I’ve recently resigned from my job. Am I crazy? In this world economic crisis??? I don’t even have another job to go into. Still think I’m crazy? I’ve spent 8 years of my life, from the age of 16, working for a high street chemists / beauty store. When I started this job, as a member of the healthcare division of the company, I was happy, the staff were happy, the customers, for the most part, were happy.
This company prides itself on it’s, lets say wonderful (think ends of your legs….) customer care. And when I started work, and for the first few years this was largely true. I was encouraged to care for my customers, to give them what they needed, and spend as much time finding this out as I needed to, too. No conversation was too long, if I was the only person an elderly, sick, or simply lonely person spoke to in a week then I would make sure that on my Saturday shift, I would make that a good conversation. I wanted every customer to leave with a smile on their face. But then things began to change. Through numerous ‘re-profiling’ attempts, the company being sold and ‘re-imagined’ etc etc. The smile I was used to sending people away with changed, instead of a smile I was to send them away with a product: Some antibacterial hand gel, some vitamin C tablets, a loyalty card, or even the dreaded online customer survey. Those customers I had once been able to intuitively understand were in a rush or wanted a quick, simple and trustworthy transaction, had to be held on to, kicking and screaming whilst I forced reams of till roll into their already full hands, coffee cups, shopping bags, mobile phones, here, have some more crap to drag around. Or even, here, have something you don’t even need, that will do you no good, but, crucially will cost you a whole £1 less than it normally would.
Then things changed for me. I finished studying and had to enter the dreaded world of ‘no student loan’. I went to working extra hours, here and there, when I needed and when suited, but this lifestyle of uncertainty and instability took its toll, so I decided to get myself some proper, official, contracted hours. Unfortunately this entailed working in a different department. The dreaded care home dispensary, aka the dungeon UP the stairs. For a while I stuck it out, in the hope that there would come a time when I could return to the shop floor and to ‘my’ customers (yes, I actually enjoy customers!). Alas this day never came, and to make things worse other commitments outside of work I had to relinquish my last hold on this bastion of rebellion, and stop working my Saturdays on the shop floor. This decision was not a light one for me, and things got worse when I was accused of ‘not supporting the needs of the business’, by my then manager. I could vaguely understand this opinion, but could not agree, I gave my proper due notice to the post and explained that should they need me to work the odd Saturday shift they need only ask and if I could I would. This seemed to fall on deaf ears and that particular manager has never spoken a word to me since, yep, the full on silent treatment, from a manager and adult…
So, now I worked solely in the dungeon. No windows, one door, one radio, one radio station, one air conditioning unit… numerous opinions on temperature.
Now I don’t want to escalate my situation out of proportion, it is meant to be representative of the general degradation of what I believe to be the company’s own age-old ethics and beliefs. And I’d also like to believe that my treatment wasn’t racially oriented, though can’t say I would rule it out completely. (But, often I felt I was singled out due to my voice/accent) ‘I’m fed up of hearing your voice!’, my manager would shout across the room when she decided that the conversation that had been occurring was over. A conversation that had, until maybe thirty seconds prior to this outburst, very much included them. It worked though; the room would descend into silence, unless anyone could hear the blood in my veins starting to simmer.
But this occasion isn’t really what drove home the way in which the company is changing to me. What revealed the type of character, and associated behaviour the company now believes to be correct for the role of manager, was a conversation concerning Christmas hours. Now, I had requested to have the Christmas period off, that is, Christmas day and Boxing Day, as opposed to New Years Day and the day after. But as I have a long way to travel to get home to my family for this period, and wanted to try and avoid travelling on Christmas Eve (we all know what happens then!!), I asked if I may take the Friday off before Christmas, Christmas Eve Eve if you like. In exchange I would be willing to work even more hours over the New Year period than I had taken off. Now I will be honest to say that, even with this attempt at a trade, I in no way expected to get a positive response to this request. And I was right, but what I was wrong about was exactly how this negative response would be relayed. Was I wrong to anticipate a response such as ‘I’m sorry (let’s refer to me as C), but Christmas is a very busy period and we can’t let anyone take any extra time off’’? Something like that, maybe, at worst, ‘It’s company policy’. But what I got back was this…
‘We are not a charity C’.
