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Your worst job ever

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Richard Florida, Dan Debow, Michael Katchen

Shiftdisturbers Episode #3.5 (Mini-Episode): Your Worst Job Ever


Transcript of the podcast:

Ian Gormely: Hello, and welcome to Shiftdisturbers, the MPI podcast where we highlight the people, research, and ideas that change the way we think about the world. I’m your host Ian Gormely, writer and content producer here at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.   

On this mini episode we’re talking about jobs, specifically bad jobs. Around the Martin Prosperity Institute we talk a lot about the shift from an industrial economy to a creative and knowledge-driven economy. Yet what gets obscured is that that shift hasn’t benefited everyone, while those who have moved into creative fields like design, media, business, or education tend to enjoy both higher compensation and job satisfaction. An alarming number of people aren’t so lucky. Instead of making the leap into the creative class they find themselves stuck in precious service industry work; dead end, low pay, routine jobs that do nothing to stimulate the mind. Worst of all these bad service jobs now account for just under half of all jobs.

Our next episode of Shiftdisturbers is going to take a closer look at the social and economic impact that this shift has had. But for this mini episode, recorded in the dog days of summer, we thought it would be interesting to poll the MPI office about our own worst work experiences. In almost every case the aspects of the MPI staffs worst jobs neared the low stakes, low rewards drudgery associated with many service work positions. So without further ado, here are the MPI staff member worse jobs ever.

Sarah Soderoff: I’m Sarah Soderoff and I’m the community manager at MPI. I think my worst job was the summer after I graduated from university. I worked for the New England Revolution, which is a professional soccer team. One of the things I wanted to do was get more kids to be interested because there is that whole, how do we make soccer interesting for people?

[00:02:25]

Hours before the game started they had these blow up tent things so you could run in them. They were like jumpy castle stuff. You forget that when you’re in that someone has to blow them up. We had like 300 hundreds of them and you had to blow them up, take them up and take them down every single day. And I worked seven days a week and it was the summer. And we had to wear the same thing every day but they only gave us one version of it. So I don’t think I washed it for three months. And I was just drenched in sweat every day, doing what I assumed was manual labour at that point.

And then people would vomit in them and they’d have diarrhea in them. And so you had to clean up after these kids. It was quite awful. So, I thought that I was going to get to work in the head office and do actual sports marketing. At that point I was like, yeah, that seems like a good career. My history degree is really going to get me far, so why don’t I become a sports marketing professional.

And then, instead they were like, no you’re just going to do physical labour outside in the heat in the middle of summer. It was below minimum wage. Most people there were working for free which I don’t understand because you got free tickets to the games. That never interested me. But one time a soccer player actually threw his shoe at me and said, “Please take care of this.” So that was nice too. I’m sure he was like there’s a person who clearly isn’t making a lot of money. She’ll help me. 

Then after September they did allow me to work inside for a little bit. So that was, like yes, I’m moving up. I can work inside; I can work in the front office. This is going to be great. This is my big break. But it didn’t get any better. I was doing a lot of promotional stuff so we had to sell a lot of tickets. That was great. They were owned by the New England Patriots. Then it turned into football season so we got to do some stuff for them. But most of it was just like bringing fancy people back and forth to their suites and that wasn’t great either.

I left September 14th. And I remember this because it was a Friday and I was supposed to go to work again on Monday; actually. I was supposed to work the whole weekend because there were games the whole weekend. And they were like, you can have this weekend off, and I was like great. And then on Monday I was like, I’m never going back there.

Taylor Blake: My name is Taylor Blake and I am the special research specialist at MPI. I make the maps. When I was in high school I got a job as a manager at a sub shop and it was a promotion from my previous job. When I was in high school I worked at McDonalds and that was for a minimum wage job that was socially fun, but the work was pretty bad.

[00:04:32]

So I show up on my first day. And the owners tell me that the wage that we had agreed upon was not going to happen anymore and they were going to pay me less. And then they told me to go get a uniform from the back, and there were now clean uniforms. There was a pile of dirty uniforms and the expected me to put one on, including a dirty old hat. And I refused and they just said kind of we’ll talk about it later.

So I was training under a guy in my street clothes. It was really strange. The guy was really nice but the owner stood there and watched me the whole time. And after about an hour they told us that we should go on our break now. So we did and part of that break was making a free sub that you got with every shift. And so we were making these free subs and then owner said, by the way because you’re training, the wage is even less and you don’t get paid for any of your training shifts. And so that was sort to three strikes for them and I walked out and never went back. And I ate my free sub in victory, or defeat, depending how you look at it.

Quinn Davidson: My name is Quinn Davidson and I’m the executive assistant to Roger Martin. I’ve had a couple of bad jobs, but I think my worst job ever was when I was in high school, and I worked at a lottery kiosk in between a Zellers and a Bob’s Food Basics.

And people would come up to my little kiosk and buy those little 25 cent rip tickets, lottery tickets and the quick picks. And it was depressing. I had a three by four space. And I would just people watch all day. A lot of regulars; I probably saw the same people every shift that I worked, that would just sit there and purchase 100 rip tickets for 25 cents each and hope that they’d win the big bucks.

