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More On Retail and Service

  A couple of weeks ago, I reminisced about how much I hated my coffee shop experience. Since then, I had time to think about the general crappiness of retail and other service-related fields. The fact is that most of us have had and will continue to have these terrible jobs well into the future. That won’t stop some people from immediately forgetting their roots and turning into one of the innumerable fuckwits who make retail/service so abjectly terrible in the first place.

  So here we go – some things you notice when you work in these fields.

Some Customers Don’t See You as Human

  This is probably a bit strong, but I defy anyone to argue against my point.

  When I was a coffee-based wage slave, I routinely (at least once a week) had to pull the tip jar away from people who would start rooting around in there for spare change. Then they’d get all huffy because I had the audacity to say they couldn’t use my and my coworkers' money to pay their bill. And they’d argue about how it was only a couple of pennies, or just a dollar, or whatever. Even aside from this example, if you were ever a server at a restaurant, you’ve probably been stiffed on a bill before because people don’t feel that it’s necessary to give a tip.

  Fundamentally, the people who conduct tip-warfare don’t really see their servers as people worthy of human dignity. How the hell could they? You go into a restaurant knowing that the restaurant industry is a corrupt pile of over-inflated price gouging and their servers are underpaid specifically because you’re supposed to tip in some kind of silent agreement between terrible people. To refuse to give a tip – or to purposely leave a shitty tip – is telling someone that the effort they put in waiting on you is fundamentally worthless. And if you’re the kind of fuck that takes money out of a tip jar, every time you do that you are basically reaching into someone’s pocket to pay for your own overpriced coffee.

  I guess what I’m saying here is that I personally didn’t do anything to anyone’s food or drink, but I can safely say that customers who do this have probably accidentally swallowed more pubic hair than the average porn star.

  But, hey! It’s not just scummy customers that think less of you!

The Company You Work for Thinks You’re an Idiot

  For those of you who have time to kill and don’t know what mansplaining is, go watch this and report back here. For those who are on a stricter schedule, mansplaining is a phenomenon where a man will condescendingly describe things to a woman that she already knows. In the case of the video I linked above, a man studying electrical engineering explains to a girl (who is apparently in some kind of work-study program to become a housewife) how smartly her kitchen is designed, even though she has to know it on some fundamental level. It’s basically a trope where a man gets to stroke his intellectual erection over the women-folk.

  Apply that to your job, and you probably know exactly what I’m about to get into.

  With disturbing frequency, my job would have orders come down from on high that sought to fundamentally alter the way that we were doing our jobs. You know, the things that we were getting paid to do, day in, day out. And while I’m sure they paid some consulting firms millions of dollars to figure out how to shave five seconds off our drink making time or whatever, it was still an outsider coming in and telling us how to do our jobs better.

  While I do understand that there needs to be standards in a corporation, you don’t get to treat your employees like they’re some kind of mentally inferior subspecies. Having people who have never worked in any significant capacity in the field that they are making recommendations in is bullshit. On top of that, it completely ignores organic things like team dynamics and customer relationships.

  But if they cared what you think, they would have asked your opinion. And they have no interest in what you think, because it’s clear that they think you’re going nowhere. Which ties into another thing retail/service loves to shove down your throat.

Drama Follows You Wherever You Go

  “I’m just so sick of the high school drama,” was a phrase I heard with distressing frequency. I’m pretty sure I said it multiple times myself. We all know what it’s like: people break up into cliques, coworkers start dating, feuds fester and develop, rumors are spread, and inevitably someone ends up dead and...

  My lawyers advised me to stop writing that sentence.

  The sad fact is that you’ll find out very quickly that “high school” will follow you almost everywhere you go. People tend to gravitate toward the familiar and safe, even when the familiar and safe means forming exclusive subcultures. It’s one of those things that is just kind of there, dominating our interactions subtly or expressly. But it’s particularly noticeable in the service/retail industry. I think what makes them so prone to it is the fact that neither industry really encourages self-improvement.

  This sounds pretty self-important and damning, and that’s not my intent at all. What I’m saying is that since both industries tend to view their employees as particularly whiney and dysfunctional robots, there’s no need to really encourage them to do more. And when your employers have no expectations for you, you don’t care about your job enough to focus on that. And why the hell would you?

