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On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,411 ratings  ·  308 reviews
After the local newspaper where she worked as a reporter closed, Emily Guendelsberger took a pre-Christmas job at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Louisville, Kentucky. There, the vending machines were stocked with painkillers, and the staff turnover was dizzying. In the new year, she traveled to North Carolina to work at a call center, a place where even bathroom brea ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
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Average rating 4.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,411 ratings  ·  308 reviews

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Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Review with pics: https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....

For Barbara Ehrenreich's 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, the author took a series of low-paying positions so she could research the difficulty of 'making it' on a minimum wage salary. The verdict: it's almost impossible if you have a family.

This follow-up book by journalist Emily Guendelsberger explores a similar theme. When Guendelsberger's Philadelphia newspaper closed in 2015, the writer took a suc
Greg Watson
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"...we tend to anthropomorphize huge companies, and ascribe things like compassion, loyalty, guilt, generosity, and empathy to their actions despite vast evidence that the only language corporations understand is money."

On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane is a hard-hitting look at working-class agony. Emily Guendelsberger spent time working at an Amazon fulfillment center, a call center, and a McDonald's. The result is a much-needed window into how the oth
Donna Hines
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, netgalley
As a former factory worker; salaried $7.25 min wage; 10 cent raises; as top producer in two departments as a merchandise processor with a $25 one time bonus for associate of the month I know all too well about the American Dream falling to the waste side.
For many years I've been told work harder, success comes to those who work for it, nothing is handed to you.
That ideal is what propelled me to keep working hard even after getting hit on the head with a 50lb metal trolley from second floor above
mindful.librarian ☀️
(free review copy) You'll want to sit down for this. No really. Go get a cup of coffee and settle in, because I have a LOT of thoughts. To start with, here's my rating math for this one:

Subject matter: 5
My actual fondness for the writer: 2
Ability to hold my interest: 5
Academic content to back up assertions: 4
Word choice: 1

Math says my overall rating is 3.4 and I DO recommend this book.

Subject matter: Since I first read Nickel and Dimed WAY back when it first came out, and then later in a grad pr
Tl;dr: This is *the* Nickle and Dimed of the 21st century. Yes, seriously.

Look, I know other books have been given that accolade and I've been disappointed by them too but On the Clock is the one book that deserves it and, sadly, seems to be unrecognized.

That sucks. (But you can change that!)

If you care at all about the future of work in America (and you should), you need to read this. It's deeply heartfelt and profoundly unsettling.

The message of On the Clock is clear: hourly wage work asks w
Samantha Melamed
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An essential update to Nickel and Dimed, On The Clock turns the drudgery of work in 21st century America into a compelling and elucidating narrative that should be required reading for policy makers, business leaders and anyone else who hasn’t held a low-wage job in the past decade. This book documents the daily realities of those jobs, examines the economic climate that fosters them, chronicles the creepy history of workplace productivity schemes and delves into the science of what these jobs d ...more
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a very good book. (Look at me being a professional reviewer, lol)
My actual review goes up on Shelf Awareness right around pub date, but here are my informal thoughts:

On the Clock both infuriated and entertained me. Guendelsberger is a journalist, which means she cites lots of sources and provides a long list of supplemental reading should you wish to do a deep dive. BUT she's also funny as hell, having written for places like The Onion.
The resulting book is that rare non-ficti0n tome t
Listen up. Next time you need to talk to a customer rep to dispute a billing charge, inquire about a change in service, or just complain about a lack of good service, chances are you are chatting with someone in a call center who is not at all associated with the company you are doing business with. One of the important lessons I learned from this book is to never ever get mad at a customer rep again unless they are rude.

OK, so now that's off my chest, here is what I thought about this book: I
Wendy Liu
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: class-struggle
Loved this. An engaging, astute, and informative look at why low-wage work in America sucks so much. I appreciated the historical context of Taylorism & Fordism weaved in between the first-hand recounting of working at Amazon, a call center, and McDonald’s.

Recommended for anyone who still believes that tech will save us (in other words, anyone who doesn’t yet understand class struggle).

