With December now upon us, I wanted to write a blog about something that plays on my mind every single year.
Christmas is a magical time for most. The anticipation, the gathering of families, the food….even remembering loved ones we have lost….Christmas is the time to do all that.
We all know how hard certain people work over the holidays. There are no end of jobs I could name that require working all over Christmas, including the day itself. Emergency services, care workers and even restaurants and such. All these people work so hard and things would be chaos if we didn’t have these dedicated people working over the festive period.
But I wanted to talk about the people who never get a second thought. Retail workers.
I may have already even lost some of you that are reading this by just saying the words ‘retail workers’….but seriously, try and keep with me for a bit.
I have worked retail. It would never have been right for for me to post a blog about working in retail over Christmas before, because it was my job. Now, I am in a new job. A job where I get to have the Christmas week off. Retail workers aren’t so lucky.
This isn’t a comparison blog. It isn’t a dig at any other job, it is simply a post about retail at Christmas. Shop work isn’t exactly saving peoples lives. I get that. I do.
But let me tell you as someone who has experienced it for years running, it’s awful. Last year, I worked for two weeks straight in the lead up to Christmas day. Long hours every day. I worked two weeks straight with no day off, had Christmas day off then was back at work early the next morning for the dreaded ‘boxing day’ sales. And a full seven days after Christmas of solid work. So in three weeks over the jolly season, I had one day off. Christmas Day.
Aside from the two straight weeks of working, there were all the other days I did before that. It all starts for retail workers in bloody October. The shops get all the Christmas merchandise in and we are expected to put it all out, often working late nights and early mornings in the last few months of the year. There are also all the late night shopping shifts we had to do. Any sacred day I had off, I couldn’t face doing Christmas shopping of my own. If I ever finished my shift before the other shops in town shut which was rare, I had already had enough. The last thing I wanted to do was traipse around busy shops trying to get Christmas cheer and look for presents. I just didn’t have any interest in it.
As I have touched upon, last year was just awful for me. I barely saw my children in the weeks leading up to Christmas. If I ever said no to a shift, my contract would be mentioned. The contract where I had signed I was willing to do ‘overtime’ . I mean….there is overtime and then there is ‘overtime’. There is a difference. I just kept telling myself it was more money. It was money to give the kids a nice Christmas. But by the time I had the money in my hand, I didn’t care. I couldn’t think straight. Most of my Christmas shopping last year was done two days before the big day. I finished at 4 o’clock and quickly whizzed around town picking up anything I could find. No thought really went into any of the presents I chose. It was miserable. Those two weeks before Christmas, I was so run down from working so much. I love Christmas Eve, as most of us do. I have spent every year since my Littles were born making it nice for them, watching their excitement build up over the day. In all my working years, I have mostly worked every Christmas Eve, but since the Littles came along, I have only worked mornings on a Christmas Eve. I have always been home to them by three in the afternoon at the latest. Even if it meant starting at 6am (and sometimes it did), I would make sure to get home to them so we could have the evenings together. Last year. I had to work from 10am to 7:30pm at night. It was a forty-five minute walk there and back. I was out of the house all day. I didn’t get in til half past eight that night, and the kids were already going to bed, having already done all the exciting things kids do on Christmas Eve. That Christmas Eve was, without a doubt, the worst one I had ever had. I had a manager that favoured a select few in the shop…and despite having worked my arse off and dropping everything to go in at any given time with no complaints in the month of December, he had decided to gift just two people with Christmas cards and shop vouchers. It was a slap in the face for the rest of us. To work that hard and not have the manager treat ALL of us the same was shit. I was missing the kids, I had no Christmas cheer and worked like a dog on 24/12/2015 and for what? A thanks would have been plenty….I got nothing. (In case anyone was wondering about the end to that story, I kept quiet and seething on Christmas Eve, then when I went in on Boxing Day for another long and pointless shift, I let rip. I let the manager know exactly what I thought of him rewarding two girls in the shop and not all of us. The manager admitted it was a dick move and that my point was valid.) You want to know what our shop of ten workers got as a ‘Christmas bonus’ that year? One packet of chocolate coins to share between us. I wish I was joking. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the shop had closed at half-five and I could have walked home, but oh no. I had to stay for a couple of extra hours sorting the boxing day sale out.
