over the bad times when people demanded I get the manager or asked me to work faster. I’m sure your day has been changed by the way a service worker has treated you too. Just the other day someone randomly thanked me for vacuuming at my custodial job, a form of gratitude that was a first for me, and trust me it brought me a smile that hadn’t yet occurred during that shift.  Trust me when I tell you that a please and a thank you can go a long way. 

Going back to instances where there is a lack of control, there are a lot of situations in which people on both sides may feel frustrated and take it out on the other person. Sometimes the rush of life makes people forget to have proper manners, or maybe they haven’t even been taught that. This idea brings me to my point of privilege. A lot of service jobs push this narrative when they train you that “the customer is always right.” I think that’s fine, but I think that many times the customer abuses this idea and uses it as an excuse to their advantage. What the customer may fail to remember is that the worker is doing a service to them. There’s a power dynamic that is being put into play; the workers usually can’t defend themselves without it being taken as an attitude. Yeah “it’s their job” but it’s your job to have common decency. It’s within a realm of reasonability that workers are expected to do certain things. Empathy plays a huge role in this. 

In my opinion, people should work at least one service job in their life. A lot of people grow up in privilege and it’s jobs like these that teach them how to appreciate others. A lot of people who do service jobs are lower income, haven’t gone to college, or are in college. Service jobs can be draining and often produce a feeling of no reward. A lot of times customers who are more educated treat you like you are beneath them just because they may have a better-paying job and education. However, everyone is just trying to make a living so you have to provide them that respect. Either remember where you came from or remember that in the way you’ve worked hard, other people are working hard too.

Ellen Argueta is an 20 year old Adolescence Education major with a concentration in Social Studies and a minor in History currently attending SUNY Oswego. She hopes to eventually teach world history to students in middle school or high school! Some of her hobbies include painting, reading, and watching marvel movies!