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"I guess [you] don’t care about hard work or loyalty," said the manager.
March 11, 2014 11:27 AM   Subscribe

My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Cheap
posted by cosmic.osmo (241 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of the worst things about working retail (and I say this as someone who currently works retail part time) is how it's very hard to maintain your self confidence. It's very easy to make mistakes in retail and then start thinking "of I make mistakes doing this, how can I work a job with more responsibility?"
posted by drezdn at 11:36 AM on March 11 [61 favorites]


Yuck, yuck, YUCK. Retail work did not help my psyche; it injured it. Before working retail I was wary about most people but after serving them, I loathe more than fear. Working behind a counter is like getting it from both ends. No one values the person at the register. Not the customer, not the employer. Again, YUCK.

I feel like this article needs a trigger warning or something. I need a walk.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:37 AM on March 11 [46 favorites]


It's very easy to make mistakes in retail

Because the whole retail environment is designed to make workers into mindless drones who can't do anything on their own initiative and then get punished for either breaking the rules or not breaking the rules.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:39 AM on March 11 [41 favorites]


Working small retail was pretty good to me. There were huge aggravations, but they were things I could laugh at with my coworkers. The people I know who worked for national chains have really different stories to tell, and one of the sadder stories of the 80s - present is the slow destruction of locally-based small retail. On the other hand, I also got out of retail in my mid-30s, which is a good time to move on. I'm not sure I have the mental and physical resilience to deal with it anymore, and I still work a largely patron-facing job these days....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:40 AM on March 11 [7 favorites]


Whenever I shop retail, I always make it a point to ask "so how's your shift going?" when I'm checking out. I won't pretend that it's anything but a little thing, but I always get a response that isn't canned - sometimes it's an "pretty good, it's been light today so we've been able to catch up," sometimes it's "hectic, and I'm glad to be going home soon," but it always seems real to me and they always seem to appreciate a customer showing a little interest/concern.

(Please, nobody tell me that they are trained to answer that question.)
posted by mightygodking at 11:41 AM on March 11 [43 favorites]


Obtaining work in retail had changed a lot since the 1980s. What used to require a paper application and a schmooze with the manager has turned into an antiseptic online process where human interaction—and the potential for an employment-discrimination complaint—is kept to a minimum.

Having just started looking for a part-time second job, I keep hitting this wall. They don't even let you talk to anyone.
posted by GrapeApiary at 11:42 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


One of the worst things about working retail (and I say this as someone who currently works retail part time) is how it's very hard to maintain your self confidence.

I recently read a truism that the more replaceable you are, the higher the standards you're held.
posted by rhizome at 11:43 AM on March 11 [103 favorites]


My old gchat logs with my best friend are a treasure trove of terrible retail moments from my past. In 2010, I was a sales associate at Gap at the Grove in LA (yup, naming names). A coffee shop mishap on my 15-minute break resulted in me receiving two iced coffees the size of my head, so I brought them back to the breakroom to see if any of my coworkers wanted one. On my way in, I passed my manager and joked "This is how much coffee I need right now! Haha, just kidding!" He shot me a completely disgusted look, as if I had just told him a racist joke, and then informed me that I was one minute late coming back from my break.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:44 AM on March 11 [22 favorites]


Whenever I shop retail, I always make it a point to ask "so how's your shift going?" when I'm checking out. I won't pretend that it's anything but a little thing, but I always get a response that isn't canned - sometimes it's an "pretty good, it's been light today so we've been able to catch up," sometimes it's "hectic, and I'm glad to be going home soon," but it always seems real to me and they always seem to appreciate a customer showing a little interest/concern.

I always say something like "Have a nice [time of day], hope it goes quick."
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:48 AM on March 11 [8 favorites]


I think the focus of this article is important, but I really wish someone else had written it. The guy downplays his own domestic violence, and you get the feeling of frustration at the state for garnishing his wages for child support - which, I'll note, generally doesn't happen if the person involved has voluntarily paid his child support on time previously.

That said, moments that stuck out to me - on time is ten minutes late. It reminds me of the military, another weirdly regimented life where one minute late is actually late. Except, you know, without the combat that creates the need for it.
posted by corb at 11:48 AM on March 11 [20 favorites]


Plus in the military you're not getting paid by the hour, so wage theft isn't a thing.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:49 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]


ugh, the wage theft makes me RAGE. With all the unemployed lawyers out there, why aren't more getting retail workers to document the type of bullshit described in this article (forced to stay 45 minutes late to clean off the clock, required to show up ten minutes before a shift but not paid for that ten minutes, etc.)? Seems like a decent sized retail chain with thousands of employees and several years of wage theft would be a great target for a class action.
posted by skewed at 11:51 AM on March 11 [38 favorites]


After taking care of my child for the last several years, my worst nightmare is that my re-entry into the working world is retail.

Unlike this gentleman, I'm not sure I have the fortitude to make it through more than a week of this kind of nonsense.

("Stretch shrugged, nonplussed. Clearly he’d been living with this one for a while."
A journalist should know better.)

posted by madajb at 11:52 AM on March 11


Guy with cushy right-wing-noise machine job who might have beat his wife hits the skids, realizes that low paying jobs suck, gets new job with "Capitol Hill non-profit", writes tell all about the horrors. Will he use his experience for good or evil? Tune in next week to find out!
posted by Big_B at 11:57 AM on March 11 [26 favorites]


The worst part of working retail was that I actually had a job I loved (bookstore) most of the time, but then I'd get paid and realize that I could not actually ever go anywhere or do anything or even really pay my bills, and so all that love and work wasn't worth anything to anyone but me. For a while I dealt by going out for drinks with coworkers after closing (which I couldn't really afford either) and bitching, but you figure out pretty soon that it doesn't change anything. I didn't want to leave, but I could not deal with the shit wages. The only truly happy people there were the ones who had spouse support, or were retired and just wanted to get out of the house. The rest of us were living with roommates and praying every day that our ancient cars wouldn't break down.
posted by emjaybee at 12:00 PM on March 11 [27 favorites]


You know how military service is mandatory for all citizens of Israel.

I feel like we'd all be better humans if every person was required to work in a retail/service position for a minimum of two years.

I'd like to think that we'd all have a better appreciation for the person on the other side of that counter.

I say this as someone who has worked in the dry-cleaning business, hotel management, & retail management industry for the past 15 years of my life. And now I'm becoming a teacher.

Serenity now.

Be kind. Rewind.
posted by Fizz at 12:01 PM on March 11 [91 favorites]


And many of them do worry about being sued for wage theft! Whenever I visit my wife at work there are big posters warning employees to never ever ever work off the clock. If a manager decides to tell somebody to do it, that's a fireable offense. I always figured that was because otherwise they'd get their asses sued off, but apparently the ones that don't survive just fine.

(FWIW during my very brief stint at Target I never got the "one time is ten minutes late" lecture. You were expected to clock in as soon as you arrived, and clocking in more than five minutes early was distinctly frowned upon.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:01 PM on March 11


Well gee.... awful hours? hard shifts where you can't sit down? bag checks? I hate to say this, but not one single thing this guy's written is new or even really noteworthy; he's just been swaddled in his secure little niche. (Note the line where --- gasp! --- a girl with a nigh school diploma is supervising him....)

This sounds exactly like my own retail experience from the 1970s: nothing has changed except this author's viewpoint. Fizz is right: everyone should have to serve a year or two in retail or fast food.

And as for bag checks: does anybody remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NYC in 1912? The reason so many minimum-wage workers died is because except when it was quitting time each day and a supervisor was at the door to check every single employee's bag, the doors were locked.
posted by easily confused at 12:03 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]


I never had to do retail, but back in the '90s I worked at Lick's. I'm not sure if it was a chain-wide policy, but where I worked we had to show up 15 minutes early (unpaid) for a pep talk with our manager. At the end of the night s/he would arbitrarily decide when we "should" have been done cleaning the place and no-one got paid after that. Sometimes we were there for over half an hour, and then you had to sit with the manager again for this fucking debriefing session about how you felt the shift went that usually lasted 10 or 15 minutes. Also unpaid. I think they assumed that no-one making minimum wage was going to rat them out to the labour board.

Lick's was the fucking worst and I've never been happier to see a chain die.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:04 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


But overtime pay, or some kind of financial reward, apparently was out of the question. So he gave me socks.

"I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen."

- - -
Retail is awful, and so is food service. I have always said that everyone should be required to work for a full year in one of those jobs, just to develop some sympathy for one's fellows. Everyone I know who has worked around a cash register or around food now treats those workers with the dignity that they really do deserve. On preview: Jinx, you guys!

A friendly smile and a too-quiet-word-for-the-manager-to-hear about how close the end of the shift is are never out of place.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:05 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


Whether you like the guy or not is irrelevant. This is not the way we should be treating people as workers. The idea that it's OK to have people come in early or stay late--for free!-- because they have to do things which aren't "working" is so fucked up it's beyond words.
posted by maxwelton at 12:07 PM on March 11 [31 favorites]


The signs against wage theft are not there to prevent wage theft. The signs against wage theft are there so that when they steal your wages, they can blame you for it. I strongly suspect (correct me if I'm wrong) that if an employee reported their manager for wage theft, the employee would be the one fired.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:07 PM on March 11 [28 favorites]


I worked retail for...wow, four years I think, in my late teens? It felt so much longer. Anyway, yeah, I did that. What's funny is that it definitely made me more sympathetic to retail workers (and my niceness to waitstaff is the stuff of legend), but it also made me absolutely fucking hate the entire rest of the human race, and that took me years to even begin to shed.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:10 PM on March 11 [22 favorites]


Truly, working in retail and/or food service is one of the few 'character building' activities that is actually character building.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:11 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]


"I guess [you] don’t care about hard work or loyalty.”

This makes me craaaaaaaaaaazy, especially with minimum wage jobs. You're paying me to show up on time, do my job, and be professional and pleasant while on the clock. You're not buying my affection or loyalty. When you pay someone minimum wage, pat them down to make sure they're not stealing, and force them to stand up all the time even when there's no point to it, OF COURSE THEY'RE NOT LOYAL.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:12 PM on March 11 [112 favorites]


I've become the guy that will jump in when someone's being an asshole to retail staff in front of me and troll them into stomping out in a huff because I always hoped someone would do that for me when I worked retail and they never did. If I can be some guy/girl's Batman for a day then that's cool with me. And I kinda like being a dick to people so there's that.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:13 PM on March 11 [103 favorites]


This is exactly why when my Radioshack District Manager told my Manager that he wanted to fire me the day after christmas, I finally realized that the stress I was giving myself about trying to sell things wasn't worth it, and that getting fired and thus getting unemployment, would actually be the best thing for me.
They didn't fire me, and instead kicked me to another location that's only ten minutes away, but is notorious for being the store where people go to die. So I figured that the last thing I would do is give them an ounce of effort. I work there for fifteen hours a week, I don't have to do anything more than babysit the store, and it's fantastic.
Needless to say, when the news broke, I might have done a spontaneous happy dance and put on the happiest pop I could find. The measly unemployment check I would get from them would perfectly sum up my terrible time in a dead brand.
posted by WeX Majors at 12:17 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


The hiring process is largely the same for white collar jobs, too.

A couple months ago, I was laid off from my job as a surplus lines commercial insurance broker. Nobody at the company was willing to tell me why. But I was profoundly unhappy with the job. My actual duties were radically different from what I was told they would be when I accepted it. And at "full time," the job actually necessitated 60-hour work weeks, increasing to 80 during the busiest couple months of the year. It was exempt, so I had no overtime pay. So when I got the lay-off call, late on a Friday I'd taken off, I wasn't altogether broken up.

But job hunting, even in a city like Seattle with a booming economy, is infuriating. I interview well and would love to get an in-person meeting, but I can't seem to get past the online applications. Amazon, Virginia Mason, University of Washington, and almost every single professional employer that I can find uses systems like Taleo and iCIMS, where you upload one resumé and one cover letter. The system, as far as I can tell, does nothing but screen for buzzwords, so if you're a fit for multiple jobs? Good luck applying for them at once. And if you only apply serially? That job may take months in review, with no contact or even automated update. I still have an application on governmentjobs.com showing as under review from three years ago.

And even if you are a good match skill-wise, companies don't train anymore. They want X years of experience with their software, and their platforms. And then they bolt Adobe Creative Suite and Salesforce requirements onto positions that don't seem to have anything to do with them. And they aren't hiring marketing managers. They're hiring "marketing rockstars." They aren't hiring database admins. They're hiring "database gurus." Hell, I even saw a position posted for a "sensei" the other day. And positions that read like they are 100% entry-level require 3-5 years of experience in that particular role. And probably an MBA. Or a BS in computer science. Maybe both.

This article is my nightmare. I'm afraid that, pretty soon, I'm going to need to take my law degree and marketing/brokerage experience off my resumé just for a stab at a retail job.
posted by Vox Nihili at 12:17 PM on March 11 [94 favorites]


I managed boutique retail in Manhattan for a few years in my early 20s. I was good at it. The people I managed, on the whole, liked me. I tried to make clerks feel actually valued, and I went to lengths to keep the boss (everyone who has worked retail knows The Boss) off people's back when I had to. It was tedious, the pay wasn't great, and I'm glad I don't do it anymore.

One of my dreams -- like in the same sense that someone's dream is to be a rock star or a famous artist -- is to have a store where I sell things I am good at selling and that people want to buy because they genuinely want that thing they're buying.

If anything, I learned that the sort of mindset you need to actually run a successful retail is possibly the diametric opposite of the mindset you need to not be a total shit to your employees. Maybe this is wrong other places, but definitely not in NYC from my experience (or if it is wrong, it's wrong as the exception-that-proves-the-rule.)

It's sort of weird and sad to think you have a totally ordinary desire to just have a store and simultaneously not be an asshole and realize that it's roughly as achievable for yourself as becoming a famous rock star.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on March 11 [15 favorites]


Also, I swear to god if we made every capable adult take exactly one 8-hour retail (or serving) shift, just one time in their entire life, we'd be living in a different and much more pleasant world for everyone.
posted by griphus at 12:19 PM on March 11 [27 favorites]


Everyone I know who has worked around a cash register or around food now treats those workers with the dignity that they really do deserve.

You need to meet more bootstrapping libertarian scum who believe that clearly people who still work in retail after they personally finished are the useless worthless ones.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:21 PM on March 11 [21 favorites]


This is what America has come to - i.e. the worker as drone. "Just show up on time; do your job; and, shutup!" I even see this in the tech sector for lower-paying jobs.

Retail workers have it bad, just like most other low-level service workers in America. I once partnered in a small retail operation, mostly at a distance. Whenever I went into the shop to help out (about 15% of the open hours), I was always amazed at how the majority of customers looked right through me as if I wasn't there, as if I was little more than a convenience (or annoyance, if they happened to be in a bad mood). Retail workers are invisible, and their jobs are mostly thankless. That's what they should tell you going in, and then try to create perks to offset that impact.

The exception to this rule are some of the worker-owned retail shops I see sprouting up, populated by mostly young entrepreneurs who are trying to adapt and navigate in an economy that is in structural decline. It's amazing what running one's own "thing" can do to one's mindset.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:22 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


The trick with dealing with the application process is to lie like a dog on your résumé and as needed through the rest of the process. Or rather, don't think of any aspect of the application process as being directly related to representing yourself or the truth. It is not about the truth. It is about proving your ability to disregard the truth on demand.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:22 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]


Worked at Target in various menial positions for most of my thirties.

It's always been my opinion that nothing whatsoever will be done about the absolutely inhuman, demeaning, body-mind-and-soul-destroying treatment given to retail and food service clerks, until a large enough number of formerly comfortable upper-middle-class people are forced through this meatgrinder themselves and speak up.

But I honestly don't know if even that will be enough anymore.
posted by KHAAAN! at 12:23 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


You know how military service is mandatory for all citizens of Israel.
I feel like we'd all be better humans if every person was required to work in a retail/service position for a minimum of two years.
I'd like to think that we'd all have a better appreciation for the person on the other side of that counter.
I say this as someone who has worked in the dry-cleaning business, hotel management, & retail management industry for the past 15 years of my life. And now I'm becoming a teacher.
Serenity now.
Be kind. Rewind.
posted by Fizz


CAN'T NOT FAVORITE THIS HARD ENOUGH!
I worked retail for 15 years…starting at PT then Asst Manager at one of those mythical small chain camping stores (RIP Sunny's Surplus) . We use to stand around and talk about that thing exactly, we would think that might bring some empathy to the customers but then we would get some guy whistle for us to get him a diff sized boots. So that was out.
...then we also use to think about coming up with a store called "The Back Room" where everything was…
posted by ShawnString at 12:25 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Ghostride The Whip: "I've become the guy that will jump in when someone's being an asshole to retail staff in front of me and troll them into stomping out in a huff because I always hoped someone would do that for me when I worked retail and they never did. If I can be some guy/girl's Batman for a day then that's cool with me. And I kinda like being a dick to people so there's that."

