Retail workers speak up about how they really feel about working in the retail industry.

The truth about working in retail (part 1)

Karen terrorising a retail worker

A job in retail is a great way to learn useful soft skills while you earn some cash. It’s one of few industries — next to hospitality — that will often take on staff with little to no experience in the working world.

But what’s it really like to work in retail?

Let’s find out.

Being stared at for talking

Retail manager is always watching you

Nothing breaks apart the grind at work like a quick chat around the water cooler with your work friends.

Not in retail though, because the moment you start a conversation, your 16-year-old manager will be watching you from the end of the aisle like Jason Voorhees.

We also don’t get water coolers in retail.

Our hydration comes in the form of energy drinks and strong coffee.

Timed toilet breaks

Timed toilet breaks in retail

I’ll never forget the first time I was scolded by my manager for taking too long in the bathroom.

“You’ve been gone for a full 7 minutes”, he said, tapping his watch impatiently. “What exactly were you doing in there?”.

Sensing that “Taking a giant crap and having a cry” wasn’t the explanation he was looking for, I apologised and said it wouldn’t happen again.

Which was a lie, because I’m pretty sure I’ll need to take another crap at some point in the near future.

Especially if they keep on serving us those microwavable burgers in the break room.

No freedom of movement

This segways nicely from the issue of timed breaks.

You just don’t have any freedom to move around in retail. In an office job, you’d probably be commended for the health-conscious decision to stretch your legs and get a break from your screen.

In retail though it’s like that movie where your head explodes if you travel too far beyond the boundaries of your department.

Except your head doesn’t explode. You just get hunted down by your Manager and lectured about “theft of company time”.

Being pressured into booking annual leave

Getting a few paid weeks off per year is a sacred thing. That’s your time to spend with your family and friends. Maybe even book a vacation away if you can afford it. So naturally, you’d probably want to save those days for a special occasion and use them wisely.

Not an option in retail I’m afraid. The moment you get your vacation allowance, you’ll be expected to book a week off in the spring and another week off in the summer.

If you refuse, they’ll either book it for you or make it extremely difficult for you to book time off when you need it.

Your wages being wrong and not being fixed easily

Retail workers get paid peanuts

If you’re hourly paid, you’ll probably have to clock in and out for your shifts. Maybe for your breaks too.

Most of the time this works flawlessly and you get paid properly. But make one mistake and the whole thing goes to hell.

The problem is though, you probably won’t realise you made a mistake until you get paid and discover you’re short.

Good luck getting this money back without having to fill out paperwork and sit through a lecture.

Even then, you’ll probably have to wait until the next payday to get it.

Being trained poorly

Bad retail worker training

Retail training usually consists of working with Colin down the cheese aisle for a couple of hours.

During that time he’ll say things like “We’re not supposed to do it like this, but we don’t have enough time to do it properly”.

If you’re lucky, you might get to watch a few training videos that were filmed during the 1980s.

After that, you’ll sign a form to prove that you attended the training.

Your next 10 years in retail will then depend on how much attention you paid to the guy in the video who looked like an extra from The Breakfast Club.

Being pressured to work extra hours

Imagine finishing an 8-hour shift and heading for the doors to go home.

You’ve got that thing planned with your family so you can’t wait to get home. But wait, your Manager is suddenly blocking your path.

Turns out Colin has sliced off his finger because he wasn’t trained properly. Everyone has agreed to stay an extra hour to finish his work. You’re suddenly in an impossible situation.

If you say no, you’re not a team player and you’ll be expected to justify why.

“Can you not just stay an extra 30 minutes to support the team? We really need to get that cheese aisle filled!”.

And if you say yes, you’ll have to explain to your wife why cheddar cheese was more important than holding her hand during labour.

Stay tuned for part 2….