A little too McSweeney's.
Midsummer gift-giving idea.

Ah, somebody gets it right.

Sometimes I am annoyed by the "behind the scenes" and "undercover" work books issued by some writers such as Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel & Dimed) and Alex Frankel (Punching In). Mostly I am annoyed because these authors work jobs for a couple months or a year and then think they're ready to comment on their experiences. To an extent, they are. Even if these immersion journalists put in just a couple of months on their chosen subject, it does tend to open their eyes to some of the nuance of what they're studying.

But when it comes to profession memoirs and books about jobs, I'd just as soon have something written by a real practitioner. This is why Debra Ginsberg's Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, was one of the most satisfying books I'd ever read. She worked as a waitress when she was young, she worked as a waitress through school and young adulthood, she worked as a waitress as she had a child and neared middle age. She offered a viewpoint I could trust.

Norm Feuti has done the same thing with his oddly titled Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook (when I first picked it up at the library, I almost returned it immediately, thinking it was an actual business book for providing better retail service). Feuti is perhaps better known for drawing the comic Retail, but has also spent nearly two decades working in retail and retail management. I had a feeling his viewpoint would be one I could trust, and I was right. Here's what he has to say about different co-worker types in retail service, particularly the "slacker" type:

"Many people are under the misconception that slackers are lazy, when actually the opposite is true. Slackers are extremely fast and competent workers who simply don't want to be punished for their efficiency by having to do more work than is expected of others. If running ten boxes of stock takes the average employee two hours to omplete, then the slakcer thinks he should get two hours to do the job as well. When the job only takes the slacker thirty minutes, he just figures he should get so spend the other hour and a half any way he pleases.

Employees who slack a lot but don't get their work done are not true slackers. Don't confuse slackers with animosity generators. Slackers avoide extra work, not work in general. They are good at what they do, and have social graces. They don't make things harder on others. Slackers are good to associate with because they have a lot of free time. If you're swamped with your own work, a slacker friend is usually available to do you a solid and help out." (pp. 75-76.)

Now, that is a fine distinction, well made. Few people are smart enough to notice that many slackers are not so much lazy as they are interested in equity. Earlier in the chapter he also describes "animosity generators," who ARE the half-ass co-workers who cock everything up and just get customers all mad before they get to you (Feuti notes that this type are "predominantly responsible for the negative stereotype that all retail workers suffer from").

Throughout there's also strips from Feuti's comic "Retail," and he offers chapters on finding a job, coworkers, customers, sales techniques, and managements. I highly recommend it for anyone who's ever worked in retail--as well as for those who haven't. It's a valuable (and fun, although sometimes sad) introduction.