Yeah, I do this for what are honestly pretty selfish reasons, since I relish any chance I can get to be an asshole to strangers, but I know how fucking frustrating it is when a customer is being a total shithead to you and you can't do anything other than smile and take it at the risk of losing your job.
posted by invitapriore at 12:26 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


Taleo is the worst. You think you are applying for Widget Inspector, but you're actually only applying for that specific requisition for a Widget Inspector. If that req gets closed, you're likely to just get an automated rejection rather than have your resume forwarded to the other 20 open Widget Inspector reqs. No human will have laid eyes on your resume in the entire process.
posted by spaltavian at 12:27 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


Sometimes it's sadder and worse when you're working for a shop owner whose original coffee shop did very well, so eventually he has three of them in his little fiefdom in central Atlanta, and while he and the missus pull down 100K+, you're made to feel like a heel because you need more shifts to make sure you can pay rent/utilities/cellphone bill. Oh, you get them but they stick you with the ones where you don't make any tips. And when you get engaged to a man from out of the country and have given them notice about you leaving at least six months ahead, they fire you three months before you get married, so how the fuck are you going to pay your rent and your bills until then??

Sorry. Still bitter.
posted by Kitteh at 12:27 PM on March 11 [25 favorites]


The signs against wage theft are not there to prevent wage theft. The signs against wage theft are there so that when they steal your wages, they can blame you for it. I strongly suspect (correct me if I'm wrong) that if an employee reported their manager for wage theft, the employee would be the one fired.

If the employee actually does the off-the-clock work, then the employee is toast, yes, but so is the manager - I've seen this happen, and they scorch the earth when somebody pulls that. The signs are there to give the employee something to point at when refusing to work off the clock.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:28 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


It's very instructive how important Personal Responsibility and Values like valuing Hard Work and Loyalty are to the lower echelons of these corporations.
posted by thelonius at 12:28 PM on March 11 [24 favorites]


The trick with dealing with the application process is to lie like a dog on your résumé and as needed through the rest of the process. Or rather, don't think of any aspect of the application process as being directly related to representing yourself or the truth. It is not about the truth. It is about proving your ability to disregard the truth on demand.

So my wife worked retail for about a decade but was legendarily incapable of passing the psychological screening to make sure you're not a thief because she was too honest. Like she'd say she "sometimes" thought about not showing up for work because who doesn't think like that every now and then? So then the manager would call her up and tell her they REALLY WANTED to hire her but she must've CLICKED THE WRONG ANSWER ACCIDENTALLY and so would need to take the psych screening again.

So naturally she'd have me do it and I'd go BEEP BOOP I AM A PERFECT DRONE BEEP BOOP and she'd magically pass and get hired.

I was always amused, though, that it was possible to fail the test for being too honest.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:29 PM on March 11 [73 favorites]


As an almost lifelong retail worker, I only ask the customers NOT wish me a good weekend just cause it's Friday. I know they mean well, but working weekends is part of the job description. Otherwise, my feelings about what has become my life's work are way to complex to go into here.
posted by jonmc at 12:29 PM on March 11 [28 favorites]


Retail is awful, and so is food service.

It doesn't have to be. I used to work as a cleaner on a camping as a teenager, then later worked in a chipshop to pay for uni and in both cases the work was hard and long at times, but it wasn't soul destroying. Part of that was of course because it was part time work that I could take or leave if I needed to; I didn't need it to survive, but partially it was also because I was paid decently and treated well.

Similarly, what we've seen in the cleaning sector in the Netherlands in the past five years, as the unions organised a series of successful strikes to improve working conditions, pay but especially respect for cleaners, even the worst jobs can be made bearable as long as employees are treated like actual human beings.

(One of the things the unions got both the employers and their customers to agree on was to have the cleaning happen during the working day, rather than after office hours, making the cleaning staff visible to the white collar employees they serviced. That simple little change meant a lot in terms of dignity and respect that the cleaning staff received, at least in the Big Dutch Bank office I worked in, where this was first trialled before it was extended to all its offices.)
posted by MartinWisse at 12:30 PM on March 11 [31 favorites]


I don't regret my decade of life in the coffee shop trade, if only because I made some awesome friends that I still know and love to this day. Every time one of them escapes for what we've been trained to consider a "real" job, I cheer.
posted by Kitteh at 12:31 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Few things will make you lose your faith in humanity like a stint in retail.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:32 PM on March 11 [26 favorites]


Joseph Williams needs to work on his anger issues, more than anything else. Retail might suck, but his problems are a lot deeper. Ask his ex-wife, Amy Alexander.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:33 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


I was always amused, though, that it was possible to fail the test for being too honest.

I get in trouble with these for the same reason. I took one once and noticed one of the questions was 'I read all the instructions with my medication'. I was curious about what an odd question it was so I asked. It turns out that it's a ringer question to see if you're lying to conform. They figure no one reads the instructions so it's an easy question to catch liars.

Well, liars and hypochondriacs.
posted by winna at 12:36 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


Yes, that exact piece is linked in the article.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:36 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


You're paying me to show up on time, do my job, and be professional and pleasant while on the clock. You're not buying my affection or loyalty. When you pay someone minimum wage, pat them down to make sure they're not stealing, and force them to stand up all the time even when there's no point to it, OF COURSE THEY'RE NOT LOYAL.

What corporations seem to forget is that loyalty is earned, not imposed.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:36 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


When I worked at Whole Foods, there was a rumor/urban legend going around about a team member at some store in Minnesota who stabbed a customer, and the team member not only didn't get arrested, he didn't even get written up. We loved that story a lot.
posted by rtha at 12:37 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]


And tell me, Holy Zarquon's Singing Fin, where we are to point when we are fired after refusing to work off the clock?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:37 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Also, thanks for this. I have been feeling stifled by my job some lately, and, reading this, I can see that that job is like being the Tsar of Russia compared to so much of what is out there.
posted by thelonius at 12:37 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]


Few things will make you lose your faith in humanity like a stint in retail.

Exactly. Because you're brought into constant contact with people who have no fear of consequences over the way they treat you.
posted by Flexagon at 12:38 PM on March 11 [15 favorites]


I worked in retail at a major discount-price clothing store for a decade in the 80s and 90s. When I finally got a job in another industry I was stunned, utterly stunned, at how much different the environment was. Calling in sick for couple of shifts didn't require a doctor's note? Feedback from management could be positive instead of a constant negative tirade of insults? I could take vacation time without getting grief? And benefits? And steady hours? I've gone through hellish crunches working in the video game industry that have nothing on retail during the holidays. It's a joyless, cruel, soul-murdering experience and I feel for everyone doing it. For years I used to have nightmares about it all falling apart and having to get another retail job.

Also, I swear to god if we made every capable adult take exactly one 8-hour retail (or serving) shift, just one time in their entire life, we'd be living in a different and much more pleasant world for everyone.

Make on a Saturday in the middle of December and we've found the formula for world peace.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:38 PM on March 11 [13 favorites]


Vox Nihili: Apparently you should take your law degree and put together wage-theft class actions.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:38 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


Man, those tests. Its like the employers running them want to select for dishonesty and self-delusion.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:39 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


The most disheartening thing for me, working retail (at a big department store), was seeing how broke my co-workers were. Even the managers were scraping by, desperate for the couple months they'd pull some extra pay for working in slightly higher (temporary) positions during the Xmas season.

I was living very hand-to-mouth in those days and the $8.40/hr seemed like a godsend to me when I got the job (went out in the parking lot and cried when I heard the good news) but it got rough seeing everyone microwaving the white rice they'd brought from home and complaining about their phones getting cut off for non-payment and just seeing how exhausted and burnt out everyone was. These were mostly people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, not kids.

My mom worked retail in a similar department store (which has since become the same department store, actually) while I was growing up, and I had known she hated it, but I guess I hadn't realized how tough those wages were until I had to do it myself. Anyway, for me, the customers were the best part of the job and the (lack of) money was the worst.

I didn't mind any of the managers particularly, because they were all exhausted drones working for peanuts like everybody, but I did hate how people were told to spy and tattle on each other, so if you sat down for a moment or you dawdled while going from one department to another you'd get confronted and called out and maybe there would be some vague threat about your job. It was a very restrictive environment.
posted by rue72 at 12:39 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


One of the worst things (that fortunately hasn't spread to too many companies yet) in retail are on call shifts. The store schedules for say 5-10 on a Thursday night, you call at 3 or 4 to find out if you have to come into work. Considering that the place that had it paid minimum wage and didn't offer much in the way of benefits to part timers, the difference in cost to the company was less than $50, but made it hard on employees to make solid plans.

I've seen some more conspiracy minded places suggest that the reason places don't give retail/food workers a steady schedule is because it makes it harder for their employees to have other jobs.
posted by drezdn at 12:40 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


I worked in retail at a major discount-price clothing store for a decade in the 80s and 90s. When I finally got a job in another industry I was stunned, utterly stunned, at how much different the environment was. Calling in sick for couple of shifts didn't require a doctor's note? Feedback from management could be positive instead of a constant negative tirade of insults? I could take vacation time without getting grief? And benefits? And steady hours? I've gone through hellish crunches working in the video game industry that have nothing on retail during the holidays. It's a joyless, cruel, soul-murdering experience and I feel for everyone doing it. For years I used to have nightmares about it all falling apart and having to get another retail job.

I've been out of retail for years now and I still don't really trust it when I call in sick and my manager just says "Ok, feel better!" and that's it. The former retail worker part of me thinks that some day I'll be confronted with a list of my sick and vacation days and asked to explain myself or something.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:42 PM on March 11 [46 favorites]


I got a job at Fry's coming out of a psych hospitalization and PHP program just to get out of the house and oh my god. Corporate are terrible. Like you should be honored to get a chance to work there.

I went in there telling them that I couldn't work over Christmas. I was going to see my family and the tickets had been bought almost a year in advance (330 days). They said they'd try to work around the stupidity that is Christmas season regulations from corporate and they didn't want to lose me because I was a fantastic worker for $10.50/hour.

So we did the planning as best we could, consulted with higher ups at corporate and plain tried to run around the system while staying to the letter of the regulations. In the end I had to quit and come try and get rehired when I got back. I got back and the day after I went to apply for my old job back. After bouncing around corporate for two months they decided not to because they didn't want to encourage my behaviour. As if a barely above minimum wage job was worth more than cancelling thousands of dollars of tickets and missing the holidays with family I hadn't seen in over 18 months.

Fuck them. Fuck each and every one of them, their establishments and their holier than thou attitude. I should be lucky to work there? They were fucking lucky to have me work there. And have my want to come back. But it's good in a way because it forces me to move on. But the inability of corporate retail to see it as anything but a stepping stone and to see minimum wage as a lifelong career. This is what will eventually cause the revolution and all of the American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and The Voice in the world won't be able to counterbalance the lack of bread.
posted by Talez at 12:43 PM on March 11 [76 favorites]


I know of at least one local restaurant that has on-call shifts (weirdly it's one that is otherwise comparatively pretty good to its employees), so I wonder if that practice isn't spreading.
posted by invitapriore at 12:43 PM on March 11


Don't worry, there are plenty of soul-destroying, horrorshow jobs for you after you escape retail. Had a shitty place of work that literally had a guy (COO, no less) standing outside with a clipboard marking you late if your car pulled in after 8:50, because clearly you needed to be there 10 minutes early since 9:00 was the time that you were to start working and check your email. Lunch, 30 minutes. 12:00-12:30, no exceptions. Leave at 5:29 and you're in trouble. Appointment? Tough shit, you didn't get it "cleared" a week in advance.

"By the way, you're flying to Louisiana to a client this afternoon. You'll be there all week."

"Where's Jim? I fired Jim because he made a small error that was compounded by my own idiocy, so I needed Jim to take the fall."

"We fired the new salesman because he was using an unapproved calendaring application."

"You're quitting? Why? We have lots of opportunity for advancement here!"
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:43 PM on March 11 [22 favorites]


In the 90s I worked at Brookstone in one of the larger malls in Southern California, and I have to say I remember it fondly. It was really low-stress, the managers were nice and laid back, I don't remember being asked to work for free at all, we got to put on our own music (within reason, and that stopped eventually), we got to play with the products. It's a strange retail environment, since all the products are basically toys and they really sell themselves. They didn't ever check our bags or pat us down (and people took stuff pretty frequently).

Of course, this was a teenage job, I didn't need to live on the money. If I had to go back into it now I'd be horrified, I'm sure.
posted by Huck500 at 12:43 PM on March 11


Joseph Williams needs to work on his anger issues, more than anything else. Retail might suck, but his problems are a lot deeper. Ask his ex-wife, Amy Alexander.

Let's assume he's an asshole. I mean, in real life I'd want to hear his side of things, but for discussion here, I'm happy to assume he's a slug and a lowlife for the sake of argument

Now, so what? What does that say about the chain's systemic abuse of their workers? Nothing, right? Do we disbelieve him about that because he happens to be a pig? The piece isn't a an attempt to justify his actions in re: his ex wife.
posted by tyllwin at 12:44 PM on March 11 [22 favorites]


What corporations seem to forget is that loyalty is earned, not imposed.

They don't care if you're actually "loyal" or not, they're using the idea as a way to impose psychological control.

I've seen some more conspiracy minded places suggest that the reason places don't give retail/food workers a steady schedule is because it makes it harder for their employees to have other jobs.

And because if you never work with the same people on your shift, you can't organize.
posted by junco at 12:45 PM on March 11 [29 favorites]


jason_steakums: "I've been out of retail for years now and I still don't really trust it when I call in sick and my manager just says "Ok, feel better!" and that's it. The former retail worker part of me thinks that some day I'll be confronted with a list of my sick and vacation days and asked to explain myself or something."

Oh my god yes. I can't bring myself to answer the phone on days when I stay home sick, since there's always this nagging feeling that it's going to be the call telling me that I'm out of a job.
posted by invitapriore at 12:46 PM on March 11 [15 favorites]


I mean, in real life I'd want to hear his side of things

TFA discloses that this was not long after he pled to 2nd degree assault
posted by thelonius at 12:47 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


I worked as an assistant manager at a Rite-Aid in the early 80s. It was in a bad neighborhood (that's gone downhill since, yikes!) in Rochester and I was this naive young man from the suburbs. Only got attacked once by a customer when I wouldn't give him a refund for his wife's L'Eggs pantyhose (only store credit - I was actually standing under the sign that stated the policy). Managers worked a mandatory 50 hour week, no exceptions. If a new store was opening, we would have to work as part of the setup crew getting the store ready. I quit that job to work as lab tech in a electronic component evaluation lab and I've never looked back.

In comparison, my years in food service were much nicer, though I cooked and had very little direct customer contact.
posted by tommasz at 12:47 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


But overtime pay, or some kind of financial reward, apparently was out of the question. So he gave me socks.

The final retail job I had, I started one year in mid-October. As the Christmas season approached, the manager wrote a memo to all that for the holiday season, she needed to know everyone's availability to produce a schedule. I was the last one in the door so I did not feel right making a lot of demands, and my very unritualistic family was only an hour or so away (not the case with most of my co-workers), so I indicated my schedule was pretty free.

I ended up working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

My favourite bit: because I had been there less than three months, provincial labour law said I was not eligible for any kind of holiday pay. However, when I came in to work an overnight shift solo on the 25th, I saw there was an envelope taped up with my name on the front. I opened it an inside was a note from the manager expressing her appreciation for my doing all this. She said she realized I was seeing no holiday pay out of this but to show her appreciation she had included twenty bucks cash and she said I should order in some delivery food for myself.

Of course, it was midnight on Christmas Day: nothing was open. I tried a few places but got recorded greetings saying no go. at 8:00 AM on the 26th the assistant manager came in to take over for me.

"You saw the note from [the manager]? Did you order a pizza?"

"No, nothing was open."

"Okay... can we have the twenty back, then?"

Thus, my Christmas bonus: having twenty bucks dangled in front of me. I might have appreciated socks more.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:50 PM on March 11 [220 favorites]


Whoa. That is incredibly horrible. You win, rb.
posted by Kitteh at 12:52 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


One of the most empowering moments in my life -- "empowering" in a relative sense considering how miserable the job was -- was after I had quit a retail job where I worked 8 PM - 8 AM, five days a week, in a comically shady store for which I also did some data entry and minor-league web stuff.

