Friday, September 4, 2009

Punching In

The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front Line Employee
by Alex Frankel
Finished September 4, 2009
I read an uncorrected proof of this book that I got from the table in the break room at work. Started it while I was on vacation and used the receipt from Cracker Barrel as the bookmark. I mention these little things because often I associate a book with where I was when I read it or what time of year or what I ate while reading it. I still think of eating banana sandwiches at the breakfast room table on University St. when I think of the book October Country by Ray Bradbury. To Kill A Mockingbird was read while laying on the bed in the guest room at Aunt Mickey's house in Nashville.
So, I'll think of Cracker Barrel when I read this. Funny, because the places Alex Frankel worked in gathering material for this book were pretty much the opposite of Cracker Barrel. They were mostly trendy places. I'm not sure if he chose those on purpose.
Alex Frankel worked at UPS, Enterprise Rental Car, The Gap, Starbucks and The Apple Store.
It was an interesting book, although not as well written as it should have been. I wanted more detail than he gave. It was written like a term paper for a college class - a good term paper, but supeficial, nevertheless. The story he told about each workplace was interesting and revealing. I wanted more, however. This is a management book or a book about the workplace, not about these individual workplaces. The section on UPS was the best, so it's not surprising that it was the most detailed and was about the workplace he liked the most. By the end of the book I was getting as tired of reading his descriptions as he was in working at these places.
The most interesting chapter was about Enterprise Rental Car. They are a successful company, but it seems (at least when Frankel worked there) to be a horrible company. The employees were stress out and over worked. The company communicated a good line about opportunities for advancement and committment to the employee, but practiced the opposite.
The most interesting piece of information was the application process for some companies like Home Depot. There's a questionnaire that the applicant must answer, with over 100 questions. The questions are incredible - "Other than pens or paper, what items have you taken from your workplace?" "True or false: I dislike having conversations with strangers." Frankel answered these quizzes with answers he thought the organization would like. He didn't get hired.
All in all, a good book but not great.

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