So I get to work and say hello to my boss and I can immediately tell something is wrong. As it turns out his father is in the hospital with cancer, but has now contacted Covid and it is bad. The doctors expect the man will pass tonight. There is nothing more that can be done.
So why is my boss at work and not with his family? Because he is manager-on-duty at the grocery store this evening. One other manager is away on vacation. A third manager had already worked a twelve hour shift and had gone home. And per rules of the business a salaried store manager must be on the site at all times while open. So he is here, not with his dying father.
I understand what my boss is going through. In January 2001 I was not at the hospital when my mother died. As general manager of a grocery store at the time I had returned to work because a manager has to be there in grocery. I had left the hospital, travelled the three hundred miles back to my job and was planning on returning to the hospital at the end of the week. But my mom died before I made it back. For twenty-one years I have felt sad for making that wrong decision to go to work. But hey I guess some folks got their groceries.
The grocery store must go on. When it snows we find a way to get people here. I have had co-workers wreck their cars in bad weather trying to make it to their shift and keep the store open. Grocery workers miss holidays with the family because the grocery store must go on and the holidays are busy for our customers. We work the holidays so you can enjoy the holidays. Everyone knows how grocery workers stayed in the trenches during the pandemic. Just about everyone at my store has had Covid. Maybe some of them did not even pick it up at the job. I don’t know.
So tonight at exactly one minute after closing a couple of customers come to the door and my boss says sorry, but we are closed. The customers gets mad because they see the last folks being rung up in the store so of course we should still be open. My boss says no. Because he is trying to get the business closed so he can go be with his father when he dies. The customer couple is still mad but finally leave. Five minutes later they are on the phone demanding to speak to the manager. My boss gets on the phone and hears an earful about our poor customer service. My boss says he was the one at the door and sorry but they came after closing. A few minutes later the same customer calls again and complains angrily to the overnight crew, who directs the call back to my boss. My boss tells them who them how to reach the store director who will be in here in the morning. They can complain to him.
I walked to our cars with my boss who was heading next to the hospital to be with his dying father. He was drained.
Now maybe these late customer had their own issues, their own tragedies, and needed desperately something we sold. But I have seen so much anger and rudeness towards our staff over the past two years. How did we get to a point where it is OK to treat working people who are out here every day at low pay trying to keep things running, like they don’t have the same struggles as everyone else? How did we get to the point where it is OK to call up and complain over and over about trivial shit when the person you do not know may be going through the very toughest of times?
Please try and be nice to strangers. They are probably going through the same hells you are. Or worse. Everyday life trivialities are not important. They are trivial.
Grocery store workers - at all levels, not just peons-on-the-bottom - are perceived as low-status/class in our society. Many perceive them as servants, there to cater to their whims and how dare they have their own emotions, families, or tragedies?
Grocery stores are just as essential to how our civilization works as doctors and hospitals (not that hospital staff get good treatment, either).
Too many people are selfish and self-centered, it’s all about them, and they’re assholes to everyone around them. The old meme about “the customer is always right” is especially toxic. No, sometimes the customer is wrong.
Yeah, there’s a reason they call it “closing time” rather than “the time when we’d kinda like to, maybe, wrap things up here and go home . . . I mean, like, if it’s all right with the customers.”
That’s exactly why I would never, for even the tiniest sliver of a fraction of a split second, consider taking any kind of public-facing job. I’m just not cut out to deal with shit like that. Way back in prehistoric times at the beginning of my working career, I had a part-time restaurant job for a while. The experience taught me some stuff, but never again.
When I was a teenager I worked at McDonald’s and dealt with a great many customers who had a supersized sense of entitlement. I think the experience helped to shape how I treat customer service workers now. Some people think everyone should serve in the military or peace corps when they’re young, but I think maybe we’d all be a bit nicer to each other if everyone had to work a customer service job for a couple of years when they were young.
I’ve heard before that the most virulent racists are white people who are insecure about their own social status, and that their motive is to assure themselves that there definitely is someone below them on the social hierarchy. I would guess the same applies to people who are assholes to customer service workers: they don’t feel good about their own social status, so they insist on:
A) being treated like royalty by CS workers;
B) being allowed to treat CS workers like shit, up to/including getting them fired for any perceived transgression;
It’s important to note that to whatever degree looking for someone to punch down on may be a facet of human nature, this particular expression of it was deliberately manipulated and intensified by the affluent southern classes since before the Civil War. In the 1890s-1930s there were some really interesting moves toward organization of the poor across racial lines, and they led to an era of truly extraordinary race baiting by pretty much all white Southern politicians. Candidates competed on who could be the most disgustingly racist and whip up the most fear. This was directly and explicitly tied to the goal of preserving cheap labor, white and black.
