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On The Clock by Emily Guendelsberger
Social sciences

On The Clock

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Emily Guendelsberger, on your first book!

by Emily Guendelsberger

Quick take

Bathroom breaks timed to the second: The future of low-wage work in America.

Why I love it

Book of the Month

“If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean!” Sound familiar? If you’ve ever struggled through a low-wage job (like nearly half of the American workforce), chances are you’ve heard a manager holler out this phrase. These days, stories about poverty, stress, and overwork are all too common—but none tell it like On the Clock, one of the smartest accounts of the technological and corporate hell that low-wage work has become, and what the media is missing in the national conversation about the American Dream.

You’ll cringe as you read investigative journalist Emily Guendelsberger’s account of the six grueling, soul-crushing months she spent working undercover in low-wage jobs. From the sweltering depths of Amazon’s labyrinthine fulfillment centers to the Sausage McGriddle assembly line at McDonald’s, Guendelsberger takes us on a journey through the Orwellian past, present, and future of work in America—and the mental, physical, and emotional toil it requires from the lower half of the labor force.

For all the heavy subject matter, the book is entertaining and snappy, punctuated by anecdotes of the sweaty-faced managers, heroic single-mom coworkers, and corporate goons who Guendelsberger encounters over the course of her investigation. The author deftly weaves together some of the most significant issues that workers face today—think automation, immigration, the housing crisis, Big Data, political apathy—but you feel like you’re listening to your best friend recount another crazy day at work. Fast-paced, mind-boggling, and somehow simultaneously hilarious and dismaying, On the Clock is for anyone who wants an entertaining read that is nevertheless packed with insight into working in America today.

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After the local newspaper where she worked as a reporter closed, Emily Guendelsberger took a pre-Christmas job at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Louisville, Kentucky. There, the vending machines were stocked with painkillers, and the staff turnover was dizzying. In the new year, she travelled to North Carolina to work at a call center, a place where even bathroom breaks were timed to the second. And finally, Guendelsberger was hired at a San Francisco McDonald's, narrowly escaping revenge-seeking customers who pelted her with condiments.

Across three jobs, and in three different parts of the country, Guendelsberger directly took part in the revolution changing the U.S. workplace. On the Clock takes us behind the scenes of the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce to understand the future of work in America—and its present. Until robots pack boxes, resolve billing issues, and make fast food, human beings supervised by AI will continue to get the job done. Guendelsberger shows us how workers went from being the most expensive element of production to the cheapest—and how low wage jobs have been remade to serve the ideals of efficiency, at the cost of humanity.

On the Clock 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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of On the Clock.

Member thoughts

All (222)
All (222)
Love (112)
Like (103)
Dislike (7)
227 ratings
  • 49% Love
  • 45% Like
  • 3% Dislike
  • Jacksonville, FL

    This is a great book. Though I already shared many of the ideas presented in this book, it still managed to change the way I see the world and teach me new things about the subject matter I'm studying

  • Ossining, NY

    A sad look into the lives of a lot of our neighbors and sobering commentary on what it may soon mean for more of us. But I can't stop talking about what I learned about stress responses, very cool!

  • Bloomer , WI

    This is an important topic regardless of what sector of work you are in. When will companies get that their employees are their greatest assets! Emily’s sense of humor softened the seriousness....

  • Garfield, NJ

    This book is a must read. It’s basically an updated Nickeled & Dimed. I’ve worked in call centers in the past. They’ve apparently gotten so much worse. Shocking, really. Read before you vote.

  • Mechanicsburg, PA

    Emily has the ability to take her experiences and extract useful and interesting information. Her melding of actual experience, investigating and research was very thought provoking.

  • Selma, TX

    A very informative and important book. A great read about what those in the service industry, and those who serve us daily face. It’s still with me long after reading.

  • Harrisonburg, VA

    This was a really great book. I loved the author's insights. There were a few tangents I could have done without. What was up with the furniture section?

  • Cocoa beach, FL

    This book is worth reading to help understand the culture of people what they experience working in the cold-calling industry and distribution centers.

  • Decatur, GA

    I love these true stories of how hard it is to make a living in America. We need more of this to help us understand how to change labor policy.

  • San Jose , CA

    An eye-opener on the lives of low wage workers and the US economy. Totally changed the way I think of Amazon, call centers and McDonald’s!

  • Cogan Station, PA

    Wow! What an insightful book about what it’s truly like working certain jobs! I related to this book in some ways. Really eye opening.

  • Owensboro, KY

    Just some amazing investigation with a sense a humor that humanizes a part of the population that is often not seen that way. 5⭐️

  • Montrose, CO

    Love the stories of the people who work in those circumstances. It made me aware of their pain and financial situations.

  • Halethorpe , MD

    Easy to read, interesting info on the history and theory of low-wage labor, fascinating accounts of the author's jobs.

  • Laurel, MD

    Such an important book, and helps to expose how awful workers are being treated in America. A must read.

  • Belleville, MI

    Everyone should read this book, gain some insight into and some empathy for how most people are living.

  • Arlington, VA

    Accurate picture of liw level jobs - hopefully Amazon increases pay and adds benefits. Bezos is evil

  • Minneapolis, MN

    Great view of what it is to be a low-wage worker in today's workforce.

  • San Antonio , TX

    Ive worked low wage jobs and i loved the raw writing. So spot on.

  • Mount Prospect, IL

    so interesting and shockingly comparable to my own experiences.

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