Wanted: help that's 'counter intuitive'

Here's a clear case of the vaunted work/life balance tilting a tad too hard to starboard. A sort of generational malaise may also be in play. But that really reads like a codger's perspective, and I feel too young and hopeful to go there.

My wife and I went to a major office-supply chain a few weeks ago to pick up an ink cartridge for our computer printer. It was evening. The place was quiet. We easily found the counter behind which the cartridges hung by the dozens.

We began using the store's plastic flip chart to identify a Hewlett-Packard replacement, and in the closing minute of that enterprise we kept looking expectantly down the counter toward the register, where two teen girls in red uniform shirts were deep into chat mode with a boy their age.

He was standing on the customer side, but seemed not to have printer cartridges on his short-term agenda.

Each clerk glanced over at us in turn, still talking. Neither made a move in our direction, even after I held up the empty cartridge I'd brought along in what felt like the universal sign for "same again."

We seemed invisible.

Finally we swung open the gate, crossed into employee territory, and helped ourselves. Over at the register, we got noticed.

"In the future," said one of the red-shirts, still not looking up as she tapped the keys, "do not step behind the counter."

The two would not concede that they had come up short. We left with what we'd come for, but unsatisfied.

The story is by no means universal. But it is common enough to have workplace experts concerned. Today's lead story measures the depth of what some call a drying well of professionalism, as well as efforts to end the drought.

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