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Jennifer Yu
Up to Yu

Credit: Amanda Suarez

Last Wednesday, on 22nd and Market streets, a vacant building next to a Salvation Army store was being torn down. In the middle of the demolition, a four-story wall collapsed onto the adjacent thrift store, injuring 13 and leaving six people dead.

As the fallout gains momentum and people clamor to understand what caused the deadly collapse, much of the blame has fallen on the excavator operator, who has been arrested for a litany of charges. Toxicology reports showed that the excavator operator was under the influence of controlled substances, including marijuana, according to CNN.

While it would be unnecessary and hasty to prematurely condemn the excavator operator as the main catalyst of the tragedy, the situation does raise a significant issue: the plight of professionalism in modern-day workplaces.

There is absolutely no reason why the worker should have been so impaired as to not be able to do his job properly, endangering (and, in the end, taking away) the lives of six innocent passersby. His lack of dedication to his job — and his willingness to make a frivolous decision in a situation that requires a great deal of seriousness — is condemnable, but also something that many of us are guilty of in our everyday lives.

We often forget that after you commit to accomplishing a task in a professional setting, it is imperative that you actually accomplish that task professionally. Anything less is fundamentally disrespectful to our employers, ourselves and, in many professions, the people around us. And, while most of us will never end up in a situation where our inability to commit wholly to accomplishing our jobs ends up being fatal for other people, many of us are plagued by the same lack of dedication to things that we simply have to do.

We live in an era where it has become increasingly difficult to focus on one task and simply get it done. Whether it’s a full-time or part-time job, an internship or simply an assignment for class, it has become more and more commonplace to “multitask” at the expense of the one task that actually requires completing.

“I’ll write this email for work,” I often find myself thinking, “and then go on YouTube for a bit.” I know from the number of people who are all too willing to share YouTube videos with me during work hours that I cannot possibly be alone in this habit. Working hours quickly devolve into a series of Facebook messages, texts and YouTube videos, punctuated sporadically and reluctantly by actual productivity.

Not only is working while browsing YouTube — or chatting on Gmail, or scrolling through your Twitter feed or under the influence of drugs — not exactly conducive to working efficiently, but it is also extremely disrespectful to your workplace. Working is as much an opportunity as it is a contract that you cannot break, and not taking your job seriously is an insult to the people giving you the chance to work with them (and, of course, to get paid by them). Even in situations where the job in question is unpaid or a volunteer position, it is still an opportunity to develop professional skills, network and gain experience.

As we go to work and take on an ever greater list of responsibilities, from drafting emails to creating presentations to writing memos, it becomes increasingly important to remember that taking professional responsibility is a commitment that we all must honor.

It is easy to think of our frequent Twitter breaks as insignificant and harmless if we don’t think of our jobs as particularly consequential or far-reaching, but we are rarely the only ones impacted by how well we do our jobs. There are the people waiting for our emails to write their own, the employers waiting for presentations to draft a budget for the company, the people depending on our memo to make important decisions — the list goes on.

The excavator operator on 22nd and Market probably didn’t think of his job as particularly significant, but his actions ended up having implications for the entire city around him. Finally, as we are often reminded at Penn, one day we will be the architects of the ever-expanding world around us. When this day comes, Facebook probably won’t help very much.

Jennifer Yu is a rising College sophomore from Shrewsbury, Mass. She can be reached at “Up to Yu” runs biweekly during the summer.

The original version of this column incorrectly identified the excavator operator as the crane operator.

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