(Minor nitpick: there were some geographical errors in the section about the Bay Area, which were kindly underl
Molly Seavy-Nesper
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this book. Guendelsberger takes you inside an Amazon warehouse, a call center, and a San Fransisco McDonald's and exposes the ways in which technology is making workers' lives miserable. The book is funny, heartbreaking and enlightening. You'll think twice about ordering random junk on Amazon -- and it will encourage you to practice radical empathy when talking to a customer service rep, or the fast food workers giving you your fries. It's a marvelous piece of writing and journalism.
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On the Clock is must read, this book is equal parts funny and heartbreaking with an eye opening look at how efficiency in business impacts the mental health of regular people (and the psychological and evolutionary perspective of what that means) who are happy to just have their jobs.

If you don't work in the service industry (like McDonald's, a call center or an Amazon warehouse like Guendelsberger did) you know that their jobs are tough, but I didn't have a real appreciation for what it's like
Alex Givant
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent overview of current low-paid labor economy in USA (pretty sure it's the same in Canada, England - check out Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain and everywhere else). She is talking not just about her experience of working for Amazon, calling center and McDonald, but about what's wrong with such low paying jobs (insecurity, level of stress, etc). She did excellent job on connecting dots from low-paid job to elevated level of stress, inability to plan your future (and how co ...more
Kali McConnell
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review is going to be long as I organize my thoughts. Feel free to not read it— but I think you should read this book 👍❤️

This book tackles the invisible. The working poor in this country that are often called lazy, stupid and unambitious while they work their a**es of every day just to barely survive.

What politicians refer to as “flipping burgers” has turned into a well-oiled money making machine understaffing, timing their employees every action, and giving no real dignity to their workers
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Years I spent in fast food: 5
call centers: 4
retail: 2

So nothing about this book really surprises me, but it was vindicating to read, and I would point anyone who hasn't worked in similar low-wage, high-stress jobs toward it.

There have been times, after escaping call center hell, when people around me have complained that their work environment is too stressful, or that managers are too demanding, and I’ve wanted to laugh hysterically into my hands and ask: When was the last time they got written
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A sobering look at three industries that use low skill workers - Amazon warehouses, McDonalds, and a call center for several national accounts. All of these companies use contractors so that they don’t have to provide any benefits. All used sophisticated software models to control every minute that employees were in the building. Being one minute late, or taking an extra minute in the bathroom, or talking to other employees was stealing from the business. Turnover was extremely high but there al ...more
Emily Vanderwerff
Won't rate because Emily is a friend, but I really loved this book and found it a persuasive argument about just what has happened to this country.

Come see my Q&A with Emily at Small World Books on Wednesday!
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Well written and engaging book.
I agree that one problem is that "we've stopped even imagining other, better ways we could live" (p.311).
Its just taken as a giving that the best thing a person can do is make as much money as humanly possible, and screw everyone else.
But it looks crazier when you put a face to everyone else.

About Amazon:
"Q: Your warehouse workers work 11.5-hour shifts. In order to make rate, a significant number of them need to take over-the-counter painkillers multiple times per
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I haven't been rating books lately but, fuckit if this doesn't deserve five perfect stars. An update to my beloved Nickel and Dimed, this book crystallizes better than any other I have read about what the f is wrong with us and how we got here. So much better, so much truer than George Saunders going flyover to empathetically talk to Trump-rally attendees (and all the others pieces of that ilk - you've read 'em). Guendelsberger, a former Onion editor, is hilarious and authentic in recounting her ...more
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
We live in a late capitalist dystopian nightmare hellscape, and it has to change.
Hannah G
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On the Clock is both devastating and funny. While the book is well grounded in historical context and relevant data - setting out a thorough case for how, and why, the service industry in this country tends to deny the basic humanity of its workers - it is also a fascinating, poignant, and compelling read throughout.

The openness and candid humor of the author's own first person perspective "on the ground" is key, but so are the vivid personalities and stories she encounters in each of the three
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On the Clock is a compelling, eye-opening, and necessary read for all Americans. Emily Guendelsberger gives us an up-close look at what it means to work the daily grind of low-wage work. Businesses boast that productivity is at an all-time high, ...but at what cost? Apparently, the heart and soul of the country.

