Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Stomping of a Worker Bee: How I became a jaded depressed unemployed Cynic

I used to work for a national retailer as an hourly employee. I held that job for over six years. I also used to believe that being a hardworking employee with a sense of urgency about my job, a sense of humor which I brought to my job, and an overwhelming desire to satisfy the customer would make me an ideal employee for my employer. Then I discovered that I was simply living in an anthill, and the squishing of my psyche began with the first stomp on the anthill. Most people seem to feel the stomp a lot sooner than I did. I know because most of the non-supervisory and non-management hourly employees I worked with deliberately did whatever they possibly could to avoid doing any work, or at least to keep their quantity of work and urgency of performing it at an absolute minimum.

People who know me have often described me as a most excellent worker bee. Because of my own idiosyncrasies, I'm not a particularly good candidate for a management type position. (I'd worked in three separate stores for this company as I made some geographic moves of my own, and in one of these, I was consistently asked to apply for an open supervisory position. Several people tried to get me to apply for it, but I knew that I would not ultimately be a successful candidate for that job as there are certain aspects of a management-type job I simply can not do effectively. For example, it helps to know exactly who you are managing, and as a person with prosopagnosia, that is sort of impossible to do effectively.) Apparently though, I also wasn't worthy of being consistently rewarded for the excellent quality of work that I did perform. The compliments on my work performance and work ethic were piled upon me by some of my fellow employees, by my managers, and perhaps most importantly, by the customers I served. However, in the last three years I worked for this employer, on my annual reviews, I received paltry pay raises. The first of these was a seven cent per hour raise given to me on my annual review which was given nearly 3 months late. (I'm going to completely forget about the annual review I was never given the preceding year, though at least I did receive a corresponding pay raise.) The following year, as an exercise in futility, I received an annual review with a zero cent hourly raise. The year after that, I received a 10 cent hourly raise on my annual review. I guess that no hard work goes unpunished.

For those unfamiliar with the retail sector, and for those who are about to be startled by similar problems of their own, retailers cap the wages of all hourly employees. At the company I worked for, that cap was at $10.00 per hour, though it was subsequently raised to $10.10 per hour. I find it fascinating that upper level executives in the company who, I have observed, have made some rather poor merchandising decisions over the last few years by clearancing out certain seasonal merchandise roughly a week or two before its peek demand stage and then not having enough merchandise to actually meet demand, still managed to receive whopping bonuses in excess of more than 100 years worth of my combined pay.

I had written several letters about my situation to various internal communication points within the company. The message I was basically given was that nobody really cared how hard-working I was, and that nobody really cared about my particular idiosyncrasies which made it impossible for me personally to successfully perform a supervisory job. It was simply a matter of time before I gave up. Because there was obviously no value in my being a stellar employee to the company I worked for (despite their assurances to the contrary) because there was no additional reward for continuing to be a stellar worker bee, I became both mentally and physically squashed. Ultimately, I quit working for the company. Technically, they let me go. (Technically, they fired me.) But ultimately, I didn't want to work there anymore anyway. At the time, I had said to one of my co-workers that I would rather be at home puking than continuing to work for this company. He jokingly said to me, "That good, huh?"

I've had a difficult time finding work since then, nearly a year ago, but a large part of that has been because I have simply stopped trying to look for work. Part of the reason for that is severe depression. I no longer believe that doing my best at anything is truly going to be a rewarding experience for me (I expect to be taken advantage of), and certainly, I'm not going to be rewarded for it. I expect ultimately to get stomped on again a few years down the road. Maybe I'll be lucky and find an employer which not only talks about valuing its employees, but one which actually does value its employees. My prior employer was not like that. It talked a good game, but ultimately, they spat in my face. I was simply another expense on the expense sheet, not a valuable employee as all of their internal and external company propaganda would have made me believe. Frankly, I made myself a valuable employee to them until such time as I simply gave up trying anymore. My drop in on-the-job performance was huge. Although my supervisor on more than one occasion pointed out to me that my giving only 10% of my effort was more than some other people giving 100% of their effort, neither he, nor the store manager, nor the company itself could satisfy my need to be consistently rewarded for superior on-the-job performance. So I gave up trying. Eventually, I wrote my manager a note which basically gave the three following choices, the first two of which I knew were going to happen only when hell froze over:

  • I believe the quality of work I perform is worthy of a pay raise. I should be given one.
  • Alternatively, if there is an opportunity available within the store which I can be confident that I can successfully perform which has the potential of earning me more money, I would like to be given that opportunity.
  • Alternatively, I do not believe I can continue to work in good faith for this company. Please let me go.

