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When I’m not busy being your friendly neighborhood opinions editor, I work retail. I adore my job. I work at a little independent clothing store selling dresses I love, and working for employers that I respect. As far as sales work goes, it is the best case scenario. However, even in the best of retail environments, there is always one problem: the customers.
Despite what you may think, retail and food service jobs are difficult. At best you are physically exhausted from standing all day; at worst, you are emotionally defeated by the time you clock out. Even just your environment can make your job nigh impossible. Did you know that the United Nations has banned “music torture” — the repetitive playing of songs — as an interrogation technique? It is safe to say that my human rights were violated during the 2011 holiday season. Even the best job can be horrific when you have to listen to the same 30 songs again and again. To this day I break out in a cold sweat when I hear a hint of Mariah Carey. Even with pleasant music, the tedium will get to you if you put in enough hours, which you are most likely going to have to do, because for the most part, food service and retail do not pay well.
I digress. The point of this article is not to ask for your sympathy, but for your respect. I’ve had people yell at me because they locked their keys in their car, I’ve had customers blame me for clothing not fitting properly, or because other customers are taking too long in the change room. I have come to the conclusion that people forget that when they act like unruly children they are having an impact on a real human being, not a retail robot.
Many — though certainly not all — of us at university live in a comfortable academic bubble. Many will go directly from degree to career without experiencing a minimum wage service job. When we are lucky enough to be removed from underpaid and overworked sectors of the workforce, it becomes easy to forget that the only reason our university functions is because of the people serving us our meals, tidying our classrooms, or moping our floors.
If you would like your karma to remain intact, you can start with the three golden rules of how to treat a retail or foodservice worker: respect our time, respect our abilities and respect our limitations. Do not expect someone to serve you a full meal three minutes before the restaurant closes; cleaning up after you is going to push them into (most often unpaid) overtime. Respect the fact that many of these jobs are harder than they look. Retail and food service is designed to seem effortless and comfortable to the customer — case and point, the drive through — but what is often overlooked is the sweat that goes into making the job seem easy. Doing many of these jobs well takes experience and hard work.
Did you know that the United Nations has banned “music torture” — the repetitive playing of songs — as an interrogation technique? It is safe to say that my human rights were violated during the holiday season of 2011.
Despite being capable, recognize that working a minimum wage job does not grant you much sway in your place of employment. Yelling at someone working the floor at Urban Outfitters is not going to help you get the discount you think you deserve. Cursing at a McDonalds employee will not make your fries fry any faster. Be reasonable and polite in your requests, because you may not only ruining another human’s day, you are also impairing an employee’s ability to do their job effectively. So thank your bus drivers, be nice to your cashier, and tip your barista. Accept the fact that you may be the customer, but you are not always right.
Photo Credit: 60Page