More Than a Replaceable Part

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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At fourteen, I took on a twice-a-day paper route that was demanding and dangerous. Though it included my own quiet residential street, it also included a stretch of a busy U.S. highway spiked with narrow, shoulderless intersecting roads and lined with bars, liquor stores, seedy housing, and trailer courts.

At first, I pedaled a heavy-laden bicycle on the route. Then, through a judge's permission, I got a driver's license and my first car. My parents sponsored the age waiver. They feared if I continued to ride a bike, I would meet an early death by a speeding vehicle or a mugging.

That year, the newspaper publishers sponsored a contest. Ten carriers who built up their routes the most during the contest period would be awarded a group vacation trip to Mexico City and Acapulco. I wound up one of the ten.

I built my route through good "customer service," but I was also energized by encouragement from a kindly, attentive supervisor. Most supportive was the company's general circulation manager, our affable, fatherly host on the trip. Many carriers who didn't make the top ten still earned customer and supervisor commendation. And the publishers gave them smaller gifts and monetary awards.

The company benefited, of course, when all its carriers worked at building circulation. Increased circulation meant more revenue. But the management staff went out of its way to show appreciation for our work and to help us succeed. We contest winners had a wonderful trip and were pampered like little princes.

Would that all companies treated their employees so well! Too many people work for companies that reduce them to mere "human resources" with each employee just a replaceable part in corporate machinery. These companies often demand too much without genuinely caring for their employees' success or well-being.

After my first year on that paper route, I earned no more prizes for my work. No one did. Management changed.

The circulation manager was awarded a promotion and replaced. Our genial route supervisor moved. In his place came a mean-spirited curmudgeon. He rarely spoke to us boys except to harangue us whenever he got a customer complaint.

Still, I liked my job. I threw both morning and evening papers. Also, as a new Christian, I became consciously interested in loving my neighbor. I practiced paying attention to the lives of my customers. On payment collection days, I enjoyed chatting, joking, teasing, being teased and ribbed. Sometimes, I even quibbled with my clients. I learned that customers in the seedy sections of the route were generally good folks who happened to be poor. Even the supervisor drew my interest and compassion when I learned that he'd lost a son in a freak accident.

I suppose my paper route taught me that recognition from employers and bosses motivates a worker, but the work itself and the people we serve are more important than any recognition.