To retail or not to retail?
September 11, 2012 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Retail me, or retail me not?

I'm about ready to throw in the towel for my newish retail job.

I'm working for one of the world's biggest and most successful technological companies at one of their retail stores, as a general salesperson. It's been an amazing experience so far, in terms of personal growth and gained experience.

However, I'm ready to throw in the towel and just continue to job-search or go back to school. Think I'm crazy or weird? I'm sure you're not the only one. I'm going to explain why, and a bit of a backstory.

I'm deaf, and was struggling to find a job for about 1 1/2 years, so when I got the offer for this retail job earlier this spring, it was definitely a sweet offer and one that I jumped at immediately. The job has benefits, the pay is relatively good (for retail, anyway), and this company is pretty accommodating towards Deaf (and other disabled folks). I like and get along well with a majority of my co-workers. I love a majority of my customers; it's a perfect combination of working with people and with technology, two things I love. Pretty much everyday, I have awesome customers who make me laugh, or just really smile. Me making a difference does help. That's the good part.

Now, the bad part. It's such a chaotic environment, I barely have time to think or do productive tasks. Policies change constantly, product cycles keep refreshing, managers are hard to reach, and can be very cold and standoffish. I often feel left out in the flow of communication, especially due to the communication barrier that is present due to my Deafness. "You just said this company was pretty accommodating towards Deaf and other disabled people?" you may ask. True, at store or market meetings, and I do get equipment to communicate with customers. But, I feel left out from my co-workers (not their fault), and despite store-wide emails I send, which get ignored mostly (we're kind of into the 'team communication' effort at my store), people still speak to me. I understand it's human nature, and habit, but I can't read lips. I'm tired of being the 'bad guy' and having to repeat it. I'm tired of managers seeming to come across as cold or focusing on small mistakes instead of on the big picture and making a big deal out of small mistakes I've made. I'm tired of the general pretentious feel I'm getting from the company in general. I'm tired of walking on eggshells and having to deal with a chaotic, constantly changing environment. I'm tired of working so hard to impress management and have my efforts be ignored, with a few exceptions. I don't like the lack of a career ladder. I don't like my schedule being so inconsistent. I feel myself becoming worn down by customers continuing to ask me question after question. I don't like the lack of flexibility in scheduling. I can go on and on, but that's the gist of it.

Then, today, me and a manager had a small disagreement over something silly. I was told by one manager that I was welcome to charge my phone in the office. When I went in the manager's office to charge my phone, I was told by a manager not to do that. I was basically put on a guilt trip saying that I was putting them in an unfair position, that they didn't want to take responsibility for it, that kind of thing. It was very offputting and put me into tears, especially considering the mixed message I got by two different managers, and the lack of understanding from the manager I interacted with today.

I want to say that I'm a sensitive person. Maybe too sensitive for the nature of retail. I'm also going through some personal issues (therapy is being obtained, so please do not mention that), but when I first began, I was so motivated. I loved going to work everyday, actually dreaded leaving. I loved making a difference. Now, it's the opposite. My work and personal life is not balanced. I feel like I have nobody to talk with at work about my frustrations; like nobody will really care... it's always so crazy there, that oftentimes necessary stuff are forgotten. I also feel afraid to speak up due to being retaliated against.

I know the complaints I have above are mostly part of working retail. You may be thinking 'hey, welcome to the real world... be happy you have a job!' I feel too old for this kind of job (I'm in my later 20's). I want a stable, possibly federal job, and I've been job-searching. However, I feel guilty and unsure about resigning for the following reasons:

a) I don't want my family or friends to disapprove of me leaving my job.
b) I don't want to disappoint myself by 'giving up', especially so early. (Turnover in my job is often 1-2 years)
c) I was incredibly blessed to find this admittedly competitive job. In this economy, I should be fortunate to "shut my mouth" and just be happy to have a job.
d) Maybe it's too early to say? Maybe things will improve? Maybe not?

I'm a bit embarrassed because it's only been a few months and I'm already ready to resign. I see my co-workers and they all seem fine; they don't seem to let managers or fellow co-workers/customers upset them, and they seem happy.

On the other hand, I need to think of myself, too, and what I want. The trouble is, I'm completely lost, and I was considering this job a good 'step in the door' - now I'm not even sure I can really survive the next few months or even weeks anymore. I need this job for financial and growth/expansion reasons, however, so I'm really unsure what to do. It was already hard enough to find a job.

I know this was long, and I had to parse my thoughts a lot. I'm keeping this anonymous for obvious reasons.

Thanks for any thoughts or advice for this retail jockey. Any help would be really appreciated... I'm afraid I'm in over my head.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's stuff you mention that's going to be there no matter where you work or what you do (walking on eggshells and having to deal with a chaotic, constantly changing environment. I'm tired of working so hard to impress management and have my efforts be ignored, with a few exceptions.= almost all jobs). There's a certain chaos at any workplace and it's important to be strong enough to not let it bother you too much. Perhaps this job is a good place to practice the skill of not giving any fucks. What's the worst that could happen- they fire you? That's not so bad, you already don't want to be there and are looking for other jobs. I think it might be worth sticking it out, particulraly because you need the money.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:26 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Things are not so black and white, and you don't have to make a stand by cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Stay in your job until you've secured another one. Work harder to secure another job.

That's pretty much it.

You'll have good days and bad days in any job. Brush it off and just go back in.

