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Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee

3.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  234 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
Curious to know just what happens behind the "employees only" doors of big companies, journalist Alex Frankel embarked on an undercover reporting project to find out how some of America's well-known companies win the hearts and minds of their retail and service employees. Frankel knew the only way to find answers was to go native.

During a two-year urban adventure through t
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 20th 2007 by HarperBusiness
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 416)
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Feb 09, 2015 Robin rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

Not quite up to par with NICKEL AND DIMED by Barbara Ehrenreich, but I'm such a sucker for reading any "insiders" side of various business and jobs that even though parts of this were mundane (Gap sales associate sounded horrible--folding, folding, folding, all day long), I still found it interesting. I especially liked the UPS section, and I had read "HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE" by Michael Gill so I knew a little about working in a Starbucks, but Frankel's viewpoint of the corporate s
Jun 29, 2008 Karen rated it liked it
Despite Frankel's affection for UPS, this book doesn't quite deliver (heh) on the promise of its concept. It's not quite funny, not quite illuminating, not quite an expose of a seamy underbelly. Being a customer service face for a big company is pretty much as I'd expect it would be: monotonous, dehumanizing, alienating. The best parts of the book were the specific day-in-the-life descriptions of the specific individuals working at these places, and the various ways these companies attempt to in ...more
Oct 17, 2009 Megan rated it it was ok
Nothing seemed very groundbreaking in this book. The author spent some time (how much, he never really explains) working on the front lines of retail jobs like Starbucks, the Gap, and UPS to see what it's like. And it's pretty much exactly as you would expect. The people who work at the Gap on the salesfloor spend a lot of time folding. The drinks at Starbucks are complicated to make. UPS is a complex network of integrated systems ensuring your packages get to where they need to go, with an emph ...more
Jul 31, 2011 Jen rated it really liked it
I'm a little envious that Alex Frankel wrote this book, because it's a great idea. I wish I'd written it. Having once worked for one of the retailers he profiles in this book (plus a few others he didn't), I liked how he captured the front-line perspective of what it means to represent a brand and interact with customers all day long for near-minimum wage. It's not about worker experiences so much as it's about what it means to define your brand through your employees.

Everyone should work on th
Jul 30, 2008 Desiree rated it really liked it
Interesting read about a journalist who goes undercover to work on the "front lines" (working directly with customers)at major corporations, like UPS, Starbucks, Gap. etc. What is it like to work at these places today?
Alex Frankel took some time off from student life to get a real-life job and see what the attraction might be of working at some major American companies. He managed to get jobs at UPS, Enterprise, Starbucks, The Gap, and at an Apple store. He also filled out applications and interviewed at several other locations, such as the Container Store, and Home Depot. He went “undercover” to ferret out some information on life on the front-lines.

Part of corporate culture is finding people who fit what y
Jan 02, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book! I had my doubts when 1) I found it at the dollar store and 2) the only book that I really wanted to read was the second Hunger Games book, but this was the only one I had at the moment. And somewhere I had read or heard, or maybe I made it up, that this was written in an effort to refute what Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in 'Nickel and Dimed.' Her book was about how it was absolutely impossible to live on a lot of the wages that are paid in this country (yep, Wal-mart, I' ...more
Dec 16, 2010 Lori rated it it was ok
As a former (and probably future) member of the service sector, I was intrigued by the premise of this book. What types of people are drawn to what types of companies? What types of people are hired by what sort of company? Who succeeds and who burns out? Is each corporation really its own little fiefdom with unique methods of motivation, training, communication and presentation? Or, is there much difference?

The use of the word 'unauthorized' connoted some seamy back room allegations. The wage s
Feb 03, 2008 Shinichi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-events
What kind of people work at UPS, Starbucks, Gap, or the Apple Store? Alex Frankel finds out for sure as he joins these brand name retail environments in a one year period and chronicles his experiences in Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee. Barbara Ehrenreich did this kind of undercover writing in Nickel and Dimed. While Ehrenreich’s aim was to expose the hardships of low wage jobs that fail to provide living wages, Frankel examines corporate culture and how it sha ...more
Apr 09, 2008 Patrick rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who always wanted to work somewhere, but, for whatever reason, didn't
Punching-In is a confused book. Not confusing, mind you, merely confused. Author Alex Frankel means well, and presents a number of interesting stories about working the front lines at a number of interesting corporate jobs, but he just doesn't really make the greater points his conclusions would lead you to believe he did.

