Thursday, May 1, 2008

Camel + Straw = One Hell of a Backache

I went into work yesterday and was greeted by the following sign hanging by the employee time sheet:

Here are the current sales totals for our Charity Book Drive:

Jackie – 73
Steve – 64

Trent – 7

Mocat – 6

From now on ALL employees working more than 4 Hours will be required to sell 3 books per shift for the Book Drive.
Employees working 7+ hours are required to sell 5 books or more.

Employees falling below these standards WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE.

My immediate response to this sign?
I am soooooooo quitting this job!

As you can see above, our little bookstore currently has FOUR employees (we also have 3 addtional part-timers but none of them works more than 4 hours per week so they were spared the humiliation of making the list).

Jackie (the manager) and Steve and Trent (Assistant Managers) are full-time employees (and of course, their names have been changed to protect the innocent), but with Corporate cutting our allotted weekly store hours back to the bare minimum I’m lucky if I get more than 8 hours per week…and it’s usually the late shift when very few customers come into the store. Trent also works most of the late shifts.
Can you see a pattern emerging here?

I worked 4 hours yesterday.
I had six customers.
So, to fill my quota I needed to get 3 of those 6 customers to buy a book for the charity drive.
Needless to say, it didn’t happen.
I go six “no, not today, thank you”s
So now, when I go into work on Saturday I will have the pleasure of finding out exactly what “WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE” means.

I am not one who is quick to anger, but I literally punched the sign when I saw it.

It’s bad enough that our job performance is based on getting people to sign up for a free Rewards card, now we’re being judged on our ability to persuade people to spend an additional $4-10 for a charitable donation.
My manager has no problem with this. I’ve heard her sales pitch and she pushes it to a level that actually shames the customer into saying ‘yes’ – especially if there is a line of people watching – otherwise it’s like they’re willingly withholding money ‘from the needy children.’

I like the idea of a book drive.
I like the fact that the books are going to the local Women’s Center.
I am vehemently opposed to the practice of soliciting every customer for a donation before we complete their transaction.

The elderly, mother’s with children, single women…
My manager hits them especially hard with the ‘pitch’ because she knows they’ll ‘sympathize’ with the cause.
But they all hesitate before they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Sometimes the hesitation is painfully long.
I can see the conflicting emotions in their eyes.
They are giving people and they don’t want to say no, but they can’t afford it, or they’re paying in cash and they don’t have enough with them, or they’ve just been hit up with too many requests for money lately, whether from their kid’s school or their church.
They say ‘no’ and they feel bad about it.
Or they say ‘yes’ and feel taken advantage of.
I can hear it in their voices.
Is that our goal as a business?
To make people leave the store feeling bad about themselves, or us?

The straw/camel/back equation reared its head when I saw the aforementioned sign that my manager posted. Not only it is apparent that she sees nothing wrong with posting a sign that is both humiliating and threatening to her employees, but it was completely unnecessary to post a sign when a simple conversation would have sufficed.
We’re talking about TWO people she needed to talk to (Steve has copied her tactics and is hitting the sales numbers and didn’t need a quota or threat).

This is the result of the corporate mentality.
My manager’s superiors talk to her via email in impersonal nonsensical corporate language, so she regurgitates it out to her underlings in the same manner. There is no sense that she knows or cares about her employees as individuals. We’re just cogs in the machine, and if we’re not ‘performing within the specified parameters’ we will be discarded.

Before I moved to CT, I worked at a retail store on Long Island.
I had the same boss for 16 years. He owned the store and was in the office every day running the business. He had over 100 employees, and while he would occasionally post a catchy slogan by the time clock to motivate his workers, he never communicated store policies/procedures to us via signs. We had group meetings, he asked us for feedback, he was open to hearing our suggestions and complaints, and he would talk to us one-on-one if he sensed a problem that may be affecting our work.
He knew how to manage people, and despite the size of our group we felt like a family and treated each other accordingly.
Most importantly, I never felt like I had to compromise my values to make a sale.
There were no quotas, required percentages, or ‘up-sell’ items that every customer needed hear about. The result – the employees were happy, the customers enjoyed coming into the store, and they came back.

Meanwhile, back at the bookstore, our dismal sales, lack of repeat business and high rate of employee turnover are all testament to the fact that we’re failing miserably on all accounts.

Now for the hard part….
Steve may be leaving for another store as early as next week (he’s still waiting to hear).
So if I outright quit, or even give two-weeks notice, that leaves poor Trent as the only key-holder in the store…and my manager Jackie will be royally screwed.
She has a vacation planned for mid-May that’s not going to happen if either Steve or I leave….and if we both leave…..well, like I said, she’s royally screwed.

There's camels and straw flying everywhere, and I’m worried about how my leaving is going to affect those left behind.

Walking away, giving up, throwing up one’s hands in defeat, even if it’s over a job that’s sucking the life right out of you, is never as easy as it sounds.


Suzer said...

Oh dear. More scary memories of retail hell.

The store I worked in was owned by The Limited companies (they owned a lot of stores at the time, probably still do). One of the managers I had consistently used negative reinforcement to get us to meet quotas, which only worked on a few people, the rest of whom would just quit. Heck, for minimum wage in a job that is pretty demeaning to begin with, we were supposed to be happy about being further demeaned?

One memory is when she started posting sales goals versus actuals. She would list for the week the "Best Associate -- Sally" and "Worst Associate -- Betty."

I had a brief conversation with her and our district manager about how calling someone the "Worst Associate" was not likely to improve their sales numbers. I suspected it would go over their heads, but the next week she just posted rankings, as your manager did, instead of using the words "best" and "worst." I suppose that was an improvement.

Upshot is, you've got my sympathy, MoCat, and lots of it!

MoCat said...

OUCH Suzer! I can't imagine how any manager would think that publicly labeling an employee as "worst" would make said employee want to work harder for their employer.
I think some people just get whacked with the 'clueless' branch at birth and there's no undoing it despite how hard we try! ;-)

BooCat said...

MoCat, Take it from a sadder but wiser person--don't eat your heart out over it. Would it bother your manager to walk out and leave you in a bad spot? No!!
As a person who gave twenty-three years of her life to a job with her state's employment and training programs, who actually spent her money for supplies at the end of program years when funds ran low or bought things we needed that could not be covered by state funds (as if I could afford it on what they paid me), I can tell you they had no conflict at all about laying-off me and others like me, without hearing or notice, while keeping those with less than two years service, because they could save money by doing so. While this case has been winding its way through the judicial system and it does look like we will eventually come out on top, the state will not be getting back the same enthusiastic, "anything you say" employees that they R.I.F.-ed
So, you go, girl! Never darken their door again. Don't look back, and don't think twice. "Managers from Hell" don't rate any consideration at all.