Businesses Make ‘Make Work’ Jobs


When I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi over 20 years ago, I  ‘inherited’ a staff of  about  20 to 30 employees. I tried to get a handle on  who they all were and what they did. Frankly, bureaucracies  are the same where ever you go…especially  when politicians are involved.  In any case, I had several people assigned to my department  whom I could not  see as doing anything that added value to making the city run smoothly.    However, the British had set up a system where  we  didn’t just file the files, but assigned the files an additional filing number, and in order to get a plot file…rather than going into the filing  room and getting the file, we had to go to a clerk who would look up  the file number for the plot records and then fetch the file for us…or not.  Files would go ‘missing’.  Even though you were supposed to  sign for a file, I  learned that  another department head was not signing, and just taking  files.  After all, there was really no way for an employee to make the  guy sign for the file…especially if the employee in charge was paid something extra.  After a few months of this, I, of course, insisted we  do away with this ‘system’ and refile by plot number—and perhaps we’d find some missing files (we did) or get a handle on what was missing.

But what to do with the superfluous  employees?  I went to the Human Resources guy, and he told me  I had to  go to the town clerk, as he could not move  people around. The Town Clerk agreed with me, but told me that if I had people I needed to get rid of, I had to find another department head and make a trade. The only way I could get rid of someone not working is if they died or left voluntarily.  The Town Clerk warned me that if I made a trade, I might get someone even worse than what I had.

In the USA a few weeks ago, I got a call from my bank (Ally Bank, for the record), as well as an email. They had an urgent matter to discuss with me.  I was told to ask for a specific employee.  Having had a not great experience  emailing (although I did email the person), I called.  Hilarity and frustration ensued.  I was asked my mother’s maiden name, my address (including the 4 digit suffix to my zip code), my favorite color, and my favorite singer—by three different people…but nobody could tell me why I was contacted. So now several people know  my confidential information. They asked me how many accounts I had at the bank. one.  Just one. Finally, after all this and being put on hold—about 20 minutes of my life…I was told that I used the wrong deposit ticket to make a deposit.  How did this happen?

I was running low on deposit tickets, so I emailed the bank to order more. I got an automatic response stating they would contact me. They did not.  After  three weeks, I CALLED THE BANK.  The customer service person told me to use the  sample ticket I got in my welcome packet (three years ago) and she would put in an order for more deposit tickets.  So I did that, since I had several hundred dollars in checks.  I thought I had the right routing number, but apparently, it was for an account style I had opened…and then changed.

So, my deposit was just sitting there on somebody’s desk—not deposited—until I told them I had only one account.  This could have been taken care of in less than five minutes if —when I was initially contacted, I was told I used the wrong deposit ticket.  It wasn’t like I was taking money out—I WAS PUTTING MONEY IN!

Think I am being picky?  I work with my hands.  If I have to hold a phone, I can’t work.  I don’t play games on either my phone or my computer. I am not putting outfits on my dog, polishing my nails, or watching YouTube videos learning to put make-up on. My time is precious.  By making  something complicated, it doesn’t make it more serious or important.

Here’s another good one:  the valve stem broke off one of my tires.  I got a flat tire.  My roommate, who  hasn’t noticed if I painted a wall a different color or  moved art around, noticed that I had a flat tire, and this was the reason.  He put  the spare on the car, but told me to have it fixed ASAP.  He told me it would cost about $30. So, I went to the  tire dealer, and, indeed, that was the cost…except the law since 2006 is that the computer in the car has to be reset, as it would indicate low tire pressure…and that cost over $140!  Why is this?  Up until about  20 years ago, car engines didn’t last that long.  In many cases, you’d get to 75,000 miles (sometimes less)m and you’d need a ring job, or a new timing belt, or another major repair. Well,  due to  Asian competition, everyone now makes pretty sturdy car engines. That’s not what’s going to go on your car. It’s going to be something smaller. Maybe the battery, or the tire.  The car repair  businesses can’t really make any money on small repairs, so, by having the  computer  and access to proprietary codes, and charging us for it, they can stay in business.

Where I currently work, a dog grooming business, we have  two  guys who bathe dogs. That’s all they do. Yes, they clean cages at the end of the day, but neither does anything they are not told to do. Hence, we are always running out of something, and the place is a mess. In theory, they are supposed to make our work easier and help us complete grooms more quickly.  The reality is, they slow us down.  Partly because  when I started grooming, I had to bathe a lot of dogs before I could get to clipping and scissoring, and partly because, traditionally, we’ve been paid commission,  my average dog bath takes about five minutes, and I get  the dog clean and the soap rinsed out, and I get the dog dried quickly.  Not these guys. We are constantly sending dogs back to be rebathed.  It takes them four times as long as it does me.  Not only  that, but they clock in, then stop for breakfast! Why  does my boss allow this?  He’s not a groomer and he justifies this because he pays them $11 an hour, and I am too ‘valuable’ to be doing this task.  It’s a false economy.

All this is make work.  None of this is adding value.  I don’t know that there is a solution as long as  people in charge  rise to their highest level of incompetency, and think the goal is job creation.

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