To start, Frankel seems to consider this book almost an expose about what makes some of the bigger retail corporations in the world tick, but his anecdotal observations don't c
Alex Frankel is at his strongest when he develops personal anecdotes and stories. His descriptions of his interviews at the jobs where he worked and his efforts to defeat online screening provided the brightest moments in this book. It would have been a perfect book if Frankel could have taken this analysis to the next level and speculated more about the future of business or the deeper question of what drives employees to buy into the corporate culture being promoted by these companies. Instead ...more
Aug 19, 2008 ateedub rated it really liked it
Shelves: communications
Great opening, but the book kind of petered out. Frankel's immersive experiences at UPS and Enterprise were very interesting and certainly instructive. But I wanted more of them, and less of the 'trying to get a job with one of these companies analysis'. And definitely less reflection on the experience outside of the direct narrative. I definitely prefer to draw the (very obvious) conclusions on my own, and not listen to Frankel restate them.

Though presumably not the intention of the book, I now
Dec 01, 2007 Helen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: see below
I got an advance reading copy (ARC or ARE to booksellers) of this book through HarperCollin's First Look program, and this is the review I submitted:

In a thoroughly researched adventure through various service-industry front lines, Frankel manages to present the good and bad experiences with a little humor and just enough extra insider tidbits to keep a general audience interested. Supplementing his vivid descriptions of experiences with material from fields such as economics, industrial/organiz
Reading Punching In is the service industry equivalent of taking a factory tour to see how things are made. I've been a customer of UPS, Starbucks, Gap, and Enterprise, Whole Foods, and Home Depot -- all places where Alex Frankel works or applies to work. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to work for these companies or Apple retail or The Container Store -- or if you've ever shopped -- you'll find something of interest in this book.
Darshan Elena
Jul 26, 2008 Darshan Elena rated it liked it
Recommends it for: youth ages 15-25
I learned lots from this book, including creepy weird corporate tricks such as Gap's use of scent to lure or lull customers into consumerism or Enterprise's manipulation of drivers into purchasing insurance that is neither required nor comprehensive. I loved Frankel's discussion of The Container Store's approach to their staff and corporate structure, which was all the more compelling since I purchased a canvas suit/gown contraption for my closet last week after a fanatical wardrobe downsizing. ...more
Feb 23, 2008 Christine rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book had many fascinating aspects to it. I found the various ways that companies process applications and perform interviews to be really interesting. There is quite a bit of brainwashing (or attempted brainwashing) going on. Although that's not really a surprise, seeing it documented in such a way made me pause to analyze various job experiences in my own life.

Although I did enjoy this book, I also felt it to be lacking in analysis. I wanted something more. Perhaps part of the reason is th
Sep 12, 2008 Pam rated it liked it
Frankel goes "undercover" as an employee at several large, customer service oriented firms, and describes what working on the front lines is like for the employees. He travels from UPS to Enterprise, Starbucky, Gap, and Apple. In working for these firms Frankel's goal is to find out how the culture of the company is extrended to the new employee, and specifically how the management of a company, at such a far remove from the front line worker is able to instill its values. The book succeeds as a ...more
Jan 13, 2008 Kathy rated it really liked it
Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee by Alex Frankel intrigued me when I read the synopsis so I checked it out from the library.

The author is a journalist and he decided to go "undercover" at various companies to see how they attempt to bring their employees into their corporate cultures. He worked for UPS, The Gap, Apple Store, Starbucks, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and applied for several other jobs.

