Good Help Is Still Hard To Find

I read onetime, humorously enough, that doctors who are good at dealing graciously and kindly with patients (almost) never get sued for medical malpractice.  Although people skills is a soft skill and is not necessarily the sort of matter that people are trained in and formally educated in medical school, they are a skill that matters a great deal when it comes to the bottom line.  People who are treated kindly are vastly less likely to sue.  On the contrary, those who are treated poorly are likely to seize upon any possible excuse that would lead them to find redress for being treated poorly.  This suggests that competence in dealing with people is competence in one’s tasks.  Or at least this is true up to a point.  When one’s task is related to bringing food to people, no amount of kindness or sweetness will entirely excuse dilatory service or errors in taking down orders and delivering what has been ordered by the customer.  The relationship between different aspects of competence in dealing with people is certainly a worthwhile one to ponder [1].

Yesterday I was driving back with a small adventuring party from Canada and we managed to alight upon the one open restaurant in Centralia, Washington, which happened to be near I-5 and also have been recommended by the people we stayed with on our way to Canada.  The place had a delightfully kitschy interior and some genuinely humorous comments on the table, but the place made one mistake.  They thought that July 4th would not be a very busy day for them, but ended up crowded with customers, and as a result of having some unseasoned cooking staff and too few wait staff, service was extremely slow, even though the people were friendly on those rare moments you were able to see them.  Now, it is clear that one cannot blame the wait staff on this themselves.  It is not their competence that was the problem, as the orders were delivered generally correctly and all delays were at least explained.  The issue, however, was in the people responsible for scheduling.  From my experience, at least, restaurants tend to be dramatically understaffed on holidays, especially those holidays where a lot of restaurants are closed but where a few are open that attract a great deal of “unexpected” customer traffic.

What factors make good help hard to find?  At least part of the problem is that there is a finite number of people, and not all of them would qualify as good help.  Someone is good help, at least from a mathematical or business perspective, if their productivity far exceeds their cost.  Most people have habits that reduce their productivity below their ideal, but if someone is sufficiently productive, they may still be tolerable even if they are not necessarily as productive as possible, even if it becomes a subject of irritation if one thinks about it.  There are questions as to how picky one can afford to be about skills, what one is most picky about, and how one can motivate someone to be more productive, or train them to be more productive.  None of these are straightforward tasks.  Some people have different motivations, and not all of these motivations, or even the most important ones, are strictly monetary in nature.  Then there is the question of how much training it takes to make someone productive, and how one can retain people that long, none of which are straightforward tasks either.

In this world, there is vastly more to be done than there are people who are willing and able to do them.  The fields are white with harvest and the laborers are few.  There are many reasons for this.  There is much to be done that no one will pay for, since they do not see a profit in it.  There are other cases where the road to profit is hindered by a great deal of red tape and inefficiency, and there are even some tasks that one might think should be straightforward, like selling insurance and getting paid for it, that are made difficult by the fact that data is in such a shambolic, random, disorganized state and no one is willing or able to create systems that make it easier to work with.  It is those inefficiencies where good work is at its most useful, because easy work to do is likely easy work to automate, but it is precisely those areas that are the most difficult to find people willing to do, the dirty but necessary work of life in a fallen world.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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