"Hey, can you come in to fix a few things on the the website?"
"You know I quit like three days ago, right?"
"Yeah, but can you come and take a look at it anyway? Or explain to the new guy how to do it?"
"...no."
posted by griphus at 12:57 PM on March 11 [41 favorites]


I'm convinced that most businesses have your empathy and morality surgically extracted the instant you rise above hourly.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:59 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


TFA discloses that this was not long after he pled to 2nd degree assault

I read the article. And I'd bet that if we were talking to him in person, we'd hear all about accepting a plea to make it go away, not because he was guilty, and how he's worked hard on his issues, and so on. Maybe it would be true, or maybe it would be self-serving excuses. My point is that if I was making a judgement of him as a person, I'd care about listening to him. A judgement on him as a human being requires more knowledge than I have. But I'm only interested in him as an employee. So I don't care about hearing it

Crappy husbands with anger issues are entitled to fair treatment from their employers just like everyone else. It's not just perfect humans that deserve to be treated with respect. Whatever he is, it doesn't make the sports apparel shop less bad. The degree of his scumminess doesn't matter. Pointing out his flaws is just a distraction.
posted by tyllwin at 12:59 PM on March 11 [28 favorites]


And tell me, Holy Zarquon's Singing Fin, where we are to point when we are fired after refusing to work off the clock?

If you work at a company that actually has a policy for that shit, you go to the asshole manager's supervisor and point directly at said asshole. Of course, if they actually have a policy for it then nobody who's willing to pull that should have made it into a hiring/firing position, and if the business doesn't take wage theft seriously then you are in fact fucked. I'm just saying that they're not all that flavor of evil.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:00 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


griphus: "Hey, can you come in to fix a few things on the the website?"
"You know I quit like three days ago, right?"
"Yeah, but can you come and take a look at it anyway? Or explain to the new guy how to do it?"
"...no."


This is when you introduce them to your consulting rate of $large number/hour.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:01 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]


I can only imagine: "You'll have to pay me twice what you were paying me before. That's right: fourteen dollars an hour."
posted by griphus at 1:02 PM on March 11 [50 favorites]


One time, really early in the morning at Logan airport in Boston, I was the first customer at the coffee kiosk while I waited for my flight. The worker behind the counter was very apologetic that I had to wait for the coffee. I responded the way I usually do in those situations: "no worries, I realize it's early and you're just opening up for the day. Take your time!". The guy nearly fell over the counter thanking me for my understanding. Like, uncomfortable-making gushing. I've worked retail and I know how shitty it is; as a result, I treat retail workers with kid gloves. But that was the first time that my approach netted that kind of reaction. It was kind of eye-opening.
posted by LN at 1:03 PM on March 11 [10 favorites]


sorry tyllwin - that seemed directed at you, which seems unfair, as you were responding to the first comment to mention it, I guess.
posted by thelonius at 1:03 PM on March 11


Based on experience, the only person who I would be remotely comfortable taking a complaint about wage theft to would be my union rep.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:04 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


No foul, thelonius. I don't love the guy, but I didn't love all my retail colleagues back in the day either.
posted by tyllwin at 1:06 PM on March 11


Ghostride the Whip: I've become the guy that will jump in when someone's being an asshole to retail staff in front of me and troll them into stomping out in a huff because I always hoped someone would do that for me when I worked retail and they never did.

Bless you for that!

One night at the pizza place where I worked, the local paper's high school sports writer ("Do you know who I am?!" "Why, yes, yes I do: precisely no one of import.") was in a spittle-flecked rage about waiting for a few minutes to pick up his dinner. He shouted at the tiny girl behind the register, Amy, and finished by roaring, "THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!"

My manager, burned-out Nashville musician Frank Hall, stepped up next to her, looked up-up-up at this guy through his little glasses, and drawled, "Not always…"

At that the customer slammed the glass front door so hard we thought it would break, and I thought that Amy was going to kiss Frank.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:07 PM on March 11 [24 favorites]


Speaking of empowering days….picture this…me (as the full time salary which meant 45 hrs a week) and the 3rd key (just under 40 hour manager, no bennies) just spent the last 40 days or so with no manager. By the end if was me and Patrick against the world!
Finally get one in early Nov. I then tell the District Manager…oh yea, my last day is the Fri before Thanksgiving week.
BEST. XMAS. EVER!
posted by ShawnString at 1:07 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


I feel like we'd all be better humans if every person was required to work in a retail/service position for a minimum of two years.

Oh what a beautiful world it would be if it worked this way instead of exactly the opposite- if being treated badly made people less likely to do the same to others, instead of infinitely more likely.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:08 PM on March 11 [13 favorites]


When I worked in food services, I did enjoy the time my boss asked me not to tell anyone about my raise, because I was making more than everyone else there: A mind-blowing $5.75/hour!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:09 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Do we disbelieve him about that because he happens to be a pig?

No, but we wish someone who wasn't a wife-beater would write something, because when people read this, they think, "Man, this guy sounds like a scumbag" and it erases sympathy for him - especially when half his article is devoted to telling us that he's not normally one of those peons working in retail, no, he's special.
posted by corb at 1:09 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


Reading this thread, I just had a little panic attack about not knowing where my name tag is. I haven't worked that fucking stupid job since 2010.
posted by KHAAAN! at 1:11 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]


After college, I did a long stint working at a Kinko's. I ended up a "key op," or key operator, which is the main person running the copy machines and doing jobs. The work itself I really liked. I got to play with these massive copy machines, I did a bit of graphic design work (which got me actual freelance work on the side), and the crew of a typical Kinko's is staffed with really smart and interesting creative types.

Then there were the customers.

I started working on the counter/register position, and boy does that suck. I learned how grown adults will revert to their 3-year-old sense of entitlement and selfishness. And even when customers were ok, it's mentally taxing to be at the beck and call of any random person who decides to pop in on a whim. When I left, my manager asked my why I was quitting, and I told her "because of the customers." She just nodded and smiled.
posted by zardoz at 1:12 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


For those of you who are considering a career or a career stop in retail, or any low skill job here's the big thing. Don't show your smarts. Hide it. Seriously. You can be well spoken and polite, but don't try to save the world for two reasons. One: whatever company you are with will gladly take advantage of you. Two: There's a certain point on the advancement ladder where being smart is a disadvantage. If you are too smart for a job, you might not tow the line, and towing the line is how retail functions. Washing out an asset that can do the job and do it beyond the level needed to be done can be a good idea if you run the risk of that person also asks too many questions. Moreover, even managers in retail are easily replaceable. Be too smart and it can be interpreted you are gunning for management - and as stated before - they need someone who will tow the line.

Ultimately, 'store success' is really determined by the surrounding economic conditions and not from the work by management. Even improvement metrics are really tied more to economic recovery not reality. What that means also is that when a manager of a store says that he started in 2005 and had stellar sales numbers and doesn't understand why his employees can't and don't - well... generally the manager benefited from peak bubble, then 2007/2008 happened, and more than likely the store got a lot of staff cut - so in that sense the current manager probably was a decent performer for back then... well, also following the recession a lot of store managers got cut, and people were promoted into store management (also for less money than the original managers) plus bonuses could be less for 'economic uncertainty' and a whole host of things where 'everyone has to be a team player' and contribute to improving the store...

And oh, just say 'Amazon' and see the look of panic on retail manager's faces... Everything has to be about cutting the cost. And people are cost... And for those of you who don't totally get that. Amazon Fresh will deliver everything from amazon, pick up your dry cleaning, a box of scones from your local bakery, deliver groceries, and drop off your prescription - allegedly all within 24 hours. Ultimately the customer never needs to go into the store again, just some guy that is working off someone else's list.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:13 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


Those of you suggesting that if everyone had to work retail/restaurant shifts at least once in their lives, we'd have better working conditions for everyone have much more faith in humanity than I do. I'm not sure I've seen enough evidence of empathy or mindfulness to believe that--having experienced minimum wage slow death--the general public would be kinder to retail employees or more supportive of worker-beneficial laws, policies and social structures.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:14 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


When I worked in food services, I did enjoy the time my boss asked me not to tell anyone about my raise, because I was making more than everyone else there: A mind-blowing $5.75/hour!

That's one of the more insidious little policies I see in all sorts of jobs, making it an offense to discuss your salary with your coworkers.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:15 PM on March 11 [22 favorites]


As I said before, I dreamed that I was standing near a crowd of prosperous-looking angels, and a policeman took me by the wing and asked if I belonged with them.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Why," said he, "they are the men who hired working-girls, and paid 'em five or six dollars a week to live on. Are you one of the bunch?"

"Not on your immortality," said I. "I'm only the fellow that set fire to an orphan asylum, and murdered a blind man for his pennies."

O. Henry, An Unfinished Story.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:17 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]


And even when it's not an offense, it's just not done. Objective information about compensation? That's how you get unions uncouth!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:17 PM on March 11 [18 favorites]


And even when it's not an offense, it's just not done. Objective information about compensation? That's how you get unions!

It's also very easy to psychologically reinforce, because often you don't want to mention your salary to another coworker and end up looking like a rube who didn't hold out for more.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:19 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


What gets me is that there are people reading this very site who work in retail management. I would love to hear their justifications or defenses of the practices of their companies.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:25 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


There's a certain point on the advancement ladder where being smart is a disadvantage.

That goes for any profession. Smart makes you target Number One, and not just for retail. Just fly under the radar and don't set yourself apart.

Retail is this era's sweat shops -- demeaning and degrading until enough people realize that unions aren't such a bad thing (corporations have their own unions, too and they call them "lobby groups")...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:28 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


> I would love to hear their justifications or defenses of the practices of their companies.

"Head office says I have to do it or I'll get fired."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:28 PM on March 11 [17 favorites]


Anyway, for me, the customers were the best part of the job and the (lack of) money was the worst.

Me, too. I actually would work in retail again in a heart beat if it weren't for the pay.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:28 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


What gets me is that there are people reading this very site who work in retail management. I would love to hear their justifications or defenses of the practices of their companies.

My guess would be endless variations and recursions of I'M COVERING MY OWN ASS.
posted by KHAAAN! at 1:29 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


> Me, too. I actually would work in retail again in a heart beat if it weren't for the pay.

My dad once told me the best job (aside from the pay, which is why he left) he ever had was selling shoes at a kids' shoe store. Me, I couldn't sell water to people in the desert.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:31 PM on March 11


...making it an offense to discuss your salary with your coworkers.

I once worked at a bank where the savings & loan across the street would not cash or deposit their own employees' paychecks. The workers had to come over and cash them with us, even if it meant paying our checking-cashing fee.
posted by ogooglebar at 1:31 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I just want someone to come in here and actually say "we do [x], I feel shitty about it, I've got to keep making people do [x] or I'll get fired."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:33 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


I've been hearing that the next major frontier for automation is retail.

If it succeeds, then on the plus side, there'll be no more crappy retail jobs. On the minus side, there'll be no more crappy retail jobs.
posted by happyroach at 1:34 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


happyroach: Yeah. I think the "self-checkout" registers that are popping up in some stores are the next front in that war.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:36 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


If the self-checkouts are any indication, there won't be no crappy retail jobs, there will be one crappy retail job for every 10 there were before, and you'll only ever interact with customers who are already annoyed because their robot won't scan their item.
posted by RobotHero at 1:38 PM on March 11 [22 favorites]


If I had kids the question of what the hell their generation is going to do for a living would keep me awake at night. There already aren't anywhere near enough jobs (decent or otherwise) to go around, and once they start automating white collar jobs along with fast food and retail...well, you tell me. I guess we're overdue for another world war, so there's that.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:39 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


"Head office says I have to do it or I'll get fired."

Yep. My last retail manager thought the numbers (sales, people hustled into getting store cards, that sort of thing) that grunt employees were expected to hit were ridiculous, but the whole-store targets he was given were just as unrealistic. His weekly scoldings on how none of us were meeting them fell well short of perfunctory.
posted by asperity at 1:39 PM on March 11


...making it an offense to discuss your salary with your coworkers.

I misread this as making it an offense to discuss your slavery with your coworkers. That sounds about right.
posted by chatongriffes at 1:39 PM on March 11 [12 favorites]


I've been hearing that the next major frontier for automation is retail.

What do you think self-checkout is? The last time I (guilty pleasure) went to Ikea, there was ONE employee watching 12 self-checkout stations with a line of about 20 people waiting. Instead of 11 more employees checking people's purchases. I bet not paying 11 or more people pays for the machines - and any minor "shrinkage" theft losses - very quickly.
posted by Dreidl at 1:40 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


My wife loves the show "Undercover Boss." I am amazed that it is news or a spectacle when an executive experiences all the facets of his organization's work, instead of being, you know, simply part of having a good understanding of the business he runs.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:41 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


well, you tell me

We could use the cash from all that extra productivity to guarantee a living wage, and then everything will....oh, hell, I just ruptured my own appendix from laughing too hard.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:41 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


So my wife worked retail for about a decade but was legendarily incapable of passing the psychological screening to make sure you're not a thief because she was too honest.

THIS IS THE FUCKING STORY OF MY EMPLOYMENT LIFE I AM SO ANGRY ABOUT IT ALL I CAN DO IS SPIT AND MUTTER DEAR GOD THOSE STUPID LITTLE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE TESTS SEEM DESIGNED TO MAKE SURE JHARRIS NEVER GETS ANYTHING BETTER THAN DOMINOS.
posted by JHarris at 1:42 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]


If anyone ever again in my life says to me "you got time to lean, you got time to clean" I will punch them right in the motherfucking throat.
posted by desjardins at 1:42 PM on March 11 [53 favorites]


The guy nearly fell over the counter thanking me for my understanding. Like, uncomfortable-making gushing. I've worked retail and I know how shitty it is; as a result, I treat retail workers with kid gloves. But that was the first time that my approach netted that kind of reaction. It was kind of eye-opening.

If you want to get an insight in the soul crushing realities of working life in mostly America, from both sides of the counter, by way of a "humourous" clickbait site: notalwaysright.com and notalwaysworking.com.

Especially the unfiltered sections; also good eye openers about the amount of casual sexism and racism in the average working day.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:43 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


I think Mr. Show captures a little something about job interviews here.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:44 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Guy with cushy right-wing-noise machine job who might have beat his wife hits the skids, realizes that low paying jobs suck, gets new job with "Capitol Hill non-profit", writes tell all about the horrors. Will he use his experience for good or evil? Tune in next week to find out!

Except he was a regular commentator on MSNBC and Current TV who spoke against Mitt Romney. So he had a cushy left-wing-noise machine job, and is a liberal who might have beat his wife.

If you want to hate on him at least don't misrepresent where his politics are just because you may share them. It's right there in the first 5 paragraphs of his piece.
posted by riruro at 1:46 PM on March 11 [16 favorites]


We pretty much have to (successfully) fight for a guaranteed universal minimum income in the next twenty years or so or capital and their robots will feast on our bones.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:50 PM on March 11 [17 favorites]


Ok, take the aspirational growth target of the company, allocate that according to where the share of the business is and adjust for a certain level of quantified change in the dynamics (Online growth by 50%, direct retail growth by 2%, general merch growth by 7% - numbers are from my ass). Now dole out what is fair for the channel to meet the corporate goal (corporate mandates an 8% growth). Now we'll just say that means Online now has to grow by 115%, direct retail has to grow by 6% and general merch has to grow by 11%

So now, these growth numbers are handed down on high to each of those people who are in charge of their repsective businesses, and the cackling from that level of management says ("is the person who came up with these numbers insane?!?") but they tow the line before they allocate out their requirements to their regions and/or their individual stores. Finally the store manager gets hit with a 14% growth target because enough other stores have closed, and they've done economically slightly better than everyone else so they are truly hosed. This in turn, is handed out to individual employees as striated tiers of sales requirements based on the number of hours they work. The whole line, there is someone else to blame...

At the end of the day - the shareholders are to blame. Remember that the next time you shop at a store which your index fund partially owns. Your retirement relies on hosing this guy for hours and labor.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:51 PM on March 11 [16 favorites]


I had a terrific time working at Tower Records, except for the terrible pay (but they did actually give us health insurance). The other retail/food service jobs? Sisyphean pits of despair.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:55 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]



i worked retail a few years as a pt job for extra money and get some discount clothes.

the manager who was very nice, repeatedly said in meetings in the most cheerful way possible, how much they NEEDED us there. if we were sick, it didn't matter if we were throwing up, just come in and we could sit in the backroom untli they found someone to cover for us. (we could also call around to find someone to work for us, but if we couldn't get ahold of anyhone, we couldn't just call the store and say hey i can't come in. you could, but only like once or twice. you could get fired for that.)

i am not even kidding. they actively encouraged people who were ill and likely on medication and shouldn't be driving to come to work and infect other people and possibly cause accidents.

they also would have people drive in incredibly bad weather when everything was shutting down. it was pretty insane.

i worked there for a like a year but i can't imagine hvaing that as a more than 2x per week job. the work was fine, but the man, the employment policies like i mentioned above were just insane.

oh, and we had to wear actual shoes - no sneakers or fancy sneakers (like those coach or nine west ones). you could wears heels, boots, sandals, flats. if your toes were shoeing they needed to nice looking. the problem is that walking on a hard tile floor day long will make your back hurt a lot and running around in those no-support flats or high heels is just the worse.

all the younger girls who worked their FT or almost-FT had seroius lower back pain like ALL the time.
posted by sio42 at 1:58 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


on self checkouts - i feel kind of guilty for using them, but at the grocery store, i can carry the scanner around with me and bag my groceries as i go. it saves me a lot of time.

i had to use a checkout with a person the other day because the handheld scanners were down that day. i honestly couldn't remember the last time i had used the grocery store checkout with an actual person. it felt so foreign to me.

and i even worked at that grocery store chain for like a year and a half in high school, half of that as a cashier.

i am part of the problem apparently.
posted by sio42 at 2:03 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I actually loved working retail. But I was in college, living with my dad, and 23.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:04 PM on March 11


they also would have people drive in incredibly bad weather when everything was shutting down. it was pretty insane.

