Why everyone should work retail (at least once)
I have worked in the retail industry for seven years. In that time, I’ve been screamed at, sworn at and humiliated. I asked myself every day, why do I keep doing this job?
It’s simple. Working in the service industry has taught me how to remain calm, treat people with respect and deal with tense situations – skills more people should have.
These jobs get even crazier closer to the holidays as consumers enter shopping centres en masse. They walk in like dead-eyed zombies ready to claw each other to death over new, hot Christmas items. When we’re sold out, they’re ready to tear my head off.
I can’t think of another job where an employee has to put up with so much. It’s a constant struggle feigning being nice just so people leave with a positive experience and might be inclined to throw a smile your way. If you’re lucky, you might even have someone say thanks and actually mean it.
That’s not all retail employees have to put up with. I’ll never forget my first job, and one memory in particular that haunts me to this day.
I was 15, working at a grocery store. I worked in “General Services,” which meant I cleaned up any messes and fixed anything that was broken. One of my responsibilities was making sure that the bathrooms were clean and fully stocked.
One grim evening, I had just finished restocking the men’s room. Next was the women’s washroom. For some reason, the women’s washroom was always worse than the men’s. Usually it was something minor, like someone getting water all over the counter. But tonight, it was different.
I went to restock the toilet paper, and when I opened the stall door, what I saw scarred me for life.
There was human excrement everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. All over the walls, toilet and floor. The lady had been kind enough to leave her underwear as well. Who could blame her? She literally exploded in there. It was like a fecal tornado had just laid waste to my life.
Photo by Pauline Zulueta
Needless to say, I quit that job several days later after my manager had tossed me a thin pair of dishwashing gloves and told me to “Get at ‘er”, but I continued to work in retail.
Often employees are young students getting paid minimum wage. According to Statistics Canada, the average employee not working fulltime makes $10,735 a year. What that means, in the words of Chris Rock, is that if their bosses could pay them less, they would — but it’s illegal.
Statistics Canada also stated that of the 542,000 post-secondary students that were employed, 96 per cent of them had a job working in the service industry — and that doesn’t include high-school kids.
Amy Zanusso, a recent university graduate, supported herself throughout school by working in retail.
“I don’t think our customers treat us like people, because they just see us as a step towards making their purchase,” Zanusso said.
However, Zanusso said she didn’t hate her time in retail, and found that her job taught her some lessons.
“It definitely strengthened my ability to be patient with people,” she said.
So essentially, students working these jobs have no say in how the organization is run, but sadly they are the face of the organization. They are the ones that customers see, and they are the ones that customers complain to.
And having a complaint isn’t even the problem – it’s how people handle their complaints. Whenever I’m approached with a rational complaint, I’m sympathetic and understanding. I will work as hard as I can to solve the problem and make sure the customer leaves satisfied. But if you’ve never worked in retail and you’re mad because we don’t carry your specific brand of tampons, then you wouldn’t know that there isn’t anything I can do for you.
An article published in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined people in various lines of work, and found that people who had worked in customer-service related jobs generally had a better attitude than people who hadn’t.
While working in the service industry won’t guarantee that you become a better person, it will at least give you some insight into what others have to do to earn a living, and will hopefully help give the public a higher regard for those who have to deal with customers all day.