Have you read that open letter to Yelp’s CEO, written by a 25-year-old CSR at the company? Okay fine this was like 2 weeks ago, but I have been concerned with recovering from organ removal so excuuuuuse me. Anyway, I read it about a week ago and have been thinking about it ever since, both in terms of the actual letter, my own experiences that are similar to those of the letter’s author, and in other people’s reactions to it, both on Twitter and on Facebook.
First, Twitter and Facebook are, as usual, completely opposite. On Facebook – where, admittedly, most of the people I know are from the more conservative Midwest – the general perception is that the letter’s author is a spoiled complainer who needs to learn how the world works. On Twitter, the general perception is that Yelp is evil and holds their employees in a slave labor camp.
Although in almost everything else I lean to the Twitter side of things, in this case, I’m split almost evenly down the middle. And this is kind of hard to admit, which I’ll explain in a minute.
The Yelp letter describes the personal experience a 25-year-old college graduate who chooses to move to the Bay Area and after arriving there, applies for a customer service position at Yelp. They were offered and accepted the position with the assumption (theirs, not Yelp’s) that they would be promoted to a higher-paying job within 6 months. When this didn’t happen, they became resentful of their pay rate (low, but what customer service pay rate isn’t?), cost of living (again, this person chose to move to the Bay Area, widely known as one of the most expensive places to live in the US), insurance copays ($20 per office visit for full health, vision and dental, which is more comprehensive than and has copays $5 cheaper than mine), and holiday and weekend schedule (they have to work, which, again, where in customer service is this not commonly practiced?). The letter author complains that there is no way they can continue to survive without getting (gasp!) a second job, and that they and other people in their department are nearly homeless and have to depend on the free food and snacks provided by Yelp during work hours (this would have been an unbelievable luxury to me at any point in my working life).
And okay, I get it. I get that companies should pay their employees a living wage. I get that the “living wage” differs depending on where someone is living, and that if I was planning on moving to San Francisco for work, I’d need that work to pay me more money than I’m currently netting in Seattle. I completely agree with these points. I also get that my personal experience shouldn’t lower my empathy for someone else, as we should always strive to improve the quality of life for others instead of forcing them to re-live our own past struggles. This is why I strongly supported raising the minimum wage. I don’t give a shit that I made less than $6 an hour for my first job, a 16-year-old entering the workforce today shouldn’t have to scrape by on that same amount for the same work. Give people the money, make it better for everyone, move forward and let’s set a precedent that companies are accountable for their employees.
But this Yelp letter…it just won’t stop rubbing me the wrong way (counter-clockwise, don’t you know anything about the clitoris?!). I’ve tried to interpret it differently and to see this person’s points as valid, but honestly, I can’t get over their shitty entitled attitude or inability/unwillingness to take any responsibility for their circumstances. Can they help that our education system saddled them with a ton of student debt? No, probably not. Can they help that the CEO of their company hasn’t raised a CSR’s salary to that of, say, a manager making the roughly $60,000 a year needed to live comfortably in San Francisco? Again, no. Can they do anything about the nationwide problem of desirable cities with strong economies being incredibly expensive whilst more affordable cities exist, albeit with almost consistently weaker infrastructures and stagnant economic growth, both of which make furthering a career there either undesirable or impossible? Absolutely not. The letter author is not to blame for these things.
However, they did choose to move to the Bay Area immediately after school, with no savings or profession. They did choose to apply for and accept a position that isn’t known for paying particularly well (but offers full health benefits and free food). They did choose to assume that they would magically be promoted within 6 months, despite the absence of such promises made by their employer. They chose to reject the prospect of taking on a 2nd or 3rd job to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the country. They chose to complain in a public forum after less than a year of living in circumstances that are far better than what many other people in this country can expect. They’re…they’re kind of a bitch about it, honestly, and that’s why I can’t quite muster the sympathy to say “I’ve been there, I know, I hope it works out okay.”
See, I have been there. I do know. I’ve been completely broke and working three jobs to stay alive and eating bowl after bowl of rice and broccoli because it was the cheapest food I could find that still allowed me to take a shit every now and then. I’ve lived in cheap, crappy apartments in a cheap, crappy city. I’ve had to beg for rides to work. I’ve had to forgo sleep and a social life. I’ve had to struggle, is the thing, and again, while I don’t think that everyone should be forced to struggle or that society necessarily benefits from that, I find it kind of grossly presumptuous that anyone would find these circumstances, which are so typical to so many people and even preferable to the circumstances of lots of others – to be so unfair that they would necessitate a letter to their CEO, and further, to be shocked when they’re fired from a job they obviously loathe. I mean, I know we’re should push for higher wages and fairer treatment, but I just can’t fully wrap my head around why I’m supposed to feel sorry for this person’s little tantrum.
I’ve worked with people like the letter author my entire life. People who thought a college degree catapulted them above those who’d been working harder and better for longer. People who claim ignorance of a world where weekends and holidays off aren’t an option for everyone (just those dumbass civil servants, hospital workers, cashiers, and everyone else who makes the world keep going, right?). People who confuse ideals with rights. I’m not saying that you should swear fealty to a corporation just because they throw you a bone every now and then. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue fighting for a living wage for everyone. What I am saying is that people like this letter author are setting themselves back and would do well to understand the workplace (as well as personal economics) better before firing off a bitchy letter that makes them look less like an employable adult and more like a Millennial brat who’d prefer a teat to suckle instead of actually working at an actual job.
It makes sense that Millennials – a generation for whom promises of education, prosperity, and careers turned out to be more like lies – resent the reality that not every job pays equivalent to its requirements or the demands of the city in which it exists, but I think the biggest problem with them isn’t the ideals – it’s the work involved in making those happen. They’re reluctant to get involved enough to get dirty, their “activism” is more defined by whiny Internet posts rather than grassroots mobilization, and their resistance to work and the idea that it can be hard and may not always yield an immediate reward is going to continue to doom them.