A Retailer’s Guide to Life or: How Not to be a Dick, Part 3

As before I’d like to start by adding a couple of points I missed in the earlier parts:

  1. You don’t need to explain why you don’t want to make a donation to a charity. We have to ask you if you want to; it’s our job. You can say yes or no, but I don’t need to know why you’re declining. “I do it at home,” “I did it yesterday;” whatever your reason, I don’t care. I’m not judging you. Most of the time we don’t donate either.
  2. Cash registers are not magical money machines. Sometimes we run out of change, be it bills or coins, and we need to get more. This is another one of those pesky times where patience is appreciated. We try to do it when things aren’t busy, but unfortunately we often run out of change at the worst times — like when the lines are ridiculously long. Yes, it can take a bit of time (like, five minutes tops, most of the time, honestly you can wait), but the other option is you don’t get to buy your merchandise.
  3. You’re perfectly capable of bagging your merchandise. Whenever possible when I’m shopping, I bag my own purchases. It’s not always something I can do, but when I can you can be damn sure I will be. Honestly, I was doing that even before I worked retail. It just makes sense. It speeds up the whole process when you don’t have to wait for the cashier to put all the items in bags so they have enough room to scan the rest of the merchandise. Almost every customer I’ve ever checked out has stood by and watched me scan and bag everything for them. In many cases, I can scan an item and immediately put it in the bag, without much breaking flow, but sometimes it’s just not that simple, which means I have to stop scanning in order to put everything in bags. Slows me down, slows you down, slows down the line, and makes it a bad time for everyone. Do your part and put your own items in bags. I mean, come on, you’re buying the stuff, you may as well put in the minimal amount of effort in getting it.
  4. On the topic of checking out, here’s the skinny on all those questions: we have to ask them. Literally, it’s what we’re paid to do. And don’t think I can’t plainly read your exasperation or annoyance when I’m asking them. It’s not my fault that I have to ask you if you’ve got a card, want to add or change information, want to make a donation, how you want your receipt, whatever. You have an issue with how many questions we have to ask, take it to corporate. Please. Maybe if enough people complain we won’t have to ask so many damn questions.I mean, I doubt that’ll happen, but the least you could do is lose the damn attitude. I’m just doing my job, which, might I remind you, is the reason you’re getting your stuff. Without me, there’d be no purchases for you. And now, the big one, the one that has infuriated me for years, long before I worked retail or even thought I would ever work retail. I have no idea how I missed it the first two times around, but honestly I could probably do a whole post on it alone…
  5. “They have people for that.” I’ve been lucky enough not to hear this phrase or any variation thereof in my store, but I have memory of hearing it at some point(s) in my life, and the whole mentality behind it is just disgusting. Because, you see, what this refers to is, basically, anything that the speaker doesn’t want to do. I think (it’s a very vague, old memory) that when I heard this phrase uttered it was in reference to returning merchandise to the proper location — “Oh, just leave it here, they have people for that.” Fuck you, sir or madam, fuck you.You see, while it’s true that we are supposed to return things to the place they belong, that doesn’t mean you should leave your unwanted merchandise wherever you care to drop it. First off, we have many, many other things to do; we’re not just there to clean up your mess. The only reason said cleaning is part of the job is because of inconsiderate, disrespectful people who think it’s ok to leave things wherever they want. Second, do you realize how incredibly rude and self-centered that is? I don’t come into your office and throw your pens all over the place, or come to your home and trash it. Why would you think it’s ok to come to my place of work and make a mess? Ah, but this goes back to something that I believe I’ve already touched on — the superiority complex.

    See, inherent in that statement and the actions it goes along with is the ingrained idea that minimum wage workers, particularly those of us in customer service — be it retail, fast food, waitstaff, etc. — are somehow worth less and are beneath others. And, again, I want to make sure I’m clear on the point that we are literally the only reason you can get your food or buy your things, so really if anyone is beneath anyone else, it’s those of you who aren’t doing my job. If we all decided not to stock shelves, run registers, or serve food, you’d all be shit out of luck. Funny how the least respected workers are the ones who actually keep the commercialism running.That’s the worst thing about that idea — “They have people for that.” It’s not only dismissive but it reeks of entitlement. You’re basically saying “They’re here to clean up after me, and I’m better than them so I can do what I want.” And the best part? The same people who follow this line of thought are the first ones to complain about how bad the store looks. Guess what? If you didn’t drop everything you didn’t want wherever you happened to be standing, the store would look better. But since we’re understaffed and flooded with people who can’t be bothered to have the courtesy or decency to put an item on a shelf ten feet away — and I’ve seen it happen right in front of me — you don’t get to complain. The store looks the way it does because of your damn mess. Walk the extra few feet to put it back where it belongs. You’re not five years old anymore, it’s time to grow the fuck up and learn some damn manners.

And now…

Part 3: How to Manage Retail: How Not to Treat Your Employees Like Shit

I’ve worked with some really great managers, and I’ve worked with some not-so-great managers. So while I’m not, myself, in management, and have absolutely no desire to be, between my experience and my background in psychology (we’ll get to that, don’t worry), I’d like to think I’ve gotten a pretty solid handle on the concept. I’ve seen what works, I’ve seen what doesn’t work; and while not a manager, I have, especially lately, noticed myself falling into a bit of a leadership role between helping new employees and my new position as the only daytime backroom associate — which means I have some iota of authority when it comes to where I want people leaving their excess. I’m still beholden to management, obviously, but seniority and job title have lent me a little bit of leadership, which is useful for a topic like this. So without further ado, I’ll jump right in:

  1. Lead, don’t command; work with your employees, not above them. The best managers I’ve worked with were the ones who worked alongside us and with whom we developed a natural, genuine rapport. If you’re doing the same work as us, you’re already earning some respect. We want to see our management doing work, not sitting in an office, only coming down on occasion to dictate orders or see if things are going well. If you’re giving us orders but not doing anything but walking around observing, or worse, not even doing that, then you’re not going to get as much respect. We’ll listen because we have to, but that doesn’t mean we respect you, it means we need to get paid. Two very different things, and as a manager respect is important, because…
  2. We’re more likely to go above and beyond when there’s mutual respect. Personally, I always put forth way more effort than I need to. But even with how much I overwork myself, when I work with managers I really like and respect, and who seem to return that respect, I give even more, gladly. Which if you’ve worked with me, you know what I do on a daily basis already, so you can imagine the kind of effort I’m talking about. When we feel respected and we respect you as a manager and leader, we’re going to work for you. We’ll put in extra effort, come in on days off if you ask us, stay past the end of our shifts, whatever. But if that respect isn’t there, you can bet that you’ll be getting less out of us. We won’t be as likely to volunteer for extra shifts or hours, and some of us might just do the bare minimum work to keep our jobs. This is sort of where the psychology comes in, but there’s another place too…
  3. Asking is more effective than ordering. The best manager I ever worked with knew this and we talked about it once. He always made sure that when he wanted us to do something he phrased it as a request — “Can you take care of this,” “Could you please do this.” And it was intentional. Because, again, people feel the respect inherent in that form of address, and are more likely to do things when they feel respected. Now, he wasn’t a pushover, and if things didn’t get done he would escalate the request, even to an order if he needed to. But that wasn’t often necessary; he knew the psychology behind his method and it works most of the time. And it’s not just about respect.

    There’s a condition called ODD — oppositional defiance disorder. It refers to a disposition wherein a person has issues with authority, and when faced with authority does not accept it as such and is urged to do the opposite of what they’re told. But outside of the clinical condition, everyone has a streak of this in them. Which is why an effective manager can rely on reverse psychology, like in this case. I’m sure you’ve heard that the easiest way to get someone to do something is to tell them not to do it. “Don’t look down!” and “Don’t peek!” almost invariably results in looking down or peeking. It’s human nature. If I tell you “Don’t think about purple elephants,” what are you thinking about? If you didn’t say purple elephants, you’re a dirty liar. The point here is that if you’re ordering someone to do something, they’re likely going to feel at least some degree of a desire to not do it. If you ask them if they could do it, well that’s another story. They aren’t getting the impression that they’re required to do it or that it’s an order. It’s a request, and people respond far better to requests than demands.Sure, it’s a bit of a mind trick, but then again, retail’s all about psychology, when it comes down to it. But that’s a topic for another time.

  4. Treating your employees poorly is a surefire way to solve nothing. This one’s tricky to talk about, because even without using my own name, my company’s name, etc., I can’t give concrete examples of something like this. So I’m going to speak in theoreticals and broad terms, and hope you get my meaning. But the point I want to try to get across is that if your primary mode of communication with your employees is telling them how much they do wrong constantly, threatening them with termination, and just generally making them feel worthless, you’re not going to garner many fans, and you’re not likely to get the issues solved to your satisfaction. Again, people don’t tend to respond well to authority when said authority is issuing orders and using fear and anger to push their agenda. And, you also run the risk of losing valuable employees who decide they aren’t going to put up with being treated poorly anymore, when they actually do their work and do it well.
  5. Don’t rely on only one person for everything. This is a bit of a grey area in some ways, for me, but only because I have had a few managers who I was totally fine with being to go-to employee for. So I’m going to address this topic and ignore those cases, because they’re the exception, and managers with whom you have that kind of relationship are few and far between; I just got very lucky with some of the ones I’ve worked with.Anyway, as managers and supervisors, you have a whole team of employees to work with. It’s not fair to rely on one person for everything. It’s not fair to that person, who will be unable to get their own work done (I speak from experience; a great deal of experience), and it’s not fair to the rest of the employees — though they’re certainly happy to not be called to do everything, I imagine it also creates an underlying, probably unconscious feeling that they aren’t being relied upon. It definitely creates a general feeling that the ones who are called often and for everything are better than the other employees. And while I know that I’m good at my job and at all the others I’m called to do, I don’t think that I’m necessarily better than others that I work with; I think they haven’t had a chance to show that they can do the jobs too, because they aren’t called to do them.

    The biggest problem here, from my experience, is that relying on one person for everything is very demoralizing and exhausting for that person. Presumably you consider them one of your top employees if you’re trusting them with so much. But when they have a job to do, and they’re being called ten different directions at once to cover multiple other jobs, they’re going to get worn out. After a year of being a floor associate trying to put out freight while helping customers in my vicinity, being called to the service desk or other departments to help customers, running register, processing layaways, etc., it gets incredibly tiring, and it’s frustrating to be unable to accomplish my own task. At this point, I’m on my second position, having moved from the floor to the back room; but I basically work three and a half different jobs (I only know the very basic duties at the service desk, enough to cover it for a short period in a pinch), for the pay of one job. And while I take pride in being someone who can be trusted and relied upon, I really, really wish they would get other people to do things, because I can’t do everything, and now more than ever it’s important that I get my own work done.And this definitely comes down on managers, not just front end supervisors, because I have actually had a manager tell front end to call me for things — on a shift when I’m explicitly not supposed to be called for anything unless there’s absolutely no other option, which wasn’t the case at all. So, in sum, when you’re a manager and you have an employee you want to send everywhere, keep in mind that they’re only one person, and prioritize, because sometimes you really just shouldn’t call them for things.

I suppose that’s about all I have for managers, right now. As I said, I’m not in management myself, but I think I’ve got enough breadth of experience to be confident in what I’ve laid out here. Anything to add? There’s a comments section below just waiting to be filled.

 

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