Fuck the people who make those decisions, (usually the district level, infuriatingly) directly in the nose. The worst part is that nine times out of ten, it's a bad business move - if the weather is so bad that people can't drive, then nobody's coming to your goddamn store, morons. They'd turn more of a profit by staying closed - at least that way you're not paying to staff the store and keep the lights on in the hopes that all three people who pass by are braving the elements to buy shoes, or whatever you stock.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:12 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


on self checkouts - i feel kind of guilty for using them, but at the grocery store, i can carry the scanner around with me and bag my groceries as i go. it saves me a lot of time.

I am philosophically opposed to self-checkout because, hey, I'm doing all the work, but prices haven't gone down. They're outsourcing the work on to me.

On the other hand, the people they have working the registers are SOOO sloooowww. As a former express lane cashier from the east coast, I just..I mean, c'mon, man, two hands when you scan, memorize those PLU codes, send it down the belt, bag it, let's go, let's go!
posted by madajb at 2:13 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


I had a terrific time working at Tower Records, except for the terrible pay (but they did actually give us health insurance). The other retail/food service jobs? Sisyphean pits of despair.

I would have termed my days in retail as Sisyphean, but that implies I got my boulder somewhere near the top. Sigh.

the manager who was very nice, repeatedly said in meetings in the most cheerful way possible, how much they NEEDED us there. if we were sick, it didn't matter if we were throwing up, just come in and we could sit in the backroom untli they found someone to cover for us.

That sounds more progressive than most. I recall being in a staff meeting once where the manager was complaining about comment cards and that our friendliness rating was much lower than he was happy with. He said something to the effect of, "If you are not prepared to greet every customer with genuine friendliness, you should not come to work."

One of my colleagues raised his hand and asked, "Does that mean we can call in gloomy?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:17 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]


That's one of the more insidious little policies I see in all sorts of jobs, making it an offense to discuss your salary with your coworkers.

Not that little-enforced laws necessarily make much difference on the ground, but such policies are illegal in the US for employees who are covered under the National Labor Relations Act (which is most private sector employees—major exceptions are farm workers and workers at some very small companies). The NLRA makes it illegal for employers to punish "concerted activity" taken by workers to address their collective interests, and this has consistently been interpreted to include discussions about pay and working conditions between employees.
posted by enn at 2:18 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


I recently read a truism that the more replaceable you are, the higher the standards you're held.
Retail falls into that category of jobs with a huge hiring pool, which makes the industry subject to a Red Queen's race, where an individual employee has to hustle just to appear adequate.
posted by deathpanels at 2:22 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Reading this thread, I just had a little panic attack about not knowing where my name tag is. I haven't worked that fucking stupid job since 2010.

Luckily my last retail job was in an incredibly poorly run business, with tremendous turn over in the management, so my name-tag interactions went like this:

New General Manager : Chris, why aren't you wearing a name tag?
Me: Nobody ever gave me one.
NGM: Oh, well you need one or we'll start writing you up.
Me: O.k.

Two months later, New General Manager has been fired and replaced by Another New General Manager

Another New General Manager: Chris, why aren't you wearing a name tag?
Me: Nobody ever gave me one.
ANGM: Oh, well you need one or we'll start writing you up.
Me: O.k.

Four Months later
, Another New General Manager has quit\been fired and has been replaced by Yet Another New General Manager

Yet Another New General Manager: Chris, why aren't you wearing a name tag?
Me: Nobody ever gave me one.
YANGM: Oh, well you need one or we'll start writing you up.
Me: O.k.

One Year later My last shift, I've quit because they cut all the hours of the employees who had been there longer than 5 months, and who had been hired at a (slightly) higher play rate.

Head Cashier: You don't have a name tag to turn in do you?
Me: Oh yeah, let me just go get it, it's in my car.

It was the small victories that helped me get through that job.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:27 PM on March 11 [53 favorites]


Wage theft is very poorly enforced in the US. If you have a complaint you had better be ready to wait for up to a year during which you will probably be fired. Why? Well, one reason is simple enough.
The total number of investigators enforcing state minimum-wage and related laws – 659.5, including many who spend time on other issues – is very modest compared to the almost 100 million private-sector employees in the jurisdictions that provided answers to the survey.
...
While a handful of larger states such as California and New York employ dozens of investigators, most states have fewer than 10. Though it’s not universal, a number of states are seeing cutbacks. Most state departments enforcing such legislation also are charged with overseeing other laws as well, and a significant share of their investigators’ efforts go toward other responsibilities.

Zach Schiller and Sarah DeCarlo, INVESTIGATING WAGE THEFT: A SURVEY OF THE STATES (2010)
Even if this wasn't true, the enforcement system does not seem very practical. Enforcing laws that affect workers is a political issue that is far out of the limelight. The opposite may actually be more popular.
posted by Winnemac at 2:28 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


At the last food service job my son was at, it was company policy that, if you were too sick to come in, it was your responsibility to find a co-worker to cover your shift. But, since there was no OT allowed, if the one person you found to cover for you was already at their weekly maximum hours, management would reject the arrangement. In the end, it was easier to go in sick than taking on the grief of finding a replacement. He doesn't work there anymore, thank god.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:35 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


happyroach: Yeah. I think the "self-checkout" registers that are popping up in some stores are the next front in that war.

Actually, my local Shaw's just eliminated all their self-checkouts. Not sure why. Maybe people were stealing; maybe they just wanted to cater to their hipster clientele. Who knows.
posted by Melismata at 2:35 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Wage theft is very poorly enforced in the US.

You sound like you're engaged in a WAR against the JOB CREATORS.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:36 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


I was always amused, though, that it was possible to fail the test for being too honest.
As mentioned in this article, the point of the personality inventory is so the HR robots on the other end of the wire can legally reject your application for any reason whatsoever as long as they have a line in a database somewhere saying that you agreed that you thought about stealing from work sometimes. That's also why these inventories are so obnoxiously repetitive. They're hoping that you will get tired of pushing the right button and will eventually stop paying attention and screw up, which will set the ABLE_TO_REJECT_APPLICATION bit on a row in the PROSPECTIVE_WORKER_DRONE table. It's an engineering problem. They get too many applications for too few positions, so they know that they will have to reject X% of applications, so they must engineer an "interview" process that eliminates X% of applicants without putting the company at risk. It's all about protecting the company from liability while minimizing administrative overhead.
posted by deathpanels at 2:37 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Of course, that also means that if you're willing to lie through your teeth and don't fall for the "do you read medicine labels" tricks, you can up your chances of getting an interview pretty far.

Because that's totally how job applications are supposed to work, right?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:40 PM on March 11


Hah, yes, we have wonderful paper rights under the NRLA. Go ahead and exercise them. I dare you.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:43 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


When I worked at Target, wage theft was called 'time theft', or just 'stealing from the company'. Also, if a 'team member' ate any food in the store for sale before buying it (and going on your mandatory 15 minute break of course), even a single grape, that was grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including ( i.e. default action taken) job termination. The management called that 'grazing' amongst themselves. Let that sink in. Grazing.

So, that might clue you in on where you stand.

They had mandatory staff meetings every morning, they called those 'huddles'. If the name of a fired employee ever happened to come up, they would be described simply as 'no longer being with Target'. As if they caught ebola or something.

Huddles were ended by reciting some stupid cheer, then everyone had to clap their hands. It was the world's most depressing high school pep rally, every single goddamn day.

Anyone else know any corporate retail jargon like these? I collect them. It's a perverse hobby of mine.
posted by KHAAAN! at 2:49 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


BEEP BOOP I AM A PERFECT DRONE BEEP BOOP

At some point I ended up at a K-Mart once with a guy I was sorta friends with, who said he just needed to drop in to fill out a job application. I thought it would be, you know, a job application: name, date of birth, yes I'm legal to work, no I'm not a convicted felon, I worked at here here and here and done. Nope! It was one of those incredibly long test-applications that he kept insisting on answering honestly. I got him halfway through it by pointing out that, no, they're looking for the right answer not the true answer and then begged off because his inability to play the (stupid, rigged) game was giving me anxiety.

Also, my first office job out of retail was working for a temp agency, for the actual agency, not as a temp. I did, however, show up there to sign up as a temp and had to take a few tests. I managed to get somewhere in the top 1% of the database for typing speed and accuracy and did passably well on the "will you make a decent manager" test.

So one of my future coworkers -- a guy I grew to seriously loathe over the next three years -- brings me into a dark little office and asks me if I'd like to work for the company. So, hey, I'm listening.

And he does that thing you see in movies where someone writes a BIG NUMBER on a piece of paper and subtly slides it over to you without saying anything because the number should speak for itself. And he does that. And it says "$10/hr."

(I took the fucking job, too.)
posted by griphus at 3:00 PM on March 11 [59 favorites]


KHAAAN!: "Anyone else know any corporate retail jargon like these? I collect them. It's a perverse hobby of mine."

At the very least, I know that at the St. Louis Galleria Apple store you are initiated by something called a "clap in," where on your arrival on the first day you are greeted outside the store by all the current employees, who are lined up and clapping for you in malicious joy at the tortures that await you at the hands of entitled customers.

The converse "clap out" happens when you leave the store in good standing. Right before you're due to clock out, everyone who isn't you files quietly out of the store in an attempt to surprise you with their cult ritual. My friend came up with a brilliant way to subvert this when he put in his two weeks there, which involved letting everyone line up in anticipation of clapping him out and then leaving through the back fire exit so that the only indication that he was gone forever would be the sound of the alarm ringing. It ended up not happening since he got scheduled to close on his last shift, but I hope someone takes the idea and runs with it.
posted by invitapriore at 3:06 PM on March 11 [12 favorites]


Sadly, I don't think any kind of mandatory retail service (like military service) would improve attitudes. Those who only worked retail while young/forced to would continue to look down on those who worked retail later, and quickly forget what it felt like to be behind the counter.
posted by jb at 3:18 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


I always feel almost guilty by how fondly I remember the two years I spent as a part-time usher/cashier for a General Cinema theater (RIP). Most of the floor managers were cool, some of my coworkers became good friends, and although the general manager was kind of a dick he was usually a fair and reasonable one. There was no degrading "morning pep rally" style corporate nonsense. And for the most part, people are in a good mood when they come to the movies so there weren't even too many asshole customer moments. I've always wondered if I just stumbled into optimal circumstances at that one location, or if being a movie theater peon in general is a pretty good gig. At least for a 20 year old.
posted by usonian at 3:23 PM on March 11


And it says "$10/hr."
(I took the fucking job, too.)


A lot of people would walk over their grandmother to snag a $10/hr job these days.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:31 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


This is what America has come to - i.e. the worker as drone. "Just show up on time; do your job; and, shutup!" I even see this in the tech sector for lower-paying jobs.

And it's not just retail/hospitality/tech sector, as we saw in the Chris Kluwe thread from several months ago, it's professional sports as well. It's all over the place.

Even in most white collar jobs I've worked, the management ends up giving those of us beneath the top tier some variant on the speech the colonel gave to Pvt Joker in Full Metal Jacket: How bout getting with the program? Why don't you jump on the team and come on in for the big win? All we ever ask of our empl -- our associates/partners/shareholders -- is that they obey upper management's commands as they would the Word of God" = Just show up on time; do your job; and shutup!
posted by lord_wolf at 3:33 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Sadly, I don't think any kind of mandatory retail service (like military service) would improve attitudes. Those who only worked retail while young/forced to would continue to look down on those who worked retail later, and quickly forget what it felt like to be behind the counter.

At my fast food job I definitely sensed different attitudes depending on your age and class. The financially stable young guy applying to law school took the corporate slogans more seriously than those who needed the job to get by.

I'm closer the former guy in class, and when I initially started the job I had a certain enthusiasm for my work that wore away when I realized I was becoming a standard for the manager to compare my coworkers to in order to belittle them. By the time I quit, I was barely smiling and doing everything a lot slower.

When you've got no other worries it's really easy to treat these shitty jobs with your 110%, but for the people working two or three jobs that kind of demanded enthusiasm is insane.
posted by gorbweaver at 3:37 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


May I suggest the term "poverpiphany" to cover this kind of narrative?
posted by Decimask at 3:38 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


The total number of investigators enforcing state minimum-wage and related laws – 659.5

So there's half an investigator out there somewhere?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:40 PM on March 11


The thing that struck me is how much of a veiled threat this piece is--for anyone working a cushy white collar job.
posted by ropeladder at 3:45 PM on March 11 [15 favorites]


I had a certain enthusiasm for my work that wore away when I realized I was becoming a standard for the manager to compare my coworkers to in order to belittle them.

What is it about retail/food service management that seems to attract the worst assholes? For every story of a manager who actually treats their crew with respect, there seems to be dozens more who are utter psychopaths. Are they taught to be pricks in management orientation, do management jobs simply attract that sort, or does the job make you an asshole eventually?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:55 PM on March 11


> Are they taught to be pricks in management orientation, do management jobs simply attract that sort, or does the job make you an asshole eventually?

Yes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:03 PM on March 11 [12 favorites]


Around the turn of the century (I love saying that) I had a part-time retail job selling office furniture at a major chain with "Max" in the name. What made it bearable was the fact that I had a full-time factory job that paid $20/hr and I could walk away at any time. Jacket pat down? Yeah, right. Put me on the schedule on a day I said I wouldn't work? Guess you're going to be short handed that day. I can't imagine being at the mercy at some of the petty assholes that work retail management. My favorite policy was that they would pay you $300 for snitching out co-workers for stealing - even for eating a candy bar off the impulse buy rack by the registers. I've been unemployed since December and I haven't even considered retail as an option.
posted by MikeMc at 4:04 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Are they taught to be pricks in management orientation, do management jobs simply attract that sort, or does the job make you an asshole eventually?

I think it's probably that if you have that combination of asshole traits, you can get ahead in the world, but not very far ahead - about as far as retail management before you hit your ceiling. Being happy to step on other people often only gets you a little way if you're not bringing much else to the table.
posted by anonymisc at 4:06 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


OK, so you hate this. Any rational person should hate this. So what are you going to do about it?

It's strange and sad how Americans have been programmed against unions. I talk to people with the most miserable jobs who are vehemently anti-union. Do they feel that they are personally inferior or have committed some crime in order to be condemned to such a terrible fate?

If America had strong unions and strong worker's rights, this sort of garbage would not be possible. But almost all Americans vote for one of two political parties - the Democrats, who are uninterested in either unions or worker's rights, or the Republicans, who are actively hostile to them. As long as this keeps happening, retail workers are going to continue to have increasingly miserable lives.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:13 PM on March 11 [38 favorites]


I am this guy, minus the anger issues and the managing to escape six months later bit. I'm 50; I got laid off in 2010 from my nice white collar creative interesting nonprofit job and. . and. . eventually the unemployment ran out. I live in a hipster tourist town where an apparently infinite supply of young talented people are desperate to live. They will work for very little. Their health insurance is cheap and they look good. Me, not so much. I took a retail job in desperation in 2011 and I don't think I'll ever be able to move out of it now. Maybe a miracle will occur; maybe not. I have mostly stopped thinking about it.

The thing is, I mostly really like my job. It's a bookstore; I'm good at it; I like my coworkers (we will not necessarily classify the manager or the owners as coworkers) and it's small enough where although they are trying hard to turn it into big box retail hell, they haven't entirely succeeded yet. I get health insurance and ten paid days off a year - for Europeans, that means ten period, for anything, including sick days or national holidays, we don't get those - and I make $11 an hour now and have just been promoted to Fiction Director, which is my favorite title I have ever had. No, I am not allowed to sit down at all for eight or more hours a day, five days a week. Yes, I have to clock out for my 1/2 hour lunch. No, I will never have two days off in a row again and I, like jonmc, beg you please, please never to say to a retail worker, have a nice weekend! Or have a nice holiday! We don't get those. But in some ways I honestly, genuinely love my job.

