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Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: #11 The Annual Review

Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: #11 The Annual Review

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There is one thing that those who work in retail do not look forward to each year (well, there are many things that retail workers do not look forward to each year) and that is the yearly review.

I know that everyone who works, at some point in the year gets a progress report, as you would when you were in school, which let your parents know what you were excelling in and what it was that you needed to do in order to improve, but you are no longer a 6th grader struggling with math or falling behind in sentence structure, this is much more than that, and that is what makes it worse. It’s one thing to hear that you need to brush up on vocabulary words its quite another to hear that your actions or lack of actions are causing the company and its investors money which could result in your not only not getting a raise but could also lead to your losing your job as well. Welcome to the annual review.

I can remember when I worked in shoes, and waiting for each August to come around, first it was when we got the snow boots in stock, awaiting that first midwestern snowfall which could come at any time after the calendar switched from August to September. It also meant that the annual review would come soon.

On that day, the boss would take me over to what had once been the eatery, which later became the Kcafe and finally Little Caesars pizza, and buy you a soda. The two of us would sit across from each other and he would start to talk about business and how the numbers had been for the past year. He would talk about sales and trends and percentages and projections as if this was a beginner level economics course and you really cared how many more pairs of flip flops you sold this year vs. the previous 12 months, as if you cared what was happening in similar departments like yours across the city, the state, and the Midwest.

He would then talk about what was expected of employees and how they had been told on their first day what their goals were (and somehow sitting through an inane lesson in the fine art of selling shoes while drinking a watered down Pepsi never appeared in those goals).

Then you would hear what happened six weeks ago on a Tuesday that you were supposed to remember, something about a pair of work boots not put properly in their box on the third shelf, second row, fifth box in. Suddenly you were being grilled, as if you were on trial, as if this was worse than any crime that had ever been committed and what you said next would make the difference between walking the green mile and going home a free man (well as free as you can be working in retail).  Of course, I did not remember that day in question and said so, which was greeted with the following: well don’t let it happen again, because we need to make sure our customers can walk into a clean and orderly department, one which is there for them to make their purchases and not one of disorder and disarray.

I thought to myself who was he kidding, these were the same customers who would put 22 pairs of work boots on the floor, trying on half of them, before walking away, purchasing none of them. These were the same customers who would put every pair of sandals on the floor, try them on and then throw them on the bench or in the hosiery department, again purchasing one pair for each 50 they tore the tags off or misplaced. And let’s not forget that these were the same people who poured whole Icees into tweety bird slippers or left chicken bones in them. Were these were the people that would be bothered by one mis-boxed pair of steel toed 6 inch work boots? But he was serious and I needed to take it as seriously if I wanted to keep my job.

Finally, there would be talk of your raise. You would be reminded that it was reward enough to have a job and you should be grateful for the privilege of selling shoes, and then you would get your pennies and walk back to the sales floor, asking yourself how your life and your work was worth less change you could find in the cushions of your couch, but you took it anyway.

Boston Public Library via Flickr

My one review that I got at Target was not much better, only this time I was not taken into a cafeteria and bought a soda, instead it was behind closed doors in the HR office. I remember walking into the room and being told to take a seat (when is taking a seat ever a good thing? It’s like being called into the principal’s office and waiting for a reading of trumped up charges before the veiled threat of calling your parents is made). I took a seat across from one of the MOD’s (I think her name was Lindsay). She asked me how I was doing, making awkward small talk, because I knew that she did not care that I was working two jobs or that I had recently broken my ankle, or that 5 hours of sleep was the most that I could hope for in the foreseeable future. She then went over the duties of the lowly Target employee, about how we were there to make the shopping experience special for each person who walked through those doors, and that we needed to see the big picture, that big picture being the company and how much money we could make for it and its shareholders, and how our actions could hurt the company in ways that we had not even thought about (in much the same way that Homer Simpson’s actions had cost Mr. Burns another ivory backscratcher). Once again, I was reminded that it was a privilege to work with Target and to be able to help and assist those fine customers we would meet each day (no mention of the ones who would run their carts into racks and knock them over or the people who would leave frozen items in the diaper department or the women who would take all the bath suits off the hangers and leave them on the floor).

Before there would be mention of the pennies you would receive as a raise, there was of course the talk about company profits and our shareholders and how we had an obligation to see that they got a return on their investment (but there was no mention of us getting a return on our investment, of our being rewarded for working involuntarily 3-4 hours past our scheduled shift because some 19 year old MOD wanted to pad his cheque with OT). We would then be reminded of our commitment to the ways of Target and be told that we should be grateful for the handful of coins we were about to receive.

foreverseptember via Flickr

Now my current employment situation changed things a little bit. Yes, you would sit down with a manager who would remind you of the company for which you worked, and how your actions can make or break the company. Yes, you would be told that it is a privilege to have a job when so many people do not have one, and then the fun would truly begin.

I should back things up a bit. Months before you get the inevitable sit down, you are handed a couple of pieces stapled together, which you needed to read and then fill out. On these pieces of paper are your duties, your roles, your tasks, and however many other synonyms you can choose to describe your daily work. Added to this, there are numbers from 1-5, with descriptions of what those numbers mean. One means that you basically show up for work almost on time and are two steps away from being fired at any moment, while a 5 means that you are the greatest person to ever put on a lanyard and walk around the store. Songs should be sung in your honor and statues created to commemorate the day of your hire. Needless to say, no one gets a 5: ever. It would destroy the very fabric of the employer/employee relationship and next thing you know, dogs and cats would be living together and there would be mass hysteria.

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So you turn the sheet in and forget about it for a couple of months, until that day arrived. Now that day used to come in August, to mark both the end of summer and the end of another year of your life working for a company which would never appreciate you and your efforts even if you walked on water and healed the sick, and turned water into wine, but that changed. It was moved to September first because it was a new fiscal year and benefited the company somehow. Then it became October, and this year, even later than that thanks to Covid (don’t ask).

You are taken to the office where you are told to take a chair and relax. The managers then pull out the paper that you turned in as well as their own copy and read each category line by line, as if you had forgotten what it was that you did each day, for the last year. Then they read your opinion of yourself (and it better not be one of too much self esteem or self worth because you can and will be shot down…trust me, I was reminded that if I was really that good I would be running a store instead of just being an asst. manager). After a pause, they would then read their opinion of you and hopefully your numbers matched (I learned early on not to think too highly of myself and I would do just fine. Maybe the boss would say that I was being too hard on myself or maybe they would agree completely and we could get on with the work day).

After the review had been read, you would be told of the complicated mathematical equation that was used to compute just how much money that the company felt you had earned for your hard work, all the while being reminded of your responsibilities to the company and its shareholders and the self evident truths that we were to hold so near and dear to us. You then had to sign the review and click okay on the computer before going back to work, wondering just how many of those nickels you were actually going to see once the taxman took his cut. Not such a funny story, I worked with a lifetime employee once years ago who quit after her review; she had received ten cents. She took this as such an insult and said that she would have preferred no raise at all than to receive a dime for all her hard work and being told that this was all she deserved for her time served.

Just another reason to love the world of retail and all the little things that make it the best place on earth to work.

Cover image courtesy of Sgt. Pepper57 via Flickr

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