IG: Did you ever see or encounter anyone who did win big?

QD: No. My co-worker did once and somebody won like $1,000 dollars and we talked about it for a week, but I didn’t actually have any coworkers, because you were by yourself. So it was like in transit, like when we’d trade off, then we’d talk about the big winnings. It was a total job where you just kind of show up, are minimally invested in the activities that you’re doing, and not, like to be honest with you I didn’t really want to get invested in the activities that I was doing.

IG: How did you end up with a job like that?      

[00:07:02]

QD: Through my basketball team. One of my teammates’ moms worked there and that’s how I got hooked up, I guess. Yeah, it was her full time job and she was pretty proud to do it, to be honest with you. She was really nice. But I also think that she was more invested in the winnings. I think she was someone who went to bingo regularly and knew some of the people that came to the kiosk socially, where I didn’t have any of that kind of engagement that she would.

Jennifer Riel: I’m Jennifer Riel and I am the managing director of strategy and innovation here at MPI. My worse job ever was working when I was 16 years old in a women’s retail store that sold, sort of dress/work clothes for women in their 30’s. I did not want that job. It was the job I could get.

So, I went to the mall with my resume that had a paper route on it, and they were hiring and I took the job. And, of course I would rather have worked at the bookstore or the record shop or the pet store, virtually anywhere else, but they were hiring. And so, that’s the job I got.

It was deeply miserable because of the… actually, it wasn’t the customers and it wasn’t even like stocking the shelves and doing…like it was all fine. It was working in a retail store. But the reason it was miserable is that we were ranked every single shift. So what that means is that you were told every day what your sales were relative to everyone else’s sales, and you were either a gold, silver, bronze or…I can’t remember what it was but it wasn’t good, whatever the ‘not bronze.’

And so much of it depended on, like is it a Monday night and did customers come in. And I wouldn’t say I was in the most exciting, coolest mall of all time. It was…so it created this sense of unease amongst people. So, someone would walk into the store and if it was really quiet night then you’d be like jumping on this customer to try to have that be your customer.

And it was miserable for the customer because they’ve got like five people ready to like climb on top of them and be like, “can I take this to a dressing room for you?” “Please, please, let me take that to a dressing room for you.” And there was an incentive to lie to people, and say of course that looks beautiful on you. You should totally wear that. You should buy it and wear it every single day.

So that was miserable; it was miserable from a culture perspective. It made us competitive with each other in a way that wasn’t helpful. And it was also just hard. If you had a bad night on sales you felt like it was a reflection on your ability to keep your job. And at 16 that’s not an inconsiderable challenge.      

Nicole: I’m Nicole and I am a high school summer intern here for the Education Project. My worst job was last summer. I was a camp counsellor. I don’t know how but we managed to get the most demonic children.

[00:10:22]

So, my favourite week had to be the week where we had this one little girl who had an affinity for picking up dog poo. And so she’d go into the garbages, find dog poo bags, open it, grab it, smother it on her body, then throw it at other children, and then want to hug me which I didn’t let her do, obviously. And so she would do that every day, and then we’d always have to take her in, clean her off, and tell her parents you know, she can’t be doing that; talk to her about this.

And then, there was another little boy there who every day at lunch would just throw up his lunch, and we’re not sure why. And then, of course we would have to clean that up. And then, he would always throw up in the pool, as well. And so we’d have to get everybody out of the pool.

There was one other child who really enjoyed running away from us. He would try to take his bike and run away. And those three children came back every single week. It was a sports camp; eight dollars an hour with no break. That was below minimum wage but not for a camp. Camps, I think have a minimum wage of seven or eight so…

IG: There’s an alternate minimum wage for camps?

N: Just for camps, apparently. We generally, started at 8:00 and went to 4:30 unless I had to do aftercare which is 5:30. And then, we were supposed to get lunch breaks but we never actually did because children were running away and throwing up.

Vass Bednar: My name is Vass Bednar and I work with the Cities Team. The worst job I ever had was as a teenager in Hamilton at Lime Ridge Mall. It was a service job where I worked at Thyme Maternity. So basically, I helped pregnant women select clothing that was fun and flattering.

I had just finished having mono and I no longer could work at the Children’s Summer Camp because I could not reliably stay awake for the entire day. So I had to look for another job, and despite being valedictorian and on the basketball team, none of those things translated into the working world. So I wound up at the mall.

We tracked our hours by logging into a pretty old computer that was also at the cash. And I came in one day and went to login to the computer so I could begin to log my hours for an extremely low wage. And I was told by the supervisor that no, I actually had to put my purse and my coat in the back room to establish that I was at work before I could signal my hours. So it’s like a difference of minutes, a difference of moments. And that’s when I know something was not right in this retail job.

[00:12:53]

I was happy to give them advice. I was surprised that often their male partners would encourage them to get the maternity overalls. And I know overalls have made a comeback now, but they just, you know, they weren’t working. And you’d have these…you want to celebrate these women’s changing bodies and they come out of the change room and they’re looking at you, like what do you think. Like you’re young, maybe I know something about fashion, which I did not by the way. And I would just be like, I don’t think they’re great, but there is something about…they’re adjustable, it seems like; you can wear them the entire time. Plus they have all those pockets. Just wear them every day with different t-shirts right?

