When the Philadelphia newspaper where Guendelsberger worked folded in 2015, she embarked on the series of jobs at Amazon, AT&T, and McDonald’s. This book explores the lengths that half of Americans will go to in order to make a living, offering not only a better understanding of the modern workplace, but also surprising solutions to make work more humane for millions of Americans.
Amidst exhaustion, indignity, and rage, Guendelsberger presents an unpretentious overview of labor economics, with useful sidebars on human behavior, union organizing, and automation. With conversational asides and italicized internal monologues, Guendelsberger paints a down-to-earth, accessible primer on how dehumanizing and exploitative American wage labor can be—and what can be done to change it.
... a book that could have come across as terribly elitist, as if Guendelsberger were an anthropologist studying the lower classes like Jane Goodall studied the chimps ... What makes On the Clock work is how careful she is to never fall into that mindset. In fact, she goes out of her way to highlight those who have contributed to the grueling plight of the wage worker and their lack of empathy or basic consideration toward workers ... the sort of exposé Upton Sinclair would have been proud of ... With luck, maybe On the Clock can help spark a change.
We work and work and barely get by, while wealth pools up in obscene quantities out of view. Pile more pig iron, but don’t imagine you’re high-priced. What ... is this colossal insult doing to our heads? No wonder, Guendelsberger observes, the country is collectively 'freaking the fuck out' ... Seen from Guendelsberger’s point of view, America’s working class is quivering in stress and fear, hurting from torn-up feet, and all covered in honey mustard. The economic miseries inflicted on working-class people are bad enough, but here Guendelsberger has identified something deeper and arguably worse: 'Chronic stress drains people’s empathy, patience, and tolerance for new things.' We’ve been brutalized, bullied, and baited into being trained work-animals and not even afforded a corresponding pay bump. No wonder our society fell apart.