Matthew Gates 18m 2,630
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Recognizing Self-Worth When Working Seasonal Retail
I didn’t need the job. I hadn’t even been looking for the job. I stumbled across the job while dropping off a friend at the store. In fact, I don’t even shop at Target. I don’t care for Target. I’m probably more of a Walmart guy, but after working at Target, I realize that in their efforts to compete with Amazon, both Target and Walmart have de-humanized the human worker, just as Amazon did a long time ago. As Louis CK once said, “In order to achieve greatness, you have to fuck people over.” In the case of Egypt and early America, it was the slaves.
You don’t think free shipping comes from the kindness of Amazon, Walmart, or Target’s “heart”, do you? I am not only targeting those stores. I am talking about every store involved in the retail business. The human obsession with consumption of products, goods, and services has come at great expense to not only destroying the planet, but in de-valuing human lives as well.
I have not worked in retail in over a decade and the last time I worked in retail, I was a cashier that simply grabbed liquor from the back shelf and helped someone to their poison for that day. Upon re-entering the world of retail, I hadn’t even been in retail more than a month to realize how much retail has changed and how little value is placed upon the human life. I did ‘hard labor’ at Target, also known as “inbound” or stocker or truck unloader. During the holiday season, Target was hiring seasonal workers from November to March. If they liked you, they would ask you to stay. If they didn’t like you, they’d let you go.
When filling out my job application, I put part time in the mornings. I went through the interview process and got the job. It was a few weeks before orientation. Once I got the job, my schedule at Target was 4 AM one day and 6 AM the next, depending on how many trucks were in that day. I was assigned to keep the toilet paper, paper towels, plasticware, and paper plates full. This was a task that was nearly impossible, as the next day, at least half of what I stocked was gone.
Target, Walmart, and all of the stores are very popular, and frequented by the entire town. The monopoly and branding power these companies have means that every other business suffers or no longer exists. In my town alone, there are five Targets and five Walmarts. There are two other major grocery stores that somehow continue to compete and survive, usually through deals and sales — and fresh meats, something that only Walmart has managed to overcome.
The job hired me at a reasonable rate of pay, slightly higher than minimum wage, so I could not complain about the pay. The people I worked with were decent, most of them had worked there for years, others had been working there just as long as I have, less than a month, and were fairly nice. Some of the more experienced workers who had been there for years were sometimes arrogant and cocky, and really just more annoying than anything, probably like I was to them. The management was okay and the company culture was fairly good to everyone, sometimes having potlucks, or random breakfasts.
Unloading the truck wasn’t an impossible task, but everyday, there was a new truck, with anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 items on it and about six people or less to unload it. Depending on the workflow and the amount of people, it usually took up to 2 or 3 hours to unload an entire truck, sorting everything in an organized fashion to be distributed throughout the store, by numbers. My section just happened to be paper, marked with 27, 28, and 29. I hadn’t asked for this, but was assigned to it and enjoyed doing it.
About 2 weeks went by and I thought I was doing a great job, keeping up with the fast-paced environment, having my energy levels at a decent rate, despite working another job, and being exhausted all the time. My work schedule was basically from 4 AM to 12 AM or 6 AM to 12 AM, depending on the day. Despite this, I kept up and kept doing it. I was only late to work just once, having overslept, but managed to get to work on time, and finish the tasks I was assigned.
Over the course of a month, the positive feedback and compliments were rare, and in fact, my manager said it once: “you guys did a great job unloading the truck, enjoy breakfast on us!” That was the first and only time I had ever heard it. So to know how I was doing, good or bad, didn’t come until it came. Unfortunately, what seemed like a pleasant job made me realize just how much of a piece of shit a company could treat me and make me understand my self-worth and value.
I did enjoy helping Target customers, though there is a distinction about Target customers and Walmart customers: Target customers seem to think they are getting better quality and better products. This could not be further from the truth. Walmart and Target order very similar products from China from the same companies and simply slap a different sticker on it. Target has their own company called “Smartly” and “Up and Up” while Walmart has their own company called “Great Value”.
They cannot sell under a brand called “Walmart” or “Target” as that would be a monopoly, so to bypass the United States laws, they simply have their own cheap knockoff companies that order products from China and they often come in at a few cents lower than the competition. Price comparers are likely to buy the cheaper version, while brand loyalty still works best: this is why you see Clorox and Bounty and all of these brand names you’ve known since you were a kid in their stores. It is a win-win for these types of stores.
I was just finishing up unloading a truck, stocking the shelves with the previous day’s two truck loads, taking the current day’s truck load, taking all the backstock in the store, and trying to get it all to the shelves. My manager then asked me to take all of my trash back to the compactor and to come see him in clerical. What could he possibly want to talk to me about? I wondered.
Thoughts raced through my mind: was I in trouble? Maybe he wanted to talk to me about giving me a permanent position and a raise for my area! Hell yes! Why not? After all, I was managing to keep up and get the job done! I couldn’t stay at the pay rate they hired me at and do this work. It was more like slave labor, but for the right price, I could sell my body for a few years and make some money in the process. The best thoughts ran through my head, but deep in the back of my mind, that never happens. So I knew the worst was yet to come.
“Come in here Matt,” he said. With a pen and pad on the table, he said, “When we do work here, the expectation is 40 boxes per hour. You are coming in close, but just not quite there yet. You are 2-3 boxes behind.” I gave him a puzzled look, “Okay? Is that okay?” He responded, “Well, we expect our workers to usually do better.” I had been giving him all I had, trying to be speedy, trying to be quick, trying to get those shelves stocked, even after being tired out from unloading the truck and walking across the entire store to my area.