If you've read this far, you know they chose the last option. I was not unhappy. I simply could not continue to work for a company which did not live up to its own internal and external propaganda of being a good company to work for with employees that they actually cared about. I was convinced that they did not care about their employees. I also became convinced that, because they did not care about their employees, they also didn't care about their customers, because loyal customers deserve to be served by hard-working enthusiastic cheerful employees. (There were very few of those in the store I was working in at the time.) I haven't shopped there since I was let go, and I don't intend to shop there ever again. It will, of course, be of no consequence to a multi-million dollar company whether I, as one person, shops there or not. I, however, can not shop at a company which I do believe contradicts every one of its guiding principles with the way it actually conducts its business.

I don't know where I'm going to work next. I can't imagine that I will want to work in retail again. This collection of problems seems pandemic across the entire industry with very few exceptions, and I'm somewhat skeptical even about those supposed exceptions. I had thought that the company I was working for was one of those exceptions, but of course, it was just another one of those "screw the hard-working employee" companies.

If you do know somebody looking for a hard-working energetic fun employee who is willing to pay a reasonable wage for the honor of having me serve them somewhere in the Boston, MA, USA area, please let me know.

This post was originally published on on Aug. 19, 2007 at 03:13pm

1 comment:

  1. The following comments were posted by people from the community:

    On Aug. 19, 2007 at 02:30pm, inky1457 wrote:

    Retail is tough! I've worked it on and off, part-time and full-time in the Boston area, too and was one of those stellar worker bees. Even though I didn't get paid a whole lot I was always proud of my work. Being being proud of one's work doesn't pay the bills! I've had great luck finding quirky fulfilling jobs on CL. Good luck!

    On Aug. 19, 2007 at 09:25pm, I wrote:

    I was proud of my work too, but then I reached the point of saying, "Why be proud of my work when there is no additional economic reward for me to do so?" If the company wasn't going to care about rewarding its stellar working bees, why the hell did I want to be one? It was at that point that I became one of the very slackers that I had hated up until then, and that bothered me so much that it contributed to my downward spiral of depression and on-the-job performance which inevitably led to my breaking point and mu subsequent departure from that company.

    Its hard to be proud of your work when nobody else seems to care whether you are proud of your work or not.

    On Aug. 19, 2007 at 10:15pm, Andrew Helm wrote:

    You need to be checking the want ads for office work - even entry level.

    A - You're going to start above ten dollars an hour, and there is no cap - no matter what line of work you're in (don't let anyone tell you there is)

    B - You're problem will not hold you back in an office environment like you think it might. Nobody is going to remember who the hell you are, and they aren't necessarily going to expect the same from you. Those who do expect such things will have been notified about your problem, and will cut you slack for not knowing them.

    Seriously, retail is for suckers anyway, and even more so for someone with your condition. I don't know about the extant of your education, but it shouldn't matter once you get your foot in the door of any corporation. You may not make it to the top, but at least you'll find something comfortable enough to support yourself.

    Good luck, and keep us updated!

    On Aug. 21, 2007 at 11:47am, isismaxx wrote:

    Thank God you got out of retail! I worked for 12 years for a leading grocery store and I came to the conclusion that only the employees really cared about the customers. The managers were too busy covering their own asses and kissing their bosses. Sometimes I wondered if they weren't trying to ruin the business with their stupid ideas that we at the bottom of the totem pole had to implement.
    I have an office job now in the bowels of the banking industry and I love it. When I call in sick nobody argues with me just say ok.
    I get paid sick days, of course if I take too many it affects my review but at least I have some control over the review because the guidelines are laid out for me.
    Don't give up, get some anti-depressants if you have too and get an office or factory job. More money less hassle.


Do you agree? Disagree? Is there something which maybe I neglected to consider? Please let me know what you think!