Social Question

thisismyusername's avatar

Should undesirable tasks, such as cleaning, be a specialized job?

Asked by thisismyusername (2935points) December 30th, 2017

In a workplace, there are usually people who are hired to clean offices. Since it is unlikely that there are people who enjoy this work and find it fulfilling, would you support breaking up the highly-specialized nature of work to break tasks into a more even distribution of tasks? In other words, would you support cleaning duties being distributed among other office staff?

I’m specifically talking about “skilled” labor, such as IT, accounting, management, etc being tasked with contributing to less-desirable tasks as some part of their work day/week.

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26 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

So let’s ask the question: Would you pay someone $25—$30 an hour to sweep your floor?

canidmajor's avatar

Your egalitarian ideal doesn’t factor for the inevitable variables.

You assume that cleaning is an undesirable, unfulfilling task. Fair enough, from your perspective. Why do you assume that the IT person (who may have dust allergies) or the accountant (who may be so precise and perfectionist that they take twice the time and overdo the cleaning) would be better able to do the job than the company who hires people that are reasonably efficient and don’t necessarily mind the job?

These are not unreasonable scenarios, my idea of “clean” may differ widely from yours. This does not only apply to cleaning, but that is the example you gave.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I know some people who just love to clean. They find it fulfilling. I’m not one of them, but I do like the end result and I’m willing to work to achieve it.

I don’t understand the nature of the question, however. If a company can afford to hire someone to clean, what would be the benefit of breaking up that chore among people they’ve hired for a completely different job description? And paying them the big bucks, vs minimum wage, to do it?

thisismyusername's avatar

@canidmajor: “Why do you assume that the IT person (who may have dust allergies) or the accountant (who may be so precise and perfectionist that they take twice the time and overdo the cleaning) would be better able to do the job than the company who hires people that are reasonably efficient and don’t necessarily mind the job?”

I’m not assuming this. But it’s reasonable to entertain the idea that if one feels they have a role in the cleanliness of the office, that they would certainly do their best to keep it clean. But that’s not really the focus of my question. I’m more concerned about discussing the possibility that we could distribute “less-desirable” tasks among workers in an attempt to bring the disparity between all employees’ work desirability.

As @Dutchess_III points out, there are those who love to clean. But I suspect that this is so uncommon as to obscure the real issue. There are tasks that are repetitive, undesirable tasks and then there are jobs that are more creative, empowering, and allow for growth.

@stanleybmanly: “So let’s ask the question: Would you pay someone $25—$30 an hour to sweep your floor?”

The brevity of this answer leads me to assume what you mean. Do you mean that the person working in accounting that takes an hour per week to clean will be paid at accounting rate of pay to clean? If so, then of course. If a clean office is valuable to an office, the person completing that work should be paid accordingly. But since this question is really about work distribution rather than pay equity, I’d rather focus on that.

thisismyusername's avatar

@Dutchess_III: “I don’t understand the nature of the question, however. If a company can afford to hire someone to clean, what would be the benefit of breaking up that chore among people they’ve hired for a completely different job description? And paying them the big bucks, vs minimum wage, to do it?”

This benefit would be to the employees rather than the employer.

If cleaning office buildings paid the same as other positions, such as software development, accounting, management, etc, would people choose to clean offices? And what is the career path for this person? What kind of power does this person have, and what kind of intellectual fulfillment is available?

And I don’t mean to pick on cleaning. Rather, it could be answering phones. There are reasons other than salary that people decide not to go into cleaning offices. These are important tasks that need to happen, and we’re tasking people with spending their whole day doing them with no hope of doing anything else.

canidmajor's avatar

I understood the premise of your Q, and I simply addressed the example you gave. We have, as a human society, become so diversified in out various skill sets and talent areas that the egalitarian concept you propose isn’t really feasible at this time. As I said above, our definitions of “clean” are likely different, as would our definitions of many things differ, I think. Which is why the idea of “certainly do their best to keep it clean” can’t be held to a uniform standard.

Zaku's avatar

No, because there are people who don’t mind being paid to do cleaning, and there are skills and dispositions that are good for doing it well.

If we’re going to re-invent how people are compensated for work, my thinking is:

* Everyone should know they can get their basic needs met even if they’re having a breakdown and can’t/won’t work for a while.

* Doing useful/needed work that seems unappealing to most people is a valuable and needed service and so it should earn a decent reward/compensation.

* If there seems to be more need/demand for a job such as cleaning (or various others) than people willing to do them, then probably the reward should be increased until you get enough people willing to do that for the reward.

* If there do happen to be people who are competent and willing to clean as well as program computers or whatever, they could do that too if they want to, but trying to compel everyone to clean just seems silly and prone to generate resentment and silly results.

janbb's avatar

I think your proposal has worked in smaller collective communities like the Israeli kibbutzim where people had a specialty but also were on a rotation for the menial tasks. It is more workable in a collective where goods are shared equally than in a capitalist society where there is more value placed on certain skills. I think you have to consider that in a capitalist system there has to be a way for less or differently skilled workers to earn a living and hence the more menial tasks.

