Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Unemployment figures — currently running around 15% in Michigan, about half that in Ann Arbor  — count people who are actively looking for a job. If you stop looking you're no longer considered unemployed. If you have a job that's not full time, or not as full time as you want, you're not considered unemployed either.

The last group are the folks who, in my personal lexicon, I call underployed. They'd like to work more but they can't. The work isn't there.

This December, if you you talked to the temporary crew who worked at ZMO, you probably found lots of the underployed. I met a few:

There was a self-employed man who ran his own moving, cleaning and landscaping business. It was slow so he came to work for us (plus he wanted to see how we did what we did).

There was an Michigan MBA who has her own consultancy. It was a little slow. She also wanted a peek inside Zingerman's.

There was a graphic designer whose own business was a little slow. He always thought it'd be interesting to see how we worked.

There was a person who worked for a major resort hotel on Mackinaw Island. December is a slow season for island resorts on the Great Lakes.Guess why she applied? Same story: she knew about Zingerman's and wanted to work "inside."

We were certainly blessed, in a sad and perverse way, with an abundance of riches in our crew this December. Unemployment and underployment were rampant. In the next few years, unemployment may subside. But when you’re a good company you can often find the underployed. They're interested in who we are, how we work. The experience they had this year may mean some come back. Or they’ll tell other underployed friends.

My favorite crew story wasn't about underployment, though. There was one man who had a full time job. He worked for us for only one reason: to buy a ring so he could — in his words,"properly" — ask his girl of ten years to be his bride.

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