Guendelsberger does such a great job taking us through the three jobs that she took (as a journalist undercover), each for about a month or two: an Amazon warehouse, a customer call cente
Katrina Feraco
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As someone who spent a lot of time in food service (two years in a chronically understaffed Dunkin Donuts in New England and four years in a hellscape Italian restaurant full of mismanagement and out-of-touch ownership, both for less than $9/hr and demanding more of my time than I could give), I have to give ENORMOUS props to Emily Guendelsberger for actually doing the work and writing honestly about her experiences. I appreciated the perspective from multiple low-wage jobs; warehouses and call ...more
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- So, I'll have to come back & finish the review. In reading the reviews of others, however, I noted 2 things, First, people complaining about curse words in a book about stress & desperation. Are you fucking kidding me? Secondly, people are complaining about a lack of references, when the book is only JUST out, & even I read an ARC. Where are these people supposedly getting completed books from that they can gripe about referen ...more
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A book that should make you angry that the unrelenting desire for higher profits leads to treating labor as disposable. Guendelsberger's firsthand accounts of just a few mechanized jobs shines a light on to something everyone who works for a living will experience soon (if not already): a world where our individual autonomy at work is completely lost, and in return we'll get lower wages, fewer benefits, and no job protection.
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars rounded up. Both fascinating and horrifying, this is an interesting inside look at the world of unskilled/low-wage labor. Certainly makes me appreciate my own job! I've also discovered that I order from the 'rich person's menu' at fast food joints... Occasionally strays off topic, but once I started this I just couldn't put it down.
Rian Davis
This book is about how technology is making low-wages jobs too stressful and has a really great story to tell that is marred by its imperfections. The book is at its best when it's a story of the workers who currently get by on minimum wage or slightly better. She writes that those who know what the phrase "in the weeds" really means are the ones whose lives are hardest. She divides the book into three parts: Amazon work at a warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, a call center in Hickory, North Car ...more
Meagan Houle
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've read many articles about how Amazon exploits its warehouse staff, and I know enough people who've done call centre and food service work to understand it's a jungle, and not in a remotely fun way. Even with that prior experience, nothing prepared me for Emily's vivid account of her time at Amazon, Convergys, and McDonald's. I felt embarrassingly naive as she described the intrusive ways companies have found to survey and punish their lowest-level workers, pitting them against each other and ...more
Jami Nakamura Lin
Would recommend to people who like books like Nickel and Dimed, Educated, Maid, etc. The author is a journalist who, after being laid off from her newspaper, went to work at Amazon, Convergys (a call center that did tech support for AT&T, among other huge companies), and McDonalds. My mouth was a big O while reading--even though I knew before that these companies treat their workers terribly, seeing these details really made it salient. (Amazon has painkiller vending machines in their fulfillmen ...more
Jeff Zell
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: work
This book reminded me of Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. However, where Nickel and Dimed focused on the hardship of making a small income, Guendelsberger focuses on management practices of three large corporations: Amazon, Convergys, and McDonalds.

Technology has improved the ability to monitor every word and place that a worker speaks or goes and how long it all takes. So, as she tells her story of being hired, being trained, and working in a fulfillment center, ATT call center, and as a cashier
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On the Clock is a must-read for anyone looking for an interesting, funny, fast-paced -- but most of all SMART look into low-wage work in the 21st century.

Guendelsberger deftly weaves in the latest scholarship on labor and capitalism with an outsider's look into the sometimes mind-numbing, frequently painful and always non-stop nature of modern capitalism in the U.S. She has a keen eye for description and storytelling, and some many of her anecdotes (spoiler alert), from the Advil dispensers at
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66 likes · 25 comments
“Q: Your warehouse workers work 11/5-hour shifts. In order to make rate, a significant number of them need to take over-the-counter painkillers multiple times per shift, which means regular backups at the medical office. Do you:
A. Scale back the rate ---clearly, workers are at their physical limits
B. Make shifts shorter
C. Increase the number or duration of breaks
D. Increase staffing at the nurse's office
E. Install vending machines to dispense painkillers more efficiently

Seriously---what kind of fucking sociopath goes with E?”
“Q: Your customer-service representatives handle roughly sixty calls in an eighty-hour shift, with a half-hour lunch and two fifteen-minute breaks. By the end of the day, a problematic number of them are so exhausted by these interactions that their ability to focus, read basic conversational cues, and maintain a peppy demeanor is negatively affected. Do you:
A. Increase staffing so you can scale back the number of calls each rep takes per shift -- clearly, workers are at their cognitive limits
B. Allow workers to take a few minutes to decompress after difficult calls
C. Increase the number or duration of breaks
D. Decrease the number of objectives workers have for each call so they aren't as mentally and emotionally taxing
E. Install a program that badgers workers with corrective pop-ups telling them that they sound tired.

Seriously---what kind of fucking sociopath goes with E?”
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