That was it, done, dusted, BOOM. I, personally, was completely shocked and appalled that a manager could choose to speak to another member of staff in such a way.
Fast forward about two months or so, I have just returned from a family holiday. On my return I discover that all of the staff are being given their interim ‘performance reviews’ for the year. Basically, mine comes out badly, as I had expected, since the disdain, disgust, and generally dirty looks I had been getting from pretty much all levels of management since the end of my Saturdays, and even more so from the end of the Christmas fiasco. But what follows is no explanation of why, or how to improve, instead I am fed the likes of ‘You have a positive attitude to your work’ (I blurt out a small chuckle here), and ‘You always follow up any problem, query, and you have a very good telephone manner’. What it comes down to again, is not the care for the customers, not these followed up and resolved queries, but instead the fact that I hadn’t always reached my target of dispensing medicines for 25 patients per day. Could this perhaps be because I am busy chasing up queries and answering the telephone I wonder? Or when I am put into the stock room to dispose of the, literally, thousands of drugs, fortified drinks and foods that come back from the care homes week after week, perfectly in tact, unused, but which have to be disposed of because they have been dispensed (a paper sticker that I have to peel off before disposal anyway as it is deemed ‘confidential waste’, but that’s a whole other essay).
In amongst these things are issues ranging from the time returned back from lunch break (yes, perfectly on time, it’s more than my life is worth), and even the time I had spent on the shop floor when the store manager asked me to stay on the till a while longer, I returned to the dungeon just before 1130. When asked by my manager what time I returned I said, simply ‘1130’. It just so happened that the pharmacy manager was in the room, and the response from there was ‘you couldn’t have got back at 1130 because that is when we (pharmacy manager and team manager) came in the room.’ my response, well, it was just before 1130’. Pharmacy manager ‘We didn’t see you pass us on the stairs’. Me: nothing, turned back to my station and continued to press the tiny white pills from their foil backed packet that cuts into my thumbs and coats my fingers in its powdery white residue.
Imagine now, if you will, another of your colleagues has lost a family member, you, concerned as she is crying, go to console her, stating to your manager that you will be ‘one minute’. You are standing talking to the tear filled eyes of your workmate when through the door boles the manager, pointing to her watch stating ‘One Minute!’…
Then go on to imagine you or another colleague might have to move to another store as there are not enough posts available in the one you both work in. You both go into the meeting to discuss the issue, expecting to discover if it is you or the other that is moving. But you are told by the management to ‘decide between yourselves’. And then, when you and your colleague refuse to do this and the management say that they ‘can’t decide’, they flip a coin. Now is it just me or are managers not there to make decisions like this? Why pay a manager when you could just invest in a nice wheel of fortune?
And in a similar vein imagine that your manager says, starring into the ground, fiddling with the edge of the chair on which they sit ‘look, one of you has to go so you better just get it done’. And then promptly leaves the room…
Now this company prides itself on customer care. It is its number one value, we are led to believe, and in the past this was backed up by equally fair and decent treatment of its staff, but after numerous takeovers and management shuffles, they now expect to see the exact same treatment of customers, whilst expecting this much of its staff, and then treating them all in such a way. If you are changing a structure, then change it, but don’t expect the same results. If you treat your staff like a number, or badly, or at least not well, then you should expect a knock on effect in the rest of the business.
If customer care is the number one value to expect of your staff, then staff care should be the number one value you expect of your managers.
Have I borne witness to the beginning of the end of a truly institutional part of the British high street? I think so, and can no longer bear to look.
Not all these examples are my own experiences, but they are all those of people I have known and worked with.