While I’m not young anymore, I’m not that old and have managed to keep up. 15,000 steps per day is the minimum I take when I head to work. I’ve even seen 20,000 to 25,000 steps of going back and forth, trying to get the store prepped for the day, so that you, the consumer, can walk in, grab your item, pay for it, and walk out.
“You’re too slow, Matt. Slow enough that I don’t think we’ll be asking you to stay beyond the season.” He looked at me, waiting for a response. I was so exhausted that I had given my all, I didn’t really care. That and the fact that my primary job actually paid me more to do less. I said, “Alright, I will try to match your times. You give me the time and I’ll try to beat it. No promises, but I can definitely try to meet your standards.”
The next day, 4 AM, I showed up promptly. We unloaded an entire truck, about 1,400 items and we distributed them accordingly. I knew what I was supposed to do and I grabbed the plasticwares and went off to my own section. As other employees were asking for breaks, I decided I would be ahead of the game. I skipped my break and went off. My manager comes over and tells me to set a timer for 15 minutes. That is the time he allowed me to get 25-30 boxes done. I realized I would not have enough time to sort the shelves, fix the displays, or break down the boxes in time if I were to do it all at once. So I decided to sacrifice the display and just dump all the contents on the shelf and leave it as it was.
I had been rushing and managed to slice my finger open, feeling the stress of having the time limit he gave me. So instead of being able to repair my finger, I simply bled on to the boxes until it stopped. As I was nearing my last 5 boxes, I heard my timer go off. And quickly sped up even more. I was down to my last two boxes, when he came over and said, “You’re now 5 minutes behind! Let’s speed it up!”
That was when I knew I had to quit my job at Target. I went home. I looked up “time limits” at Target and realized that although Target has high standards of getting things done and likes thing done speedily, there is no such thing as a time limit. Instead of being appreciated, I was being disparaged for “being too slow.” I literally had no time to make the shelves of Target look good. Something had to give. I know I should’ve said something to him. Since I was seasonal, I didn’t think I had any right to say anything.
I went back and grabbed another cart full of toilet paper and started to walk back. He quickly caught up with me and told me, “You have until this time.” This time, I managed to nearly beat it, but towards my last three boxes, he came over and started helping me. I really hate being micromanaged, which he was definitely doing. I reminded him, “There is still more boxes in the back, can I go get them?” He said, “No, just go and take your garbage back and crush it down. Then go home.” I knew there was still work to be done, as there were empty shelves to be filled. The shelves looked a mess and everything was disorganized, not from what I had done earlier, but from the prior day’s mess of customers passing through. But now, this manager was preventing me from doing my job properly!
Giving me a time limit and telling me I was out of time in order to prevent me from doing my job! What time limit? I had an entire shift! But he wouldn’t allow me to work it! And then the next day I came in, I knew he was going to get on me about not having my work done! What could I do!? So I went home and did the only thing I knew I could do that would just end it all: I called up Target and I told them I quit.
There was no question of why or any “arguments” from either of my managers of why I could not quit. It was as if they already knew I was going to quit. It was as if they had orchestated the whole thing. I didn’t inform Target Human Resources because I really didn’t want to deal with the harassment of the managers knowing I went to HR. As great as the pay was, it was not worth getting up at 4 AM in the morning to deal with constantly being harassed and prevented from doing the job I was hired to do. Target hired a manager that is costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars. They don’t even know and probably don’t even care.
As a seasonal job that was meant to be enjoyable, help me earn some extra money, and teach me some lessons about retail: I realize it is littered with managers who have no more than a high school education, college students who are still optimistic about “moving up” somewhere, and older people who just need some extra money and the company of people. Since Target constantly has an influx of people looking for work, they do not have to worry nor do they care about people like me. I am not a threat and me quitting will unlikely affect their business one bit. They will hire another sucker in my place and maybe he’ll be able to do the job that I was “too slow” to do. While I did enjoy most of the seasonal co-workers, the more seasoned ones who have been there for years were a mix: some were great, some were very arrogant and easily annoyed.
I left the Target job without any regret. They never called to figure out why I quit in the middle of the season. I just had no desire to go to a job everyday that I thought I was helping out, and yet was constantly being harassed, stressed, and prevented from doing my job by the manager who, for some reason, was trying to find every excuse to not have me there. Especially a labor-intensive job that was causing my bones a lot of pain and putting so much pressure on my knees.
I did the manager a favor. I let him win this battle. He now has one less employee to help him stock the shelves through Christmas time. I just wasn’t going to give him or Target the satisfaction of staying throughout Christmas while taking the constant verbal abuse of being told I was too slow, despite unloading an entire truck or two — and then still doing my job to stock five lanes with merchandise!
I gained the experience I needed and I can go get another job that pays more in the same field if I want, but since I am a web developer, a technical and blog writer, a graphic designer, a freelancer, a web designer, amongst many other skills, I appreciate the fact that I am not and do not have to be stuck in retail. Good luck in your endeavors, Target! Learn to hire some managers who actually let you do your job without harassing you and maybe your turnover rate won’t be so bad!
This was not written with the intention of telling anyone to boycott Target or Walmart or any retail stores, as my writing could likely never do that, considering the fact that our nation is a society of consumers, but just to highlight the reality of working in a retail organization.