But. $11 an hour doesn't pay your bills. I used to think I was poor because I worked for nonprofits but now I have discovered what poor really means and it is not pretty. Somebody upthread was saying, well, their mom worked retail for years and they never realized how poor they must have been - they probably weren't. People were paid more back in the day but now? Forget it. Not to mention that wages don't go up but expenses just keep on rising. You can't make it in retail anymore, if indeed you ever could - and I think you could; one of my coworkers has been in retail for FORTY YEARS - yes, wrap your brain around that - and she's making less now than she ever did in the eighties or nineties. It is not so much that retail is awful, although it indeed is in many ways, as it is that the system that is making the poor get poorer and the rich get richer is utterly and essentially flawed, as Pearl S. Buck noted back in 1931 (I told you I was good at my job.) The only question is, will there be a way? Or have they gotten smart enough now to prevent it?
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:17 PM on March 11 [55 favorites]


The management called that 'grazing' amongst themselves. Let that sink in. Grazing.

"Grazing "was a common term when I worked in a grocery store 25 years ago.
It perfectly described the people who would circulate through the grocery store and eat a grape here, a handful from the bulk bins there, maybe a little bit from the bakery.

I'm not saying your managers weren't jerks, but I bet one of them worked in the grocery business at some point.
posted by madajb at 4:19 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


It's strange and sad how Americans have been programmed against unions. I talk to people with the most miserable jobs who are vehemently anti-union. Do they feel that they are personally inferior or have committed some crime in order to be condemned to such a terrible fate?

If America had strong unions and strong worker's rights, this sort of garbage would not be possible. But almost all Americans vote for one of two political parties - the Democrats, who are uninterested in either unions or worker's rights, or the Republicans, who are actively hostile to them. As long as this keeps happening, retail workers are going to continue to have increasingly miserable lives.


The very strangest thing about it, is how retail and services is one of the few arenas of employment where organized labor, and especially a strong regulatory regimen stand the best chance of success, because there is no chance at the go-to pushback from the employer of "we'll outsource the jobs to country X". I mean, it's like plumbers - they gotta be here. You can't outsource your waiter or retail person to China or wherever. So I don't understand the reluctance to police abusive asshole corporations like Walmart with strong protections of workers. Regulate them and unionize them. If they'd rather close shop altogether than treat their workers humanely, they can go ahead and leave - there should be plenty of retailers to take their place (Costco etc.).

We've got these guys by the shorthairs. It is a political failure (and corruption) on a gigantic scale that we can't get this sorted out, when all the power is on our side.
posted by VikingSword at 4:27 PM on March 11 [17 favorites]


I get health insurance and ten paid days off a year - for Europeans, that means ten period, for anything, including sick days or national holidays, we don't get those

SIGH. My hottest prospect at the moment is a 1 year contract position at a locally based Fortune 500 company, no health insurance, no paid days off. I wonder which is better, lower pay with bennies or higher pay without? Anyway, I have an interview tomorrow and if I get offered the position I'll take it even though it pays 20% less than my last job. Such is the way of things I guess.
posted by MikeMc at 4:29 PM on March 11


I'm not anti-union. I've had the misfortune to be born and live my life in 'right to work' states. The only way I see unions getting anything like real power again, at least in my neck of the woods, will be to go through a similar violent gauntlet that factory workers went through in the early decades of the 20th century. Things like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Matewan massacre, to name a couple.

It's hard to have the stamina for something that won't benefit you for decades, if at all, that might very well get you blacklisted or killed, or put your loved ones in harm's way.
posted by KHAAAN! at 4:31 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


Are they taught to be pricks in management orientation, do management jobs simply attract that sort, or does the job make you an asshole eventually?

I have this theory that the culture of an institution self replicates. Like if your boss is replaced, the new boss will eventually be turned into the old boss just by virtue of being surrounded by all the same people and same structures on both sides of the organizational chart.

A person with no managerial experience is promoted to manager. They're maybe given a couple of hours of training. When they start managing, the only real example of management they have to base their behavior on was the previous manager. Presumably, a decent percentage of people up the ladder were where your current manager is and they're the ones the previous manager was using as an example.

Even if you start in a management position excited and determined to do things differently, you're not going to be given the tools or support to do them differently. You're going to get top down edicts, contradictory orders and vague threats to your job if things don't improve/change/whatever.

To whit, if the only tool you have is abject humiliation, every problem looks like a non-unionized employee.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:32 PM on March 11 [10 favorites]


All I know is, the one management course I had to take at school was mostly about how to manipulate people into doing what you want them to do.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:37 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


We pretty much have to (successfully) fight for a guaranteed universal minimum income in the next twenty years or so or capital and their robots will feast on our bones

I think this would be the best way to go, yeah. It seems silly to _not_ automate a job that most people don't like just to give someone busywork. I'd much rather just pay everyone a minimum (liveable) amount, then you can automate what you want without putting people on the streets, and there is a lot fewer collective hours spent on jobs for the sake of jobs.

But I think unemployment will have to get a lot worse first before this has any chance, sadly.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:38 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Re: corporate jargon. Not retail, but relevant.

I was privvy to a white collar corporate orientation recently and was baffled by some of the terminology. This was by far the best: I've never gotten over 'Personnel' being replaced with 'Human Resources,' and now this company has replaced that with 'Human Capital.'

There seemed to be no recognition in the room amongst the newly hired that they were something to be spent or traded for valuable goods. They probably just felt lucky that 'Human' hadn't been dropped yet...
posted by rock swoon has no past at 4:45 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


A little dated, but still very much to the point: We Can't Make It Here Anymore.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:59 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


I have this theory that the culture of an institution self replicates.

That and it seems to be reciprocal.

I've seen grocery store managers flipping out over minutiae and you have to wonder if that's been trained into them from climbing through a system that demands dehumanization or they started life unable to cope or the type of person who can get bent into that shape is the type that gets that job.


Even if you start in a management position excited and determined to do things differently, you're not going to be given the tools or support to do them differently. You're going to get top down edicts, contradictory orders and vague threats to your job if things don't improve/change/whatever.


Like playing Paranoia.

It is a political failure (and corruption) on a gigantic scale that we can't get this sorted out, when all the power is on our side.

And practical necessity. How can you sell stuff when people can't afford to buy it? I'm no businessman, but I'd think there's gotta be an endpoint there somewhere where no one's getting paid because no one's coming to the store because no one's getting paid because no one's coming to the store because ...
posted by Smedleyman at 5:00 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


where are the managers in this thread?!

Seriously, this thread is an after-hours bitch session among workers right now. But "workers" doesn't begin to describe the full demographic represented on this site. Why aren't there people here saying "I am a manager at name of store not disclosed and my take on the situation is ______"? Why are we talking about what might hypothetically motivate managers in the abstract? Why aren't any of the actual real concrete managers here giving first-person narratives to match all the worker narratives we've been seeing?

Where are you guys? Why so silent?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:07 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]


I'm feeling a little shaky now thinking back to what must have been a panic attack at a retail job in a national office supply store nearly 15 years ago. The store closed at 9:00, it was a Saturday night and I'm sure that I had plans after my shift ended. At 8:59 pm, a couple walked through the doors and got two (2!) carts and proceeded to spend the next hour browsing through all of the aisles and filling up both carts. The manager sent the entire staff home, but me, as I was the only cashier that night. Once they finally arrived at the check-out lane, they proceeded to ask for a price check on the majority of the items from both carts. Each time that they questioned the price, the manger would have to run back to whatever spot it was located and bring the shelf tag up to compare to what the register was displaying. I felt like I was going to break down and cry. We were there for what felt like an eternity, the store long-closed by this time. I eventually just walked away from the register and straight back to the break room. I didn't know if I was going to cry or scream from frustration. The customers looked bewildered, like they couldn't imagine that a 21 year old might have something else to do after closing hours on a Saturday night. The manager ran back to get me, but ended up saying that she would finish ringing them up. I think she could see that I was going to lose it.

For the most part, this job was ok-but the customer's sense of entitlement, that they were inherently better than you somehow was soul-crushing.
posted by JennyJupiter at 5:07 PM on March 11 [29 favorites]


I try to never go to a restaurant half an hour before closing because of that sort of thing.

People don't understand that you have to do all this shit to actually close once the last customer leaves, like the cash, and vacuum, or whatever. You don't just turn out the lights and leave.
posted by sio42 at 5:22 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


KHAAAN!: The management called that 'grazing' amongst themselves. Let that sink in. Grazing.

"For it is written in the Law of Moses: 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is it about oxen that God is concerned?"
1 Cor 9:9
posted by pseudonick at 5:24 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Where are you guys? Why so silent?

My situation wasn't your standard corporate retail management but hey sup
posted by griphus at 5:26 PM on March 11


The thing is, compared to the thick description from the workers on this thread,
If anything, I learned that the sort of mindset you need to actually run a successful retail is possibly the diametric opposite of the mindset you need to not be a total shit to your employees.
is, well, a little detail-poor to say the least. I'd love it if you (or others) could elaborate on how and why things appear to be this way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:36 PM on March 11


I'm an MBA. I work in a white collar environment though I can speak to what's taught in school.

My MBA program spent a lot of time talking about how theory X treatment of employees tends to blow up in your face because treating people decently and with respect (including appropriate pay for the work) meant they would be better employees than standing over them with a whip. There was a lot of things with which I didn't agree, including the idea that if managers were fair and respectful then employees wouldn't need unions, but on the whole the consensus indicates that (SHOCK!) the golden rule is not just for Sunday school. Treat people well and get rid of jerks and you will have a pleasant and productive workplace.

But given some of my experiences with other managers I doubt many MBAs were listening all that attentively, even assuming (a huge assumption if any of the ads I've seen for retail management are accurate) the people doing management in retail have that theoretical background.

They probably don't read their medication instructions, either.
posted by winna at 5:41 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


-Ephemeral Employment
-Groups Use Cash Prizes To Encourage Saving
"At a basic level, people need savings to get them through even the smallest of financial shocks or their life just goes into total chaos and catastrophe," Smith-Ramani says.

Just one unexpected bill, she says, can set things off.

"Your car breaks down. You can't pay for it. You can't access other credit. Your family can't help you. How are you going to get to work?," she says, adding that could then lead to loss of a job.

But getting people with so little money to save can be a challenge.

"I need every penny, I need every penny, " says Baltimore truck driver Wilbert Braxton, who's waiting for free tax help at a site run by the Baltimore CASH Campaign (the acronym stands for Creating Assets, Savings and Hope). He says he tries to save money, but always needs it before too long.

"Bills, bills, and bills. You know, that's my life. I work and pay bills. I got two kids in college. They need everything. You know, loans have to be paid back," he says, adding that he also has car payments to make.
-This is what a job in the U.S.'s new manufacturing industry looks like (via)
-The Fed's next focus is on wages [1,2,3]
-Obama's Tax-Credit Boost Plan Refocuses Poverty Debate
-Labor Market Spider Chart
-Japan's Wages Mask Rise of Hottest Job Market Since 70s: "Wage rises would help insulate households against those cost-of-living increases, as well as encourage companies to keep boosting prices -- a dynamic that Abe is extolling as annual compensation talks with major employers conclude this month. He said in a December interview that he wants employers to increase pay by more than the pace of inflation."
posted by kliuless at 5:43 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Basically — and I apologize for hectoring here — I believe you when you say "the sort of mindset you need to actually run a successful retail is possibly the diametric opposite of the mindset you need to not be a total shit to your employees."

But let's say I didn't believe you. What story would you tell to convince me?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:06 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, brainwashing mission statements and delusional managerial pep-talks have been a recurring theme in basically every job I have ever held. Whether it's a big-box manager in the store room booming on about some hollow sales objective, or an executive a hundred miles away via conference room audio equipment, everybody has to some kool-aid they would like you to drink.
posted by deathpanels at 6:21 PM on March 11


My MBA program spent a lot of time talking about how theory X treatment of employees tends to blow up in your face because treating people decently and with respect (including appropriate pay for the work) meant they would be better employees than standing over them with a whip.

I would like to float two contrarian ideas.

Contrarian idea 1: Perhaps this is not about Theory X / Theory Y, but instead about retail under capitalism as practiced in America only being profitable when run on the basis of hyperexploitation of labor. The appropriate model here is possibly less about being profitable through nurturing partnerships with employees, and more about being profitable through harvesting their value as interchangeable widgets.

Contrarian idea 2: Alternately, perhaps the pleasure, or at least release of frustration, that one can derive through being tyrannical over people who are too socially weak to resist is itself a positive good for those experiencing it. If this is the case, then this at least partially explains why management practices involve what seems much like deliberate humiliation, deliberate sadism, and elaborate dominance/submission rituals. Perhaps we should be viewing the employer/employee relationship in the stories we've seen related here on this thread as being something akin to, say, domestic abuse, rather than as being directly related to conflicting theories of how to make a business most profitable.

I don't believe either of these contrarian ideas, exactly. I mean, not entirely. But I'm not sure why I shouldn't.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:24 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


But let's say I didn't believe you. What story would you tell to convince me?

Ok well now that I am done having dinner: basically I worked on a few blocks of mostly non-chain retail stores that are (sigh, were) pretty renowned for having such stores. And they all had the same structure: owners, head managers, assistant managers, clerks. As a manager, I minded the books, ordered clerks around, made the schedule, hired people, fired people, ordered stock, etc. The owners set the prices, set wages, paid people.

The owners of the non-chain were all the same almost to a T: cutthroat, tax-dodging, miserly, wage-withholding, vendor-not-paying, overworking, etc. And even considering that, considering they bled every stone they could, it wasn't enough. Most of these stores are out of business now, not because the owners didn't know how to run a business, but because even being as cut-throat as they were wasn't enough to keep a store open with every landlord raising rents every year by occasionally hundreds of percent (i.e. thousands of dollars.)

I've run the numbers more than a few times. I have literally no idea how a storefront boutique stays in business in Manhattan without catering directly to the sort of people who don't care how much they spend when they walk in a store because anything save for a boat or diamond-studded Rolex is a drop in the bucket. Of all the shady-ass shit I saw the owners do, only some of it was done out of spite and miserliness and a whole lot of it was done in what, in retrospect, was desperation.

And I can't do that shit. I can't say "fuck the IRS, everyone gets paid in cash here" or "well, you worked here for a week and you were terrible at your job so fuck you no money." Or "hey, guess how many hours straight you're working today: eighteen!" Or "hey sorry vendor I don't feel like paying you but thanks for the gear." Or whatever. The sort of mindset that can tolerate that in stride and keep going isn't the same mindset that gives everyone their fair break. God knows I had to be fucking exceptional at my job -- including being an asshole when I didn't want to be -- to be treated like a person by the owners.
posted by griphus at 6:26 PM on March 11 [21 favorites]


I worked at a chain supermarket during college. One of the things they did during the new hire training was instruct us on what to say if some nefarious type sidled up to us and tried to suggest we should unionize. Our prepared response was something like "Oh, no, there's no need, the supermarket treats us just fine, it's like a big family and we wouldn't want to disrupt that." When bringing out groceries to someone's car, we had to refuse tips in a similar, pre-scripted manner. Something about the satisfaction of helping someone being its own reward or whatever.

We were supposed to get reviews every six months with the promises of a raise if we were doing good. There was also the policy that the raise was effective the date of your actual hiring anniversary so if they were late with the reviews you got a nice chunk of retro pay.

They were late with my third review. I had done very well that six-month period because I really needed the raise. Every time I asked about my review, however, I was told they had a lot to get through and mine would come eventually. Several weeks turned into four whole months and I became extremely discouraged about the entire job. A new assistant manager came in who second-guessed everything I did. We did not get along. He had me work a six-hour shift on New Year's Eve which ended at 11:30 pm, then had me come in for another eight-hour shift at 6:00 am New Year's Day. I'm pretty sure that violates a few labor laws but I was nineteen at the time and had no idea how this real world worked.

You see where this going: when management finally got around to my review, big surprise, they denied me the raise and four months of delicious retro pay based on "my recent performance." The argument that my performance review was supposed to cover a period that had ended four months ago fell on ignorant ears. The assistant manager even had the gall to say "I hope you've learned something from all of this." Indeed: I learned that management will out and out lie to you to save money.

A few weeks later I came in five minutes before my noon-to-nine shift and left a note on the manager's desk that read "As of 11:59 am I no longer work for $SUPERMARKET. Here is my apron and nametag. Goodbye." The assistant manager was over at the customer service desk trying to cherry-pick winning scratch tickets based on their serial numbers. (He had a System, you see. They all have Systems.) He loudly asked me why the hell was I still wearing street clothes. I walked by him without saying a word. It may not have been a "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you're cool, fuck you, I'm out" moment, but it felt just as satisfying.