When I was in my early thirties, working as a sales rep in New York, my father had a serious heart attack while visiting my sister in San Diego.
I found out in the early morning hours. I went into work and told my boss, the owner of the company I worked for.
He said “Why are you here? You need to be with your family. Call Ruth (the company travel agent), book a flight that leaves today and a hotel. Tell her to put on the company account. Then go home and pack. Give me a list of your appointments and someone will cover them.”
Which I did, and I was with my family as dad went through his open heart surgery and early recovery. I was out 10 days, IIRC.
I wouldn’t have made that decision, which was the right one, on my own. I figured they had my sister for help and, I think on some level, I thought if I acted like everything was normal, that it was no big deal, then it wouldn’t be a big deal. Even though it was. And I think he recognized that I was sort of stunned and on autopilot and unable to make the decisions I needed to make - hence the detailed instructions.
My wife spent her career working in college bookstores. It was a regular occurrence to have people show up just as the store was closing, claiming they just needed to grab one thing, then spend the next 15-20 minutes casually browsing. Generally what the staff would do in this situation would be to have someone go up to them every couple of minutes and ask “Can I help you find anything?” Some customers eventually got a clue, but most were oblivious.
About 15 years ago a valued co-worker was visiting his mother over Christmas, and she died on Christmas day. The co-worker wanted more than the standard 3 days of bereavement leave. He was over 1000 miles away. Boss would not let him use sick leave, and he had no vacation left to use.
Co-worker went to personnel and the employee rules where re-written (that’s stunning in itself). You get 10 days of bereavement leave (still not enough IMHO) The 3 days of bereavement and you can use 7 sick days.
Then about a year later my FIL died. My Wifes family lives 1300 miles away.
I went into work the next morning to change my phone message, and let my boss and staff know that I was accompanying my Wife to the funeral. I would be driving (my Wifes choice) and would be gone a week or 10 days.
My boss gave me a ration of shit about that. “You should fly, be back here in 3 days”. I walked out. I was speechless. I knew I was going to support my wife no matter what. She wanted to drive and get her head together. Her dad had just died.
I was a 20 year employee at the time. And I was being given shit about this. AND it had just happened previously with a co-worker and I had thought the rules where changed. I was very confused, and said fuck it, if they fire this 20 year employee, it’s their loss.
Well, word gets around. My grand boss had a three hour meeting with my boss about this. I got quite the apology, and nothing like that ever happened again.
My boss was told in no uncertain terms that he was to give condolences and just say that he would see you when you get back.
I was only with my current company a year and a half when my father went into the final stages of his illness. It was around Thanksgiving, so I’d already used up most of my vacation and personal days. He was 2000 miles away. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I can fly out over Thanksgiving and use my remaining OOO days for the funeral and the first two days of shiva.
Boss: No, take whatever time you need.
Me: What happens if I need more OOO days than I have left? Can I borrow some from next year?
Boss: Forget what days you think you have. You have as many as you need.
That approach is a big part of the reason I’m still there 5+ years later.
I worked the late shift for 2 1/2 years at Toys R Us and saw that kind of bullshit almost every night.
It’s sad that we also had to make a part of our nightly routine that we went through every aisle and every storeroom, heck EVERYWHERE to make sure there weren’t customers wandering around in there “by accident” as we were closing.
It has been almost 25 years since I’ve worked at Toys R Us (may you rust in pieces you shitstain of a company) but I still have the nightly intercom messages memorized. (They weren’t recordings, we had to actually announce them manually every night, and I did it every once in a while too.)
“Attention Toys R Us shoppers, the store will be closing in 5 minutes. You have 5 more minutes to complete your purchasing. Thank you for shopping at Toys R Us.”
“Attention Toys R Us shoppers, the store is now closed. Please bring your purchases to the front of the store for check-out. Thank you for shopping at Toys R Us, and have a pleasant evening.”
I would always mentally add “Smithers, release the hounds!” to the end of that last one.
It’s so sad I can remember all of that shit word-for-word so many years later. I think that place scarred me mentally. (I know it scarred me physically, I still have the tendonitis from the workplace injury that happened when I was forced to do a 2 person job by myself over my own protests.)
Too many people have blinders on, behave like toddlers, and usually get away with it. They can’t handle any sort of deviation from their plans. Going to the grocery store, it’s CLOSED? Bully my way in. Want chicken strips, drive-through line is so long you can’t even pull off the highway to get into the parking lot? Block traffic, I’m getting my chicken strips.
A friend of mine who owned a small retail store told me she couldn’t let anyone in after closing for the simple reason that insurance wouldn’t cover anything that happened under those circumstances. Robbery, accident, fire, whatever – if it happened to that customer, because of that customer or simply while that customer was on the premises, her insurance would deny any claims.
I have no idea how accurate that is, but it would stop me from making any exceptions.