When a photo of former "Cosby Show" star Geoffrey Owens working at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey was recently published online by the Daily Mail, the public job-shaming was quick to kick in. So too, was praise from fellow actors who posted messages of support using the hashtag #ActorsWithDayJobs — he even landed a job offer from Tyler Perry.
Owens, who still works as an actor, was working as a cashier at Trader Joe's because of the flexibility it offered. He appeared on "Good Morning America" to address the matter and defend himself, stating: "There is no job that is better than another job. It might pay better. It might have better benefits. It might look better on a resume and a paper. But actually, it's not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable. If we have a rethinking about that because of what's happened to me, that would be great.”
Putting an end to 'job-shaming'
Let's pause there and do that rethinking, because, as Owens says, it's time to stop job-shaming, job-pitying and job-judging, and instead highlight the dignity of work, and the fact that no one can rightly say if one type of job is better than another for anyone but themselves.
"There is no job that is better than another job. It might pay better ... But actually, it's not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable."
Ryan Werner, a 33-year-old living in Cuba City, Wisconsin, holds what he says is often thought of by outsiders as a "s--- job." In his sixth year as a cook at a Montessori preschool, Werner works 32 hours a week, bringing in $11.25 an hour.
And it's "the best job [he's] ever had."
"I work side jobs doing guitar lessons and playing in pit orchestras to survive," says Werner, who is also a writer. "But being around a bunch of super young kids and teaching them things, [like that] having two moms or two dads is totally cool, don't touch people if they don't want to be touched, and all sorts of other good things about being strong is so important to me."
Werner says his mom is always sending him leads for "better" jobs, as her way of looking out for him. "I always have to tell her, 'Mom, I have a job that I love, that I don't stress out about, and that I don't bring home with me.' Sometimes it's hard to convince people that I found a sort of happiness in labor that doesn't involve my savings account."
Success is individual
Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster, would likely applaud Werner for doing what he loves and paying the bills, no matter what others may think.
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“There should be no shame in your game. What defines a good job? We must remove judgment from society and ask ourselves what that is for us,” Salemi tells NBC News BETTER. “As a former corporate recruiter, I’ve seen too many people stay in jobs too long when they’re unhappy. A job that has great prestige and looks awesome on paper can be miserable [in actuality].”
Though service jobs and on-demand gigs tend to be snubbed as stepping stones or gap-fillers while embarking on a more clear-cut career, Salemi finds that many people are relishing the flexibility these jobs can offer.
There should be no shame in your game. What defines a good job? We must remove judgment from society and ask ourselves what that is for us.
“Often these jobs and gigs allow people to pursue their other passions like acting, music or standup comedy. Sometimes people, say in the restaurant or grocery business, love the job and move up into management.”
These jobs weren’t always seen as ‘not enough', and they shouldn’t be now
Saba Waheed, research director at the UCLA labor center with expertise on low-wage service industries and sharing economy businesses, notes that historically labor-intensive jobs weren’t always relegated to the bottom of the economic food chain, and that the sector is seeing a shift (albeit a slow, piecemeal one) toward restoring its perceivable value.
“These [low-wage] jobs in themselves haven’t changed over time, the job itself is what it always was: labor. But in the 40’s and 50s, these jobs were more protected, with strong unions, government oversight, and on the factory floor you could have a pension and buy a house.” Waheed says. “What has happened over time is that these jobs have been eroded of these things. You take away the pensions, you make the 40-hour work week [akin to] part-time and you have people juggling jobs. That’s devaluing at the dignity level.”
This devaluing that started with the stripping of unions and other benefits has escalated with the growing inclination among big corporations to get the cheapest labor at the cheapest costs.
“We need to bring dignity back to this work by valuing it ourselves and by thinking about demanding that people should not be working for subpar wages,” says Waheed. “If the conditions of the work improve, the dignity for the person does, too.”
Waheed observes that employers in service industries are starting to be more thoughtful about creating workplaces that foster integrity.
Beyond the flexibility Owens was looking for, companies like Trader Joe's offer their employees benefits like medical and dental, paid time off and a retirement plan.
The question to ask: Does this job meet my needs?
Restoring employee empowerment to service jobs may be slow to happen on a broad level, but people working in this diverse sector or considering a transition into it, ought to focus on their own wants and needs, which may go well beyond the pursuit of wealth.
“As a society we put too much value on the status of money, and I don’t think that’s right,” says Cheryl Carleton, PhD, assistant professor of economics and director of the Women's Professional Network at Villanova University's school of business.
A good job gives you what you need, and that’s what matters.
“We worship money because that’s how we measure things. But money really isn’t all there is,” Carleton adds. “Some jobs give you [less salary,] more flexibility, or less time commitment so you can focus on your family or care-taking if that’s what you want. A good job gives you what you need, and that’s what matters.”
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