No regrets. None whatsofuckingever.
posted by Spatch at 6:29 PM on March 11 [24 favorites]


Ah, screw it, this is the part of the thread where I rant like a crazy person. I'ma go full Orwell.

So. There's this bit in 1984, I think it's in the first third somewhere, where Winston muses at length about how even though he personally hasn't experienced anything better, and no one he's ever talked to has ever given any sign of having ever experienced anything better, and even though it's flat heresy to even think that anything has ever been anything better than it is, nevertheless he could feel deep in his bones that absolutely everyone was more miserable than they should be. Basically, that people weren't meant to live like they were living, and that the deep-down feeling of total dissatisfaction that he had indicated in a way that it must have been better for people somewhen else.

I've got a bit of this feeling right now.1 Management has this feeling. I'm not sure who doesn't have this feeling. The landlord class? Are they the ones who are happy with all of this?

1: What's more, I've got it even though things are going rather well for me, compared to how they're going for most Americans.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:37 PM on March 11 [13 favorites]


God knows I had to be fucking exceptional at my job -- including being an asshole when I didn't want to be -- to be treated like a person by the owners.

It sounds to me like you worked for assholes. If they can't handle running a business and without treating their employees like that, they shouldn't run one, and the world is better off without their "job creation".

Manhattan is certainly an extreme case, but I don't think it has to be that way. I worked retail in college, at an independent bookstore, and the owners were great, the manager was great, we got paid well (for retail), we got nice holiday bonuses, you got the shifts you asked for and nobody gave a shit if you took time off, if you had a good reason. The only major difference from other retail jobs I've seen is that the owners weren't assholes and were content making a comfortable middle-class living doing something they liked, unlike a lot of delusional retail owners I've seen who think they deserve to make a fortune and will fuck over whoever they can to try to get it.
posted by junco at 6:41 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


And it's not just retail/hospitality/tech sector, as we saw in the Chris Kluwe thread from several months ago, it's professional sports as well. It's all over the place.

It is for sure. I worked as a server for years, as well as in shitty, low-paying jobs. My job now is extremely cushy by comparison and I don't forget that. Part of being in the job I have now is I have the privilege to fight back at some of this in small ways. For example, I rarely work more than 40 hours per week (I'm salaried). If it's a one-off thing, then I have no problem with it. But I absolutely will not work 10 hour days every day and come in on weekends because my company wants me to do the work of two people so they can save money on wages. A lot of my co-workers do regularly come in on weekends and I encourage them to do the same. Not only is it allowing the company to save money on wages by doubling existing workers workloads, but it also devalues the work of the employees who do just work normal hours and makes them look bad, thus normalizing ever longer workweeks. While I am fortunate enough to have the flexibility to work a lot longer hours if I wanted to, a lot of people don't - especially people with children - and me working long hours to finish work that is just too much for one person to do within realistic hours jeopardizes the jobs of people who don't have the choice or flexibility that I do.

I also don't leave any of my vacation days unused, for much of the same reason. I am entitled to them and I take them. If the work that needs to be done can't usually get done within a normal workweek and taking the vacation time that the company has provided me, that's the company's problem. They need to plan for this shit and not make it the employee's problem. Maybe hire more people? It's not like companies aren't making record profits lately.

I also don't check email outside of work. Same reason.

I know a lot of people don't have the same options I do. The fact that I work for a large company that gives lip service to work-life balance helps me to be able to do this. I also make sure I know my company policy and procedures very well. So when my manager, for example, tries to pressure me into setting some vague, unverifiable annual targets for myself, I can point to the HR manual that says that our targets must be measurable and how they are measured must be defined. I've been on both sides of this. I've been the employee who gets disciplined for returning from my half hour lunch break one minute late, I've been the person who has to sit and take being demeaned and humiliated with silence and I've been the employee who can push back at the system. Right now I'm very fortunate in that I can push back. I work alongside people who don't have that luxury. I hope that everyone who can, will push back at the low-level bullying and microaggressions that we have to deal with every day from tyrannical managers/companies by not playing along, because I'm hopeful that things are (slowly) starting to change for the better. I'm seeing encouraging signs, anyway.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:56 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick,
Sorry to rain on your parade, but I have a feeling that no one who is a "manager" will ever admit to treating their underlings poorly. They all have rationalizations and reasons as to why they might behave in any unfortunate manner to someone, because humans have this uncanny ability to rationalize away any behavior, especially if that behavior might be seen as them behaving badly. We are all heroes in our own stories, and our actions are beyond reproach, as heroes never do anything evil, and if they do accidentally do something evil, it's because someone else was being more evil and forced them to do it.

The stories we all tell ourselves about ourselves is almost never about how awesome it is to be evil to other people. It is how we are heroes for treating others the way we treat them. We are always righteous, even when objectively wrong. For every evil actions in the world, there is a rationalized thought that the action was good and right.
posted by daq at 7:00 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


The summer after my freshman year in college, I took a job working as a cashier at a gas station/towing service that was widely reviled around the town I was in for aggressively towing people who were parked illegally and impounding the vehicles in the private lot out in back of the gas station. But it was close to the interstate, so even if locals wouldn't buy their gas there, the tourists would.

They gave me 3-11pm shifts Wednesday through Friday and 7am-3pm on the weekend, meaning I had exactly 8 hours between shifts Friday night and Saturday morning. One Saturday one of the tow truck drivers came in chuckling about how many people's cars he had taken to the lot that night. It was my job to take the money of the irritated towees who filed through all that day.

As a side perk, I sold myself six-packs of beer out of the cooler when no one else was around. The last few weeks I was there, they brought in an even younger guy (fresh out of high school) to work the full-service gas tanks. After a week or two I offered to sell him beer but he said "It's cool, but I've been stealing it since I got here." Honestly he was kind of a dick but there was no way I would have ratted on him. Looking back on it I would have taken more beer.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:01 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


If they can't handle running a business and without treating their employees like that, they shouldn't run one, and the world is better off without their "job creation".

The problem is that in certain cases, like Manhattan is or was, the ones that do act like that thrive, and because they thrive they set the precedent for behavior. Customers, who pay the money that pays the rent and the bills and the wages, certainly don't have enough information to not patronize a store run by an asshole.

In a lot of ways, in the sort of retail I worked, it was a zero-sum-game with the amount of money people are willing to spend. So if you're netting 150% of the mean because you're an asshole, a good chunk (if not all) of that 50% is coming out the pocket of your competition. And by the time I got there, basically everyone store owner was an asshole. It hadn't always been like that, I'd heard, but it certainly was toward the end.

And I mean, working for years on a block full of stores, you get to know a lot of people, and you hang out in the same bars, and people hop stores, and you exchange stories and, at the end of the day, most of us worked for assholes.
posted by griphus at 7:02 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]



This thread has made me feel physically ill. Recently because of life I had to move and get a job. Ended up in retail and minimum wage because my skills and experience just don't match up with what's available around here. As far as retail goes, the actual job part it's pretty good and I have been able to do some project management work in another part of the company one day week. It's not horrible but the thought of doing it long term is just the most depressing thing. This thread brings up the fear that for some reason I will lose this job and end up in another retail job that would be way worse. I feel sick just thinking about the possibility.

In my off hours I'm working really damn hard to learn some new skills which will hopefully lead to a more interesting, better paid, non drone job. This thread just makes me feel more motivated to keep at it.
posted by Jalliah at 7:05 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


fucking hell this thread is depressing
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 7:07 PM on March 11 [12 favorites]


>KHAAAN!: The management called that 'grazing' amongst themselves. Let that sink in. Grazing.

"For it is written in the Law of Moses: 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is it about oxen that God is concerned?" 1 Cor 9:9


For about three years bracketing the end of high school and the start of university, I worked as a cashier for a family that owned a smoke and gift shop / variety store in Scarborough. They didn't just permit me and the other teens who worked there to graze, they encouraged it. Have some pop! Want a chocolate bar? Go ahead! We could even (carefully) read magazines from the shelf while things were slow and even bring them home as long as they came back promptly and in good condition.

I got paid only minimum wage (in cash) for 12-15 hours a week, but extra hours were available on Easter Sunday and Mothers' Day, when they sold even more plants and flowers than usual. They paid small but appreciated Christmas bonuses, and even took us all out to my first ever karaoke bar one year instead of the cash bonus. They trusted me enough to work some Sundays completely on my own, opening and closing, while they got a rare day of rest from their usual schedule.

I left after three years only because I needed to earn more money in university. They were really nice people and I hope they continued to do well and that everyone who worked for them was as happy as I was.

(I know I got lucky and that a small family business != chain store nightmares. Just speaking up for those decent business owners who recognize the value of the people working for them.)
posted by maudlin at 7:09 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


I don't particularly think his complaints are anything unusual... Source: I spent several months in a supermarket in Australia while looking for a cushy white collar job.

He spends a fair bit of time complaining about loss prevention measures. Shrinkage is a big thing in retail, with some estimates in the article putting the cost per household in the US to be $296 per year. Literally tens of billions of dollars of goods are stolen per year, half by the customers, but fully a quarter by the employees themselves. Many people underestimate how much theft goes on, which is why loss prevention measures seem like such a draconian measure.

In our store, employees had to stow all their belongings in a locker, and show up with only the uniforms on their backs. We literally had nothing on us - not even our wallets or mobile phones - so there was no way to steal even a cent or a grape without being easily detected.

Efficiency was measured by the average number of seconds per item scanned, your weekly score got printed on a chart, and there were regular tests where you had to quickly identify exactly which of the 6 varieties of apple was or something, which was sometimes made harder by mutant looking varieties appearing on the test...

I do think that strict labour laws and unions helped ensure much better working conditions. In fact the union strictly enforces the rule where employees have to be paid for ALL time on the clock, which creates a rather interesting scramble every night where the store closes at 9pm, but all employees must clock out at 9.15pm. If you clock out 5 minutes late the store has to pay you 5 minutes at overtime rates, which creates a lot of grief for your manager who has now blown his budget. This leads to a situation where your manager is literally kicking your ass out the store at 9.15pm, but you need to have been able to finish the store closing procedures by then - getting all the customers out, locking up all cabinets and entrances, cleaning your station, getting your cash registers signed and cross checked, etc... all the while also serving the customers who're still there. (a store closing at 9pm means no more "new" customers can enter... the ones inside are still browsing and buying). And if you can't do it all by 9.15pm your manager will probably have to find someone else who can.

I had a pretty decent time, all in all. It's hard work. It's certainly given me a good appreciation for everyone who works in retail. It's certainly better than being a dishwasher, which I did for awhile.
posted by xdvesper at 7:11 PM on March 11


How are we gonna organize against the assholes? Because, uh, it seems like we gotta. For my entire lifetime the assholes have been getting more and more vile.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:11 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


Why aren't there people here saying "I am a manager at name of store not disclosed and my take on the situation is ______"?

I never worked retail, never managed retail. But I was a non-commissioned officer - in many ways a "manager" for several years in the military, which, the more I read this thread, sounds a lot like retail (Except for, you know, the killing people. And we had healthcare.). It's not a perfect comparison, but if anything I can say will help, I'm there.

I tried to be the best NCO that I could, and in areas where I had leeway, I would try to cut some slack. But I absolutely would enforce trivial, tiny rules. And it very rarely was "because my superiors would come down on me." My superiors pretty much trusted me to do what I needed to. I just had to get results.

But I firmly, at the time, believed that by enforcing discipline in small, tiny stuff, it would keep the big stuff hanging together. And this is what most people believed. If people were worried about whether their hat was positioned in the right way, they would be downright terrified of not showing up for the fight. Most of us didn't really care about the little stuff, really. It was just an indicator - like a canary in the coal mine. If Joe Shmuckatelli is showing up five minutes late, it means something's wrong. Maybe Joe is losing his motivation. Maybe Joe is about to work up to something big that might actually be a problem.

Now, because the military is different than retail, for me, if Joe started breaking the little rules and something was wrong with Joe, it meant not that Joe was in big, big trouble, but more that it was my job to figure out what was wrong with Joe and how to get him back to his best. We had the option of NJP - which could take people's pay - but usually saved that for actual real problems.

The other thing, though, looking back - you judge yourself by the standards of the people you see. I didn't judge myself by some arbitrary standard, but by "Am I treating my people better than the other NCOs?" Which means if we're all doing shitty stuff, even the people who want to make it better may not know they're doing shitty stuff, and may not know how to make it better.

So, yeah, in retrospect, except for the combat, the lack of rights, and the long hours, retail is actually worse than the military.
posted by corb at 7:14 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]


* "Are they taught to be pricks in management orientation, do management jobs simply attract that sort, or does the job make you an asshole eventually?" "Yes."

Power corrupts absolutely. Every time I get sick of being a peon, I remind myself that the only other option is to turn into one of the assholes myself. Which I will if I even get a tiny taste of power. So I stay meek and stay employed and limit my assholery.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:27 PM on March 11


Hi, I am a manager at a cooperative grocery store. We are a union store, we offer insurance, paid vacation, and other benefits. We don't engage in pretty much any of the policies described in the article or the thread. I'm sorry that people have to go through those things. Try to buy locally from small businesses whenever you can. We do try to do our best.
posted by Slinga at 7:38 PM on March 11 [23 favorites]


Shrinkage is a big thing in retail, with some estimates in the article putting the cost per household in the US to be $296 per year. Literally tens of billions of dollars of goods are stolen per year, half by the customers, but fully a quarter by the employees themselves.

This figure is, of course, dwarfed by the amount of money stolen from employees every year through wage theft. I would love to see a per-household on that one, especially since it represents a much more direct hit to household finances than the consumer goods stolen per household figure does.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:42 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]


I firmly, at the time, believed that by enforcing discipline in small, tiny stuff, it would keep the big stuff hanging together.

This is basically a paraphrase of the broken-windows theory of law enforcement.

Literally tens of billions of dollars of goods are stolen per year, half by the customers, but fully a quarter by the employees themselves.

I once knew some people in loss prevention in department stores and this study comports with what they would say: employees steal more than customers.
posted by rhizome at 7:48 PM on March 11


Guy with cushy right-wing-noise machine job who might have beat his wife hits the skids, realizes that low paying jobs suck, gets new job with "Capitol Hill non-profit", writes tell all about the horrors. Will he use his experience for good or evil? Tune in next week to find out!

Even people who work in retail are not saints and live complicated lives where any number of contradictions present themselves. Life is not always pretty.

While it is hard to feel sympathy for someone convicted of assault, and who is a deadbeat dad, on the other hand does the guy somehow deserve to work retail? Does anyone deserve this kind of treatment?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


An age ago now, in the early 1990s, I worked in a discount store. It was part of a local chain run by a notoriously parsimonious and hands-on sort of family. The stores were absolutely wallpapered with hand-lettered warming signs, policy reminders, etc. The managers I dealt with directly were jerks, the customers were largely senile, insane, incontinent seniors from the adjacent retirement community. One of the managers once required his up-and-coming assistant manager to pursue formal disciplinary procedures against another employee - the assistant manager's own little brother. On charges that were pretty much made up, as far as I remember.

I hate thinking about that place. I felt like I was in hell.

And despite all that, it sounds like it was fairer and more bearable than the norm today. The managers were jerks, but they made sure you took your breaks and didn't do any work off the clock. There were stretches of great hustle, but there was no eight-hour full court press. The managers were terrible communicators, but they were not actually impossible to please.

Have things gotten much worse overall I'm the last 20 years or am I foolish to attempt to judge such a thing on the basis of a single job?
posted by Western Infidels at 8:13 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Remind me to get my awesome boss one of those fruit bouquets.
posted by Iridic at 8:46 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


I'm a corporate exec at an ecommerce company (I have also worked food service for 2 years and my wife was a retail worker and manager for 10 years). We have a team of 10 customer service people that answer phones and respond to emails/live chats M-F, 8-5 (in addition to some other responsibilities.). We offer paid time off, pay more than min wage, and a very affordable health insurance program. Every time we have an opening, we only post on local Craigslist and get literally 150-200 resumes. From that pool, we might find 4 people to interview. Seriously. Cover letters and resumes filled with horrible spelling and grammar eliminate 85%. A minor error or typo, no sweat, that happens, but once it gets to be more than like 3, it's a problem. From the remaining 10%, we'll phone screen and eliminate more candidates based on their phone demeanor. Then miscellaneous reasons will eliminate a couple more, bringing us down to 4-5.

We sometimes go through 3 rounds of this before we find someone. It's ridiculous. But we get great people who usually out grow the position in 2-3 years and, if we have a place to move them elsewhere in the company, we try to retain and retrain.

I think small scale retail/customer service is where it's at.
posted by Jacob G at 9:01 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Hi, I am a manager at a cooperative grocery store. We are a union store, we offer insurance, paid vacation, and other benefits. We don't engage in pretty much any of the policies described in the article or the thread. I'm sorry that people have to go through those things. Try to buy locally from small businesses whenever you can. We do try to do our best.