  And when you put a bunch of people with disparate personalities together in a place that they collectively hate and expect them to work as a cohesive unit (like, say, high school), you’re going to get the identical kind of situation. It’s as inevitable as a corrupt politician or a tip thief swallowing three hundred pounds of pubic hair in their lifetime.

  But, hey, if it’s similar to high school, at least you’ll make some pretty kickass friends, right? True, but it’s not exactly the basket of cherries you may expect because...

When it Comes to You or a Paycheck, Paycheck Always Wins

  Although movies have occasionally showed us a world where people are routinely fiscally safe enough to give the finger to the man and walk off the job when something unjust happens, the reality is far bleaker.

  Particularly awful bosses will often use terror to keep their employees in line. What do I mean by that? Well, the threat of write-ups, terminations, and just general malevolence is an effective way to make it so the employees are miserable, but will (barely) do their jobs. The result of this is when you or a coworker is the target of a termination campaign, no one will speak up on behalf of the victim.

  When I was fired (temporarily, mind you), I was pretty much a leper to a lot of my former coworkers for a period afterward. Even trying to get answers was impossible, as I can almost guarantee that there was an understanding that to help me was to put whoever thought that was a good idea straight into the cross-hairs of the people that wanted me fired in the first place. The manager knew that she controlled whether or not they had a steady stream of income, and the employees were well aware of that. From those that felt safe enough to talk to me, it was clear that she was aggressively checking up on me to make sure that most links to my coworkers were severed.

  Even the times that I had been witness to what I considered to be unjust terminations, I knew to keep my head down. Although the overall situation was far less oppressive than when I was fired, it was much safer to just never mention it again. It’s a horrible situation, because you want to be a good person and do what’s right, but you always want to continue to be able to afford rent and food.

  But on top of it, and I think this is what a lot of people forget, if you make too many waves at your present employment – no matter how just – that’s going to affect your ability to get future jobs. Being fired from a position can be a permanent black eye if you can’t work your way out of it. The way our system is set up is extremely punitive, and anyone with a lick of common sense will know that doing the right thing can have long term, profoundly shitty consequences.

  I want to make it entirely clear that I’m not castigating anyone for this behavior in the least. I’m just as guilty of burying my head in the sand as the next person. I am saying that it’s shit that employers have the power to be unabashedly awful, and employees have to smile and take it.

  And those that survive get to face an even lovelier fate.

The Work Cycle Is Designed to Break You

  On top of new demands of how to do your job, every couple of months at the coffee place would receive new orders on new things to clean in increasingly time consuming ways. Or they would ship us a new piece of equipment that required constant maintenance and cleaning. And this was coming off of decades worth of constant buildup of expectations and standards.

  Although it seems like a minor point, the constant addition of new routines, standards, and practices is actually tremendously stressful. Every single thing was emphasized as being the utmost importance, and it needed to be implemented immediately. Which meant fitting things into an already crammed schedule so you could appease the gods of petty decision making. Combined with the constant drive to reduce the number of hours and employees (for the sake of the bottom line and not, say, because it's more efficient), and you're creating a situation designed specifically to break down through simple math.

  The thing is that throughout any given day, you have a finite number of hours. And continually adding things to do while reducing the staff for any given shift will eventually result in overwork. And since not getting things done can result in termination, your employees will make themselves sick/annoyed/dead trying to get everything done. And instead of listening to beleaguered employees, management sees that everything got done, which means that there must be more time for more tasks. Which then means that more are added.

  So you end up in a situation where you are expected to do an impossible number of tasks within an impossibly short amount of time while making sure to only do those tasks in a particular window – for example, cleaning the floors is only to be done in the time after the doors are locked. If you fail to do those tasks, you will probably be fired or reprimanded. And if you succeed, congratulations! You’ll have even more tasks within the next couple of months.

  And because the people who create these rules are incredibly unlikely to try them out for themselves “in the wild” as it were, their employees are driven into greater and greater despondency. It’s all so incredibly shitty and out of touch that I do have to wonder if these chucklefucks actually wonder why the jobs they offer have such ludicrously high turnover rates.

  Who am I kidding? They’re probably wondering why they’re coughing up pubic hairs so much.

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