And vv Hi Jaxk! Never thought I’d say this but – good to see you! And we even agree on this!

Jaxk's avatar

The premise here seems ridiculous. Your suggesting I fire the guy doing the cleaning and hire another programmer so that they can all share in the cleaning duties. The person doing the cleaning is not qualified to do programming (or accounting, management, etc.). Why do you want to eliminate unskilled labor when we have so much of it. That’s why there is no shortage of people willing to do those jobs.

thisismyusername's avatar

(For the record, I don’t necessarily support this arrangement. It’s more of a thought experiment. I’m also not supportive of capitalism, so the practicality of this working in a capitalist society isn’t necessary a consideration for this thought experiment. Although, something similar might make more sense in different economic system – or even a coop.)

Thanks for responding. Good points all around.

elbanditoroso's avatar

How does it benefit the $250/hour lawyer to empty trash cans?

thisismyusername's avatar

@elbanditoroso: “How does it benefit the $250/hour lawyer to empty trash cans?”

It humanizes him, and keeps us from eating him…. for now.

Zaku's avatar

Fairness is one thing, but making everyone have to do every job in a society is generally not (I think) a good idea. The problem with current US capitalism is not that different people do different work and can trade so others do the work they don’t want to do.

The problem has more to do with an average cleaner making $26,000 / year while “an average lawyer makes $126,000 / year”: https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/lawyer-salary-SRCH_KO0,6.htm , while Rex Tillerson made $25,144,225 as CEO of Exxon , and now thanks to Trump is Secretary of State and stands to gain billions for himself and other money-first scumbags if the drops sanctions on Russia for being responsible for atrocious violence and powermongering in Ukraine. Meanwhile people like Tillerson perpetuate disastrous environmental problems which may destroy the world as we know it. And meanwhile, many people are homeless and have little hope of getting even one of those cleaning jobs, but people demonize them and in some places it’s illegal to assist them or even give them a piece of food. (Which is of course just a couple of examples in an endless stream of problems.)

Trying to insist everyone needs to take their turn doing every annoying task, though, mainly seems annoying, except perhaps as part of a reeducation strategy for Rex Tillerson et al.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

I pay my domestic worker, who comes 1X per week, $25 per hour. Everything’s above-the-table and fully reported. I also cover all her taxes (additional, taxable compensation).

I should also mention that I’m an old-school Socialist who wouldn’t do things any other way.

Why is she so valuable to me? Well, because she’s a human being.

seawulf575's avatar

At my place of employment, many people dump their own trash and some even get the vacuum and do their own floor. Not all the time, but often. If someone spills coffee on the floor, usually it is cleaned up immediately by that person or by someone that notices it on the floor. No one is above cleaning up after themselves.

seawulf575's avatar

One other consideration, though, is the Unions. I used to work at a place where the cleaners were unionized. If you emptied your own trash or swept your own floor, you could get grieved. I don’t like that mentality and don’t miss working in a union environment.

zenvelo's avatar

It was demonstrated long ago that specialization of tasks is more productive. The savings by having one less janitor is more than offset by the cost of other employees not doing their primary tasks.

And there is a skill set to being a janitor in a modern office building. Safety considerations, waste guidelines, efficiency.

A company that adopts such a policy is heading towards dissolution.

thisismyusername's avatar

@zenvelo: “It was demonstrated long ago that specialization of tasks is more productive.”

zenvelo's avatar

@thisismyusername Did you have a question or comment for me? Or are you simply quoting me to emphasize my point?

kritiper's avatar

What are we cleaning? Our desk top or the toilet?

thisismyusername's avatar

@zenvelo: ”@thisismyusername Did you have a question or comment for me? Or are you simply quoting me to emphasize my point?”

Self-explanatory. Your point is very relevant to this discussion and why I raised the question to begin with. (“productivity” is your concern)

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Petrovisk's avatar

Most jobs are specialised, due to the principle of division of labour.

Personally, I enjoy cleaning. I find I can solve other people’s problems more easily than my own, and cleaning is exploration of new places as well.

But cleaning as a job is often much narrower, and less appreciated. The working conditions and respect often simply isn’t there. So I prefer to clean on my own terms.

thisismyusername's avatar

What if we are exposing people to health risks by maintaining full-time cleaners?

zenvelo's avatar

@thisismyusername Health risks is why a professional janitorial staff is preferred over people in the office taking turns cleaning up. So Joe who has bathroom duty today doesn’t expose everyone to a mixture of bleach and ammonia while he is cleaning up, and Margaret doesn’t mix the plastic bio-hazard container in with the recycling.

And, it keeps people from beating a dead horse…

thisismyusername's avatar

@zenvelo – Didn’t read my link.

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