I'll chime in as well. I'm an owner of a small business that primarily sells the products made by (literally) the largest corporation in the history of the world, which is named after a fruit. This corporation has its own retail stores everywhere, and someone upthread even commented on some sort of bizarre applause-related, zombie/corporate-drone-style ritual they perform at the hiring/honorable discharges of employees. As you can imagine, competing with the company that also happens to be our primary supplier, as well as Worst Buy (who gets sweetheart deals all the time from said fruit company, and I don't care how much they want to try and deny it), Fry's, Micro Center, random shady grey marketers on Craig's List, as well as every other website online, is no picnic. My quality of life is significantly lower than it was before I entered this racket, and I regret it frequently.

And yet, I can pretty much echo the grocery store manager I just quoted. We aren't unionized, but only because nobody ever tried. I wouldn't oppose it, but if I had to guess, nobody's felt pissed off enough to consider unionizing. Mainly because we also offer health insurance, don't question your reasons for taking (paid) time off or (paid) vacation days, and pretty much don't do a single one of the negative things described in TFA or elsewhere in this discussion. And the lowest paid employee is paid well above minimum wage (which is a joke anyway). That might be why turnover is nearly nonexistent. Hell, if anything, I wonder why some of these young people with great potential don't leave and find something better, because I know we don't pay enough (I can't afford to — and no, I don't take the fact that we pay better than most retail to be any sort of consolation, or think that it gets me off the hook).

So I'll echo what's said here — support locally owned small businesses whenever you can. Yes, you can even buy your iPad or MacBook Pro from a mom and pop shop, believe it or not. They've stopped letting new businesses become authorized, but plenty of us are still here, grandfathered in. Google it and find your local authorized reseller. And never go to that dystopian hellscape in the mall again.
posted by CommonSense at 9:05 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]


We live within walking distance (with a toddler) of the downtown of a smaller city, and "shopping locally" is certainly more pleasurable than driving to the damn mall, that's for sure. One reason is that because our city's low unemployment rate - the lowest unemployment rate in Canada - it is hard for chains to clerks and other workers, and so the service sucks.

Even going to the Bay is, despite their hefty markup, a pretty aggravating experience. No staff around to help find something in one's size, no one at cash registers...

On the other hand, even buying a cup of coffee "locally" at a shop downtown is way more pleasant.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 PM on March 11


In my life I have worked lots of low wage retail, food service, manual labor jobs. I didn't mind taking your crap wages for your crap job but I had one rule that I absolutely adhered to: You get what you pay for. I had no tolerance for bullshit middle management, sadist assholery. I may be on the bottom goddamned rung of the ladder, but yours is not the only shit job available. I could work any crap job and make the same wage, I didn't need your particular brand of horseshit. You wanted to pay me minimum wage, you got minimum wage results. You wanted loyalty, a can do attitude, and fear of reprisals? That shit costs money brother. One of the positives I learned from 1984. The proles weren't as fearful of the police state as those who had a vested interest. I know, that's not the lesson you're supposed to learn, but there you are.

Flash forward to now, I've been working the same cushy job for 15 years. All of the bad bullshit that was coming down the pike with Reagan and the anti worker right has come home to roost. I fear, at late middle age, losing my fairly easy low stress job. It's not the same job market I had when I was younger. there is the possibility that I might not be able to get that shit job. Even if I could, back in the day it was possible to subsist on those wages unlike today. You put up with a lot more shit when your options are limited. It's time we looked to labor unions, and I know this word scares the piss out of some of you but socialism. We can't just keep going down this road.
posted by evilDoug at 9:37 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]


Truly, working in retail and/or food service is one of the few 'character building' activities that is actually character building.

I laughed so hard at this I snorted all over the monitor! "Character building"?? How about tearing character down and leaving your self-esteem in shreds?


The total number of investigators enforcing state minimum-wage and related laws – 659.5
So there's half an investigator out there somewhere?


Actually, when they sort 'em all out, there's quite a few half-assed investigators.


"Shrinkage is a big thing in retail, with some estimates in the article putting the cost per household in the US to be $296 per year.

You know, any job I've ever felt valued at, I would never consider walking off with even an ink pen. I think other people feel that way, too. While working at one to-be-nameless retail outlet, I didn't take any of their f-in' ink pens, but I was more than willing to turn my back on the people that were haulin' shit outta there. Those poor souls that had been there for years were still making minimum wage. The manager's little treat was to hold a rah-rah session (put your hands in the air!) and then call out people immediately afterward and humiliate them in front of their co-workers. The sadistic bastard would pick on the absolutely defenseless.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:40 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I worked retail in the early 2000s, at a department store for a couple of seasons, and before that, in unionized grocery stores.

The linked article and the experiences in this thread seem way worse than what I experienced. Giant department store never tried to steal our time, never messed with our breaks. We always had a chance to sit down in the back if we wanted, but since we were on commission, most people wanted to be on the floor as much as possible. Did have one nutty coworker but the store dealt with the situation fairly.

Seems like things have gotten much worse in the intervening 10 years or so.
posted by wuwei at 9:55 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I just got out of running Paranoia, and these stories are giving me flashbacks.
posted by JHarris at 9:56 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Greg_Ace: “What corporations seem to forget is that loyalty is earned, not imposed.”
Loyalty is a two-way street. You have to demonstrate loyalty to your subordinates if you expect to get loyalty from your subordinates. This simple fact is apparently a mystery to a great many of the world's "managers."

Honestly, the vast majority of such people are extremely lucky that dueling fell out of fashion.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:56 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


"Shrinkage is a big thing in retail, with some estimates in the article putting the cost per household in the US to be $296 per year.

I wouldn't admit it if I was filling out one of those tests someone described above, but every time I had a crappy demeaning job, me and all my coworkers stole everything that wasn't nailed down. At good jobs, I've never seen stealing. A certain amount of theft is probably inevitable, but I'll bet a lot can be avoided by paying decent wages and treating people with respect and dignity.

Retail is this era's sweat shops -- demeaning and degrading until enough people realize that unions aren't such a bad thing (corporations have their own unions, too and they call them "lobby groups")...

Retail may be demeaning and psychologically damaging, but I think it's not so cool to compare it to the physical degradation of a sweat shop (which still exist, and in this country).
posted by Dip Flash at 10:06 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Ok, I've been a member of, benefited from, and definitely support unions, but I don't understand how they can survive outside of an at least somewhat protectionist economy.

I mean yeah, until the appropriate robots are cheap enough, food service will rely on warm domestic bodies (retail less so), but most everyone else is only as valuable as their counterpart across or down the map, or as someone brought in from those places to work for a dream on a temporary visa (which is unlikely to transform into a permanent one, in Canada at least).

And as someone said above, customers have to be able to spend, and to accept higher prices to support fair wages, out of the goodness of their hearts. Obviously, most can't, or won't if they can help it, (rationally) preferring Amazon to brick & mortar stores, and budget grocery chains to the middle-expensive ones (that have nice-ish muffins), when are having to get lean themselves or shut down. (Though the luxe and niche places are still doing ok, I think).

So how do you make fair wages competitive, when they're not, in a climate of scarcity? If there's a non-obvious solution, it'd be good to hear.

I mean I think there'd be more of an appetite for collective action if people could be reassured employment wasn't a zero-sum game.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:21 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


See what entertainment people now fall into after a hard day at work. Its audience probably includes many of those business school grads at corporate head office who dream up all the degrading policies and procedures that workers now endure. It certainly includes we workers who submit to this shit. Every night another TV show subjecting eager candidates to humiliating trials so that they might be judged by a panel of smug self-promoting experts. Drilling it into our heads that you must claw and scrape for everything, because there shall be many losers and only one winner. And we've had almost a generation now of "you're off the island"-"you're the weakest link"-"you're fired". We have these shows now for pastry bakers, prospective spouses and tattoo artists. The other day I heard on the TV in another room a couple junk collectors being asked to build sculptures out of all the refuse they collected so that they might represent artistically the company's mission statement to an assembled gathering of property managers and real estate professionals. All for the promise of getting out of the truck for a trainer job. There was once something honourable about just doing your job for what you get paid then going home, but it is increasingly cluttered with the forelock tugging of the new feudalism. I've retreated from the job market because I don't know how to deal with the dancing bear demands of the judges and gatekeepers. Don't know how I'll ever get back to it.
posted by TimTypeZed at 10:37 PM on March 11 [29 favorites]


"...a climate of scarcity..."

And that's the trick, isn't it? What scarcity? If there really was scarcity, there wouldn't be trillions of dollars sitting idle in corporate coffers. If there really was scarcity, 85 people would not own over 50% of the wealth in America. If there really was scarcity... shit, I could just list every thing that is currently wrong with the world economy, couldn't I?

I am not picking on you, cotton dress sock. I think you really did hit upon one of the greatest lies that employers and corporations (and right-wing talking head loons) have been using to try and gain or maintain power over others. Make everyone else fight each other for artificially scarce resources (jobs, decent food, housing, medical care, etc, etc, etc) and then keep up that lie as to why you can't/won't pay them more. And then to add insult to injury, they lord their better position or perceived privilege over anyone they see as "lower on the ladder" and you end up with the shithead assistant managers, or the numbskull customers who think that just because they don't work as a retail store clerk, they get to treat anyone who does have that job as a peon.

It really is pretty funny, when you create the proper narrative. In fact, it is almost a cultural myth. The poor worker, always exploited by the nasty conniving boss. As old as Dickens, it would seem.
posted by daq at 10:50 PM on March 11 [26 favorites]


Ah of course you're right, I meant perceived scarcity. Yeah there's money, and no it's not lifting boats..

But without some regulation and restriction of the free movement of $/labour across borders, there's limited leverage in traditional collective bargaining. Companies do just up and move their factories.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:54 PM on March 11


Are Europeans awake right now? This seems like a lovely question to ask a German.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:45 AM on March 12


Buick,

Brit here. While I'd love to say that what this thread is about is a uniquely brutish American way of behaving, it isn't entirely true. While we are slowly catching up with you, very few non-American businesses seem to be as bad as what I repeatedly read about US retail culture. And also, while we are getting worse, relatively few Brits seem to behave like self-entitled pigs towards retail workers. So far.

I'm not sure about Germany but I have recent experience of staying and shopping in Spain and their service-culture seems to be more relaxed and amiable than anything we get in the UK, let alone the US.

Reading this it occurs to me that American retail is just a large scale re-enactment of the Stanford prison experiment.

And to answer the people who were wondering where the managers were in this thread, I assumed they were the ones initiating ad-hominem, off-topic attacks on the author of the piece.
posted by epo at 5:16 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]



They didn't fire me, and instead kicked me to another location that's only ten minutes away, but is notorious for being the store where people go to die. So I figured that the last thing I would do is give them an ounce of effort. I work there for fifteen hours a week, I don't have to do anything more than babysit the store, and it's fantastic.


I *loved* babysitting the Undead Radio Shack back in the late 80's I guess. Show up, put in 'meets expectations' level effort. Run the end-of-day job on the xenix box. Play games on the T1000's.
posted by mikelieman at 5:55 AM on March 12


(I'm concerned I wasn’t clear, which is very very possible: I’m well aware it’s inequality in the distribution of wealth that’s the problem. The efforts that have so far shown themselves to be effective in moderating inequality have been compromised by macro socio-legal-political factors, like certain trade agreements [perhaps not just the fact of them, but how they’re structured] and a general trend towards deregulation, and it’s those that hamstring both concrete defensive strategies and the ground for a common will to generate or move on them.

Those displaced factory workers may not be able to dig in their pockets to e.g. pay for necessarily more expensive goods from a unionized store.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:10 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


So, yeah, in retrospect, except for the combat, the lack of rights, and the long hours, retail is actually worse than the military.

I think that's a self-imposed hell as well. I've seen people flip out at their jobs yelling that running out of staples is an EMERGENCY and y'know, it's just hard to take seriously. That's an emergency? Really?
One of the things you have to learn in leadership, in the military, is how to appear perfectly calm. The British used to force their cadre to be "disdainful" of enemy fire. Americans used to do that as well. At some point you can only be so disdainful before a sniper puts a few into you.
But the mindset currently taught is the same. "Incoming fire, eh? *yawn*" Keep the urgency out of your voice. Sound pretty much like Chuck Yeager all the time.
Not that it takes a hold in practice. But...

And I just wonder, does Joe/Jane Retail Manager have kids? Parents? I mean it explains how people just freeze in a real emergency. Guy drops on the pavement clutching his chest and 8/10 people just walk past him.
Guy I work with was shot a bit back and we're going to work on his injury and I'm looking him in the eye and saying "Yeah, looks good. Gonna be a nice scar. Good bar story. We might have to circle it with a bic pen so people can see it though." And y'know, suddenly he's not thinking about dying, not panicking, not bleeding like a stuck pig because his heart rate is going down.

So much of that is psychosomatic. Which is not to say it's not bad because it's not real, but that your mind makes it real, so it's worse. Stocking gallons of milk and breaking one and then having a guy who can't cope come and scream at you for 10 minutes and almost have a heart attack himself, yeah, I can see that being worse than combat.
Hell, that's like the the 9th circle of Hell, bad enough to be frozen, but you've got Count Ungolino/ Bishop Ruggieri who can't stop torturing each other. (Is it worse to get the back of your head gnawed on forever or unable to stop gnawing because you're so furious?)
Probably why I'm unfit for the business world. I just can't take that stuff seriously (and pretty much why my wife handles the finances).

I mean, there's at least an actual end to suffering in reality. But if everything is a catastrophe from not having singles to the credit card machine breaking - damn.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:22 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I think that's a self-imposed hell as well. I've seen people flip out at their jobs yelling that running out of staples is an EMERGENCY and y'know, it's just hard to take seriously. That's an emergency? Really?
One of the things you have to learn in leadership, in the military, is how to appear perfectly calm.


I mean, yes to all of that. One of the things I've noticed the most in the civilian world is the way people panic over trivial issues. But the thing is, I think even if it's a self-imposed hell, it's still a hell for them. If you're worried about being fired for a triviality, of course it seems like the end of the world, because for you it is. And you haven't received months or years of training of coolness under fire.

Worrying about being shot, in the military, happens less in part because you know that if you get shot, your family gets 400K. The people you love are taken care of. If you get fired in the retail world, your family may starve. That's a real panic. I would have been a lot more scared in the military if I knew if I got killed, my family would starve.
posted by corb at 7:51 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]


Someone asked for managers to chime in. I run and own a games company; it's not a retail store but since we self-publish our games we have a lot of direct contact with our customers (almost 30,000 support tickets so far), so it's perhaps somewhat relevant.

Anyway, we have 1.5 customer support/QA people, and they're usually able to get through our entire support queue by the end of every day. Everyone in the company has 25 days paid holidays a year and we encourage people to take all of it. We run a reduced support service over Christmas and New Year so people get to have time off, and we also let people work from home around then.

Back when we released our first big game, there were only four people in the company, which meant that I answered a lot of the support email (according to the stats, almost 4000 tickets). That experience gave me an awful lot of sympathy with our customer support people, and in fact all customer support people; while most of the people who contacted us were perfectly nice, some were total assholes. It could be really upsetting sometimes. Of course, the nice thing about owning the company is that I would occasionally tell them off for being assholes, and when they asked to speak to my manager, well...

(We often fantasize about having a button in the office that would refund horrible customers their money and prevent them from sending us emails any more; where appropriate I'd rather take the hit to our bottom line than have to deal with someone who's ruining our staff's day...)

I've had a few other experiences dealing with the public. Back when I was at uni I had a short freelance gig where I wore a huge costume of an orange fruit so that Volvic water could give away free samples. Most people were pretty cool about it, getting their photos taken and stuff, but you'd occasionally have little kids running into you deliberately, trying to make you fall over; and very occasionally their parents would be egging them on.

So, yeah - I totally agree that we should have national service for everyone to work in customer support, it would definitely foster a bit more empathy.
posted by adrianhon at 8:21 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


adrianhon's mention of asshole customers and Christmastime support reminded my of my brother, who used to do e-mail support for a boutique audio electronics company. At the end of one late-December shift, one of his coworkers stood up and announced, "I officially ruined 5 Christmases today!"
posted by usonian at 9:03 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Every holiday season, we have a tally board in our customer service area that has a section for "Ruined Christmas" and a section for "Saved Christmas." Our 'ruins' are always very low and usually the fault of one of our suppliers.
posted by Jacob G at 9:16 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


I also don't leave any of my vacation days unused, for much of the same reason. I am entitled to them and I take them.

Good scheme. I survived my initial Christmas in the retail job (above) and went on to work there for several years, gradually becoming a low-level boss myself. At some point around my promotion I switched from hourly pay to salaried, which nominally had a raise; in fact, my paycheques shrunk because I was no longer getting overtime.