And unfortunately, it isn’t just certain managers that treat the employees with disregard. In my case, during the festive season, I never had a thanks from any of the customers. They were all in such a hurry. Of course, not all customers are rude in December. I’m not stereotyping and calling everyone grumpy. But not one of them ever really looked me or any of my work colleagues in the eye and said thanks. And the ones that were rude were just awful. They thought because it’s Christmas and that they have a way more important job than us, that they had a right to stand there and shout at us about things that were out of our control.
That’s enough of my experience in retail. This isn’t about me, although I have just written an entire blog about how miserable I was last year you could be forgiven for thinking that. Just try and disregard all of the above and read this next bit for me.
In any shop you go in this Christmas, you will be served by an actual human. This human has probably already done a never ending rota of shifts with extremely long hours. They are probably counting down every second until they get their next day off. You can guarantee that this retail worker would already have been shouted or sworn at during the shift because some customers turn crazy in December. They may have even had a few snarky comments about how they have it easy. They may have just had a long tale from a snob of a man in a suit claiming he has no time to shop because he only has two weeks off for Christmas, then the person behind them may well have shouted at this same human worker for not serving them quickly enough because they had to listen to the superior man in front drone on. You should also be aware that the worker would have been yelled at by management at some point for not being quick enough or not meeting sales targets. You can bet that the worker is on minimum wage, possibly on a FOUR hour contract but expected to do maybe up to FIFTY hours in the Christmas weeks. The worker of course, has always wanted a bigger contract, but management care more about money and sales than people and it would be a very real inconvenience to them to have to pay someone say….twenty-five hours holiday when they can pay them four. The worker will still be expected to do ten times the four hours a week all through the year, just without the added security of a bigger contract of course. You should probably keep in mind that the worker serving you has possibly been there from 6am that morning. You should know that they could be there til as late as 10pm that night, then have to do it all again tomorrow. If you walk up to them and think they have it easy standing there serving at a till all day, you should know that they probably had a fifteen minute break once in eight hours because even though laws are laws, it somehow doesn’t apply to retail. And before you really get carried away with the idea that they have ‘just been standing at a till’…you should know that that very morning they were no doubt lugging heavy delivery boxes around trying to get it all out for the customers in time. You should also remember that a lot of these workers don’t just get to go home when the shop closes, they have to stay behind and plan out sales. They have to do shop floor plans and move stuff around. They have to re-price every thing. They have to put the whole shop back in order because for some reason, December is the month for some customers to pull stuff from shelves and leave them in different places. You should know that although retail workers are guaranteed Christmas day off, they will be expected to work every day but then, including all of New Year.You should know that they don’t want to ask you a million questions about store cards and email things when serving you, but if they don’t ask…they face possible disciplinary action. You should be aware that their manager will be comparing them to their work colleagues and that if they aren’t making as many sales as others, or giving out as many store cards as what they should…they will be getting a telling off. You should know that you really, truly and absolutely would make a retail workers day if you just looked at them, smiled and said thanks. If you wanted to be super generous, you could even throw in a Merry Christmas.
For anyone working in retail this Christmas, I promise I will be friendly. I promise that I will be thinking of you and I promise not to make your job any harder than it already is. I also promise to sign as many petitions about shops not opening on boxing day as I can. Because it is absolutely pointless and nobody needs that. Merry Christmas to you all.
And everyone else working over Christmas, the emergency workers, the carers, the chefs, and all the thousands of other people that have to work those days….thank you. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year a thousand times over. The Littles and I are planning a little something for ‘giving back’ but it’s not as special if you boast about it on the interweb for back pats and praises so we will keep the actual giving private. Thanks for reading!