Greg Spencer: I’m Greg Spencer; I’m a research associate on the Cities Team. When I was an undergrad student, in the summers I would generally do industrial work because I was from Brampton where there are a lot of factories and warehouses and that sort of thing, so one summer there was an ad in the paper for people to work at an aluminum foundry. It paid pretty well. It was $11.00 per hour; at the time in the early 1990’s that was a pretty good wage for a student.

So, it ended up being a pretty bad job. Even on a good day it was extremely hot and, sort of dangerous work. It was aluminum injection molding which meant working on basically an assembly line where there’d be liquid aluminum inserted at high speed into a mold. And you had to take something out of the mold and spray the mold and close it back up. It was about a minute cycle that you did over and over for eight hours. And the aluminum was really hot. Sometimes it would spray out and land on your skin and it would burn you, and that sort of thing. So that was a typical shift. I mean, it was really hot and you still had to wear a couple layers of clothing and fireproof gloves and goggles, and that sort of thing.

But there were always; every now and then it would hit a gap down the collar of your shirt or something like that, or it would go right through your clothes because it was so hot. It would burn holes n your clothes. You’d have to brush it off as fast as possible. And if it got stuck, like in the collar of you shirt for example, it would simmer there for a while and you’d have these burns and blisters and that sort of thing. So, it was not very much fun.              

But I had a really bad industrial accident. I think I had about two weeks to go. And one day I was working on one particular mold where we had to take aluminum bars, about the size of your leg, I guess, and put it in a vat of liquid aluminum melted down, once, you know, to top it back up. And then that aluminum would get injected.

[00:15:23]

And so, I was standing there one day just working a typical shift, and your mind is elsewhere because there’s not much in front of you. And I heard a bang. And then I looked down. I could see that my clothes were completely shredded and my wrist was on fire. I was in a bit of shock because I didn’t really know what had just happened, and my first instinct was to clamp down on my wrist with my glove.

So, I put out the flame that was on my wrist. And then, I just turned and ran, instinctually. I went into shock. I crumpled down the floor. When you go into shock, basically all of your senses go and they, sort of come back one at a time. And I remember my hearing come back first and somebody talking to me. And then I realized they were rubbing my back. And then my sight came back, and I looked to see where I had been standing and there were basically two storey flames where I had been standing, you know about 20 meters away from where I was.

So what had happened is sometimes the aluminium bars are faulty and they get a pocket of water or air trapped inside in the industrial process that happened somewhere else. And obviously, that heats up a lot faster than the aluminium itself. And so, it was basically like a bomb. And it blew up and exploded the…but it also exploded the vat that it was in

And so, the aluminum that was already liquefied, sprayed everywhere and sprayed on me, and that’s wat caused my burns across most of the front of my body. Second degree burns and then a third degree burn where my wrist was actually on fire. It was pretty crazy. I mean, I probably shouldn’t have, but I took about a week off. And once my burns healed to a certain extent I went back, and they pretty much just gave me some light work to do for the last week or so pushing broom around, that kind of thing. And at one point they did ask me to go back on the actual piece of equipment that I’d had the accident, and I just, I refused to do that.

IG: That does it for this mini episode of Shiftdisturbers. Thanks to everyone from the office for contributing their personal tales of woe. We’ll have a much more in-depth conversation of the service class and the social and economic implications of its ballooning growth in our next episode.

[00:17:34]

Thank you for listening to Shiftdisturbers. If you want to know more about what’s going on at the Martin Prosperity Institute, head over to martinprosperity.org, or follow us on Twitter at MartinProsperiT, note the lack of a ‘y’ at the end there. And to make sure that you never miss an episode of Shiftdisturbers click the subscribe button. I’m Ian Gormely; thanks for listening.

[18:09 minutes]


This podcast was produced by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School in 2017.


Headshot of Richard FloridaRichard Florida is university professor at the Rotman School and the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. He is author of the global best-sellers The Rise of the Creative Class, The Flight of the Creative Class and Cities and the Creative Class, as well as Who's Your City? He is a regular correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a contributor to The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Economist and The Harvard Business Review. He has been appointed to the Business Innovation Factory's Research Advisory Council and named European Ambassador for Creativity and Innovation.

headshot of Daniel DebowDaniel Debow is the CEO and co-founder of Helpful.com, a video messenger for professionals. Most recently, he was SVP of emerging technologies at Salesforce. He also cofounded Rypple, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2011. Daniel has made over 50 angel investments and in 2015 was recognized as Canada’s Angel Investor of the Year.

headshot of Michael KatchenMichael Katchen is the CEO and co-founder of Wealthsimple, an innovative financial services firm operating in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Katchen started his career at McKinsey & Company, where he advised clients in finance and technology. Katchen has been called an industry mover by the Financial Post, a Change Agent by Canadian Business magazine, and one of Toronto’s 50 most influential people by Toronto Life.