I liked the way he described the testing, training and on the job life
Apr 25, 2009 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: working
In this book, the author recounts his experiences as an "undercover" front-line employee. Basically, he decided to work in some of America's most well-known and loved corporations to see what life is like for the front-line employee and how that varies from the corporate message. The companies he is able to get jobs for include UPS, the Gap, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the Container Store, amongst others. Because these are all companies I am familiar with, it was doubly interesting to me to get an ...more
Aug 18, 2009 Michelle rated it it was ok
Ugh, the only reason I finished this book was because the font was so big and I was done it in a day. It took the author 2 years of working in retail to realize that not everyone who works at Starbucks/UPS/Gap is a corporate zombie. They are real people! Um, yeah. He also somehow thinks that he is "undercover" and spends half the book worried that he might "blow his cover." He comes up with complicated fake backstories and secretly jots down notes while on break. If you have never worked retail, ...more
May 20, 2009 William rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
You will never look at a UPS delivery driver, Gap salesperson, or Starbucks barista again after reading this insightful book about various service jobs. The author is able to penetrate and observe several corporate cultures in a short amount of time. A nice study of employee/corporation relationships. The book ends oddly because the author has very little to say about his last job (Apple Store), unlike the others, and the narrative just seems to run out quickly. Frankel is likable, however, and ...more
Dec 19, 2009 Turi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason, I was expecting a little more humor from this book. There wasn't much there, but what WAS there was a well-thought look into some of the biggest "branded" companies in the country. Alex Frankel spent time working for companies such as UPS, Starbucks, Apple and Gap, and looks at their hiring practices, corporate culture, and other facets of their business. Fascinating, and will affect the way I look at front-line employees of these companies.
Jan 28, 2008 Sawy-o rated it liked it
My fav parts were the actual description of what goes on behind the scenes at the various jobs the author works- he picks companies I was already curious about because of their mystique. At times the integration of sociological theory and the author's experience is grating, and my employee personality is so different from Alex's that Punching In was sometimes irritating. He only spends a short amount of time at each job, basically the honeymoon/training period, so the conclusions were somewhat d ...more
Aug 23, 2008 Erica rated it it was ok
Journalist Alex Frankel chronicles his experience as an employee for a variety of corporations: UPS, Gap, Enterprise Rent a Car, Starbucks, Apple.

The book scratches the surface of corporate retail culture. Frankel didn't seem to spend more than a month or two at any particular job, and the book shows that. The conclusions he draws -- that he's too independent to work retail, that in order to succeed in a large corporation you have to drink the Koolaid etc. -- seem like a firm grasp of the obviou
Jun 06, 2011 Angela rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-ficiton
I was disappointed in this book---I was hoping for something like "A Working Stiff's Manifesto" which I read a few years ago and loved. This was just really bland case studies of the author working at some different companies. It was like reading a business text book or some really dry magazine articles. I had to wait a long time to get this by ILL and then had a hard time getting myself to read past the first company "undercover" stint.
Michal W
Aug 13, 2012 Michal W rated it did not like it
Reads like really young person talking about his first two-three jobs.

People are described very superficially (X is nice, Y likes to drive fast). As are the organizations - nothing about their culture, values, interactions between co-workers etc. Only basic stuff you can see from the outside just as well. Or stories you'd get from the "new guy" who has no idea what's really happening. No background, no insight, no experience.
Jan 06, 2011 Anthony rated it liked it
An easy, interesting read. The author worked at a number of jobs - UPS driver, Gap salesperson, Apple salesperson, Starbucks barista, Enterprise rent a car trainee - and gives his experiences, along with some talk about culture. Sometimes it's hard to separate his like (Apple) or dislike (gap, Starbucks) from his commentary on it's culture, but it's worth a read just to understand the internals of how companies work.
Jul 27, 2008 Lindsay rated it did not like it
Shelves: skimmed
I was so excited to read this, but it read like a bad student paper from a lower-division marketing class.

I am truly surprised that an actual writer wrote this, because it could have used an editor, or ghost writer, or something.

I was so irritated by the middle of the UPS story that I couldn't continue.

I did like some of the descriptions of San Francisco, to be fair.
Tracy Robertson
Oct 26, 2013 Tracy Robertson rated it liked it
It was okay, but I think it could have been a lot better. The author only worked and reviewed 5 companies, UPS, Enterprise Rent a Car, The Gap, Starbucks and Apple. It seemed that UPS was his favorite, but it wasn't the most interesting chapter to me, and I think he spent way too much time reviewing them. I guess this would be a great book for anyone thinking of applying at UPS.
Steve Ruskin
Feb 09, 2009 Steve Ruskin rated it really liked it
This was a very informative book from my prespective. I had applied for jobs at several of the companies Alex worked for. I was offered a Drivers Helper position back in 2004 when I was between jobs, but turned it down. I also applied to Enterprise Rent A Car right out of college, but didn't get an offer. From what I've read, I'm glad I didn't! I'm no salesman!
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