The manager I had started under was long gone, and her replacement was a much more easygoing fellow. He agreed that it wasn't fair, so when I did the payroll every two weeks, I was to note any extra time on my own sheets and he would sign off on it, approving it as banked for later use as time off. I also found myself unable to use up vacation time, so I banked a lot of that as well.

This worked well enough in theory but in practice: the banked hours kept building and building with little opportunity to use them up. This boss was eventually canned by the board, and the replacement was an MBA-wielding executroid who was very happy to look at programs that had worked well for years or decades and declare that they could not work in principle, so they would be killed. She arrived one year in February and sent out a note in early March that everyone should use up any owed vacation time or lieu days before the fiscal year ended on March 31. I sent back one saying that I could not do so, as my banked hours extended to about eight weeks, which would not fit in the three weeks allotted to use them up.

She hemmed and hawed and finally said I should use them up in the autumn after the busy summer season. Come summer I was growing more and more dissatisfied with the new regime. I made plans to depart on September 1, with no firm plans to return. As the summer wore on (and indeed, my banked hours continued to mount -- a other five weeks or so accrued that summer), I was told that September 1 was no good as a departure date and would October 1 work instead? I agreed.

By the time I was due to depart I had almost three months' time owed off. My scheme was to kick around Europe for a few months, being paid out of my vacation pay, which would last until Christmas Day exactly. I gave notice on my apartment, I bought plane tickets.

Along about mid-September, a visiting colleague from another branch said, "Hey, I hear you are taking off to Europe in a few weeks!" I confirmed this, and the executroid (who happened to be standing near), said, "Oh, remind me that I have to talk to you about that." I asked what was up but she said, "Not now -- later."

I reminded her several times in the ensuing week, but she kept postponing. Finally on the 22nd or 23rd, she called me into her office and said, "Yeah, we cannot find any agreement between you and [former boss] about this banked hours arrangement." I replied that it should be in my personnel file, but she maintained it was not there. I said that even if not, every pay sheet for the previous x number of years had me writing in my totals and e.g. "6.5 hours banked" and him writing "Authorized" and signing off. She said, "We are not counting that."

Finally she said that they could not afford to pay me for that time off but were generously giving me a week's vacation (not even the three weeks that I should have been owed as an employee of x years). I took the week and gave my notice the day I came back.

The executroid lingered on for several more months and departed in disgrace. An audit post-departure showed that she had taken a mildly profitable business and plunged it into several million dollars of debt in a little more than a year. She works now as a strategic business consultant. I looked at her website a few years back, and her time with my old business was described with some ambiguous but technically accurate phrases like "turned the business around" and "effected significant changes." Yeah.

Anyway, I make sure to take my vacation days now as well.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:39 AM on March 12 [10 favorites]


"Team member" is another corporate-speak word I hate. Football players want to be on teams. No one wants to be on the Target team. The huddling-and-clapping cult-like behavior is repulsive. There's nothing worse than forced insincerity.
posted by desjardins at 10:36 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]


"Team member" is another corporate-speak word I hate. Football players want to be on teams. No one wants to be on the Target team. The huddling-and-clapping cult-like behavior is repulsive.

Not only that, but if you're the kind of person that was always a little shy and awkward, and never was picked to be on any team in school, the entire metaphor is lost on you.

(Yeah, I might be talking about myself.)
posted by CommonSense at 10:49 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]


It's like, you could handle the horrible waste-of-human-flesh customers if it wasn't for the chickenhawk management, and vice versa.

But there's no winning. The managers train you on all sorts of policies, and beat it into you how important it is to follow each one to the letter, and how the fate of the company's survival rests on your underpaid shoulders if you don't do so Every. Single. Time. Dire consequences are threatened to all who disobey.

Then along comes Public Asshole Number One, who insists on on you making an exception for his glorious personage.

You politely explain. You beg and wheedle. You use all the charm your weary soul can muster. You finally give in and have a manager paged, knowing that you're in for a long wait. You try to entertain PA#1. You may attempt to serve others while waiting, but that means another outburst about what a piece of garbage you are and he can't believe A PAYING CUSTOMER IS BEING TREATED LIKE SCUM. It will be at least twenty minutes and three pages before the manager shows up, because of skeleton staffing, and because he doesn't want to deal with PA#1 any more than you do.

You explain the situation, PA#1 does his best impression of Sam Waterston summing up the world's greatest injustice for a TV jury, and the manager automatically grants the exception, without question or hesitation, apologizing to PA#1 for how badly you treated him. Later on, you get called on the carpet for bothering the manager.

You ask, "So, is it OK for me to just grant these exceptions in the future without asking anyone first?"

"No, of course not, but [long, shouted rant of incomprehensible corporate doublespeak and refusal to admit his and the company's part in making the customer unhappy]"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:52 AM on March 12 [14 favorites]


Yeah, the double problem is this incentivizes you, as a customer, to be a hassle to the initial guy, because you know you can get things turn around if you do speak to a manager.
posted by corb at 10:54 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


> Ok, I've been a member of, benefited from, and definitely support unions, but I don't understand how they can survive outside of an at least somewhat protectionist economy.

Protectionist is bad in the same way 'globalization' is good. Because it's been drilled into our heads in the media in the last 30 years. If my neighbor country wants to dump rice onto my market at below cost in hopes of driving my rice farmers out of business and jacking up the price again in 5 years, I'm going to be protectionist. Because I'm not suicidal.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:48 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Self-Checkout. I *hate* self-checkout. Not because they're taking money from a person (which they are, and I don't like them for that) but because they offload all the bullshit of checking out to me, an untrained idiot. Invariably, I'm fighting with the stupid uncalibrated scale in the bagging area that refuses to detect that i've put an item there, and the whole process goes off the rails; or i'm the one digging through the catalog of items trying to match *thing* with *picture*, and it takes so much longer and is so much more stressful than just having a person do the checkout. So, i'll stand in the line, even if all I'm buying is a roll of tape and a soda.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 12:02 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


I think it would go a long way if we just understood "Would you like fries with that?" and "Would you like to super size your order?" as "Would you like to pay a dollar more so I have a chance at reaching my quota?" Once we get used to the idea of effectively tipping corporations it can be rolled out to retail and other minimum wage jobs where we don't have that last moment of choice anxiety at the register that McDonald's capitalizes on.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:05 PM on March 12


It's like, you could handle the horrible waste-of-human-flesh customers if it wasn't for the chickenhawk management, and vice versa.


I've had the pleasure of being backed up by managers on a few occasions, and it is awesome.

My favorite happened at a small (two employees plus the owners) birding store I worked at for a few years, my boss came out from the back where they had been filling out paperwork and asked "What seems to be the problem?" and when the customer started laying on their them said "No, the problem is that you were yelling at my employee. We no longer want your business, don't bother coming back."
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:36 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


But the thing is, I think even if it's a self-imposed hell, it's still a hell for them.

No, I'm with you. I'm saying I think that makes it all the worse.
The whole Milton thing "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
You're in constant whitewater because everything is considered an emergency. Probably by design. The entire thing is supposed to be a pressure cooker for the sake of itself.

Like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. "You can't take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit?" Well, y'know, why should anyone have to?
I mean, they're selling real estate. It's not life or death.
The pressure is artificial. And I think that makes it worse for that.

I suppose the one nice thing about actual emergency situations is you don't have to deal (immediately) with petty politics and silly office b.s.

Woman: My husbands having a heart attack! Please help him!
Paramedic: Ok ma'am. Step back, I'm going to perform CPR because he's...
Supervisor: Dave.
Paramedic: ...not breathing
Supervisor: Dave!
Paramedic: Uh, yeah?
Supervisor: Did you go on break?
Paramedic: This guy is having a heart attack here.
Supervisor: I know. Did you go on break?
Paramedic: No. Look, I'm trying to save...
Supervisor: Well, why don't you go punch out because Ken is going to come off break in five minutes. Did you align the lactated ringers with the edge of the table?
Paramedic: This guy is dying.
Supervisor: We have to manage our stakeholders. If anyone comes in here, and sees your station is a mess, there's going to be real trouble.

Actually, I've heard from a few doctors they're getting this kind of crap. Not in the midst of surgery, but...

Remember the Milgram experiment? Artificial situation. Real stress.

And again, probably systematic. Under stress most people, who are without expertise in a given field, will leave decision making up to a third party even if the decisions - and the stress - are completely arbitrary.

Very easy to abuse that kind of thing. And that's probably why so many people do (remember the Louise Ogborn thing).

I think why the manager, et.al. are complying in the first place is that the work environment, retail specifically, teaches it and forces a sort of blindness to the legitimate derivation of authority.

Y'know, you watch people during an emergency. They expect their manager to lead the way during a fire or tornado or something. Meanwhile Joe Part time who's a moonlighting firefighter gets ignored because he's just another drone in the office hierarchy.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:24 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


(Actually the reverse seems true as well. If you're used to being in charge in critical situations you tend to assume authority inappropriately in non-critical situations. As in - where the fuck do you get off questioning my opinion on the relative consistency of marshmallows in hot cocoa? It can be off putting I know. Tough for doctors too, I hear. At least it doesn't threaten anyone's job tho.)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:33 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Ya know, I've talked down on Dominos once or twice here, but I have to say, for the most part, the store I work at doesn't seem to have this. I mean I'm sure some aspects of it are there somewhere, but overall we're pretty laid back while not being lazy, most of us (excepting one -- there's always one) seem to genuinely try to do our jobs well, and none of us get paid very well but we still do our best. The managers, or at least the current ones, aren't jerks overall. Of course, this just might be my own outlook filtering through the situation.

Of course, having said this, it'll probably all change next week and become a pit of drudgery.
posted by JHarris at 1:51 PM on March 12


posted by kliuless at 8:18 PM on March 12 [21 favorites]


I've had the pleasure of being backed up by managers on a few occasions, and it is awesome.

I saw this happen at a Delta Hotel here in Ottawa a few weeks ago. I was in the lobby waiting for a friend. It's about 11 in the evening and this drunk guy comes in claiming he had a reservation. Then a woman in a wheelchair comes in and accuses the guy of verbally assaulting her in the street, minutes before. The guy turns and starts shouting, insulting not only the woman but also the desk clerk. The manager comes out, she's seen and heard part of the commotion. She asks what the problem is. The guy says he has a reservation. She says "I don't think we want your business." Beautiful moment.
posted by storybored at 9:50 PM on March 12


I remember quitting Starbucks, because I found a job that payed twice as much and actually used my brain. The manager said that if I was an ethical person at all I would give them two weeks notice. She said I was being added to a database that would prevent me from being hired at any Starbucks in the world, ever. "Do you promise?" I replied.

Working in retail did make me a better person in one sense. I have never ever treated any salesperson without the respect they deserve for doing an almost impossible job for little pay. If I see someone doing so, it's my big tip-off they have little life experience.
posted by xammerboy at 11:59 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


"So, you're saying that Starbucks is such a great company to work for that they've officially implemented a blacklist?"
posted by rhizome at 1:46 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


As if they would give two weeks notice if they decided to fire you. That shit chaps my hide. Loyalty is a two-way street, motherfuckers.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:56 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


This may be somewhat off topic, but what happened to Joesph Williams is a good example of why Fox News is a better run ship than its competitors. Whatever else you want to say about them--and we all have a ton, obviously--they can be fiercely loyal to their on-air people.

Juan Williams worked for both Fox and NPR until he was fired from NPR for a comment he made on O'Reilly, and Fox News responded by giving him more airtime and a raise that more than made up for his lost income from public radio.

Joesph Williams lost his job at Politico because the right-wing blogs threw a fit over something he said on MSNBC, and MSNBC wouldn't do a damn thing to help him. He would have made a fine full time hire too--he's an knowledgeable, experienced DC journalist who would be happy to tow the network's liberal bent. On the other hand, maybe he's overqualified for a network that has Al Sharpton on five nights a week.
posted by riruro at 1:58 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


"Shrinkage is a big thing in retail, with some estimates in the article putting the cost per household in the US to be $296 per year.

"Drugs, sex, and office supplies should never be paid for." -- Henry Rollins
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:03 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


She said I was being added to a database that would prevent me from being hired at any Starbucks in the world, ever.

My old roommate was on that list twice, and was still hired back both times. You just need to be friends with a manager.
posted by spaltavian at 5:30 AM on March 14


I worked at bookstores for 10 years. 5 for Borders (RIP) and 5 at a small, local used shop where I was hired because of my previous experience. I have worked in customer facing retail for 18 of the last 23 years of my life.

I had no idea how completely and utterly burned out I was until I was offered an out. I miss the books terribly, but want to cry at the thought of going back.

At the small bookshop, I was both a faceless drone, held in about as much esteem as a bookcase or the counter, who was expected to ring everything up as quickly as possible; and was also expected to be able to know enough about literary fiction that I could suggest titles based on what people liked (not my srtong point, I was the SciFi and YA/Kids person at the shop) and know where every book was in the shop (we did not have a computer system and priced everything by hand). I was expected to have encyclopedic knowledge of our stock.

I barely made enough to live on. I was lucky to make more than minimum wage, but the insurance premiums ate up 1/3 of what I made in a month. I was very fortunate to have the option of having insurance.

I still work in a customer facing job (because amazingly I still like dealing with the public), and it's SO MUCH EASIER to do it over the phone. I love dealing with people, but it is completely exhausting to have to be "on" all the time. Now I can be pleasant but won't get fired if I occasionally roll my eyes where no one can see me. It's also nice to work for people who have my back. Because in retail, you were always 100% expendable.
posted by bibliogrrl at 12:23 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


You Can't Tip A Buick - The final straw for me leaving Borders (in 2006, well before their demise) was the Borders loyalty card. I was a supervisor, and we had to ask every single customer if they wanted that damn card. If we didn't get X number of sign ups a week, we would get written up and eventually fired. Most of our customers were regulars (we were a neighborhood store as opposed to downtown) and I'll be damned if I was going to do the thing that drove me insane when I shopped anywhere. And I wouldn't really enforce it and started to get into trouble. Than I got another job and got the hell out. That damn loyalty card would have gotten me fired eventually.
posted by bibliogrrl at 1:04 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


The crazy thing is that the Borders Plus loyalty card was surely a horrific money loser. For a $20 activation fee, you got a perpetual "Borders Plus" discount of 10%. That discount stacked with the regular coupons dispatched in weekly emails, which varied from 20% to 50%. There was also a reward point system that returned five dollars for every hundred spent. And free shipping when ordering off the website. If you told me the whole system was designed by an Amazon mole, I wouldn't be surprised.
posted by Iridic at 2:20 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


That sounds a lot like the Books-A-Million discount card, although with smaller coupons (they top out at 25% I think), and except I think instead of firing people who don't sell enough, I think they just give a small commission to those who do.
posted by JHarris at 5:34 PM on March 14


Here's how minimum wage retail works, using a useful analogy:

1) Throw a scrap of rancid fat to the ground
2) Wait for the starving dog to approach it
3) Kick the dog when it's near enough
4) Shoot the dog if it growls at you.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:45 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Kliuless, your comment should/could be a front page post.

I worked in retail for 10 years, the last 5 I owned and managed the store. I paid above minimum. One reason I'm so in favor of raising the minimum wage is that you can't afford to have expenses that are a lot higher than your competitors. Higher federal minimum wage keeps the playing field less uneven for businesses.

I worked really hard to avoid paying overtime - it's just really expensive, but paid a week vacation - rare in retail in the 80s. I didn't fuss about timed breaks or whatever and the staff didn't take advantage. New hires who ended up needing that kind of structure tended not to stick around. I shared review copies of books with staff, and shared some of the fun jobs, like ordering new books, some of the time. Easy favors - can I keep my bike in the store while I'm away for the weekend, etc. - were a yes, with disclaimers. We had a lot of manual inventory work (before there were cheap and easy computerized systems), so you didn't have to stand all the time. Staff brought in music to play on the store's tape player, and thankfully, ASCAP never nabbed us. I respected their intelligence, they put in reasonable effort. I recognized their importance to the success if the business.

And I saw them every day, and it would have been obvious if I were making gobs of cash and screwing them. The owners of Target or Borders or 7-11 are a corporation, and they are required to maximize shareholder profit. The owners don't live in the same town as the workers, and they're screwing a line on the balance sheet, not the parent of another kid in their kid's scout troop. I feel pretty strongly that this distance between the haves and the rest of us is a huge contributor to the problem. It's a lot easier to look at the balance sheet and see what .25 an hour does to the bottom line, with 10,000 employees, and you're not there to see somebody having to spend more on transportation when they get 6 6-hour shifts instead if 5 8-hours.

As long as people listen to Fox, vote for Republicans, vote against unions, listen to lies and accept them eagerly, it's not going to change.
posted by theora55 at 1:32 PM on March 17 [10 favorites]


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