I was reflecting on this just this morning. I used to be very sensitive about work, very invested and I took every little thing hard. If someone spoke to me sharply, or I thought something was unfair, I took it to heart.

I'm on an anti-anxiety/anti-depressant and now I feel that things are much more in perspective.

I trade my energy and skills for money. I happen to enjoy the transaction. Honestly, that's what you can hope for.

Hang in there. Work is like this. If you're unhappy, wait, something will happen and it will change for the better. If you're happy, wait, something will happen and it will change for the worse.

Welcome to the real world kiddo.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:26 AM on September 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

A couple things spring to mind. First off, it's important to narrow down your concerns and present them to one of the good managers with a set of solutions. Do you have someone in your life that can help you brainstorm solutions? It sounds like they really want things to work but you're a bit of an outsider still and that's very stressful.

Secondly, for your personal, mental health, do you have an outlet for yourself. I hear you on how chaotic your workplace is. It's par for the course in retail, I think. The people that make it work are those that let things roll off. Which takes practice. A lot of practice! And it's great if you have something else to look forward to that helps you unwind – a regular knitting group, yoga, weekly massages, art classes. I recommend something physical or creative because it's the only thing that helps me truly shut off the stress messages in my brain.

I think you should stick with it but you have to address the main problems with your managers and give them a chance to make things better. Having your coworkers talk to you in a way that doesn't work is really frustrating and I think that's something that really ought to be addressed. They may need to do some role play training so they get super comfortable with communicating in a way that works for you.

Having one manager tell you X while another says Y will probably be common. Those workspaces just don't excel at consistency. All you can really manage there (if it's not a chronic issue) is your own reaction.

You sound like you're doing really good. Don't give up yet!
posted by amanda at 8:33 AM on September 11, 2012

I think you should stick it out, especially since you were unable to find a job for 1 1/2 years, and need it for financial reasons. Keep applying for jobs where you really want to be - having a retail job can actually be useful for that because you will be able to go on interviews etc during the normal 9-5 work day without causing a fuss. Retail can suck, but in a perverse way, you may look back on this time fondly once you've been in your "real" job for a few years. Many of your frustrations with retail will be present in any job, however.

Also, don't think of yourself as "the bad guy" when people forget and talk to you - you're not a bad guy, you're just helping them out with a new skill they are learning. You're going to have to be the one driving communication, partially because this is true in general, and also because there is an extra level of difficulty/potential of insulting you for your coworkers to make an effort. If you are the one to bridge that gap, it will be easier to set the terms.
posted by fermezporte at 9:04 AM on September 11, 2012

Stick with your current job and research those federal positions you might like. For example, if you wanted to work for the post office, there's a test you'd need to study for and pass prior to being considered for a job. Study! Take the test!

But the thing that everybody always says is true: It's easier to find a job if you already have one. So stick this gig out if you can.

I've worked in some really super hostile environments. And I've quit a few jobs, once hard objects began flying around the room. (Staplers make for cruel projectiles; in my book, flying staplers are unacceptable in a work environment.) But if you aren't dealing with hostility or cruelty, stay with the job and do what you must to tolerate the distress. Sometimes it helps to go out for drinks with friends after work, and complain about all the stupid things that happened that day. Or write about it in a journal. Or tear a canvas to shreds with palette knives. Or join a bowling league and imagine the pins are your insufferable colleagues.

If, on the other hand, you believe that your workplace is hostile, you need to stand up for yourself. Document incidents. Take the problems to HR. They don't want a fight on their hands; they will do their best to ensure you are accommodated properly and treated with respect by your peers. They can't make your co-workers be friends with you, but they can lay down the law regarding any kind of mistreatment you may be facing.

Good luck. Figure out which government jobs you'd like to apply for and what sort of tests or certifications they require. Use this job as a way to pay the bills while you study up for a position at the Social Security office or wherever.
posted by brina at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

But, I feel left out from my co-workers (not their fault), and despite store-wide emails I send, which get ignored mostly (we're kind of into the 'team communication' effort at my store), people still speak to me. I understand it's human nature, and habit, but I can't read lips. I'm tired of being the 'bad guy' and having to repeat it.

I'm deaf and I hate to tell you, but this is going to happen anywhere and everywhere. It's not a visible disability (I wear two BTE hearing aids and 80% of people still don't notice) so people forget to accommodate it. I totally get how frustrating and isolating this is and there's no easy answer except to develop patience.

I think you should stick it out at least until you find something else. Keep in mind that almost all retail and restaurant jobs are chaotic with inconsistent schedules, so don't jump into another bad situation. I'd only go back to school if you can do it without taking out any loans. I understand that you don't want to disappoint family and friends, but you have to do what is right for you. Act positive and confident, and other people will follow your lead.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't like your job, start looking for a way out. There's nothing shameful about leaving a job after a couple of months, especially in retail sales. Trust me, your management wouldn't be kicking themselves and calling themselves failures if they'd had to fire you after your first week -- don't feel that way about yourself. You got a job, and it turns out that you don't like it. Happens all the time, and more often in retail than most places. Don't quit unless you have an exit strategy, but don't just resign yourself to another two years of toil just because you feel like it's the Right Thing To Do.

Frequent policy changes, inconsistent management, all that stuff is par for the course in the service industry and it absolutely sucks. Start looking for another job, or start training for another job, something that'll make you feel like you're not tied to this crappy position forever. When I got sick of my cigar factory job I went back to school. Recently I quit that job (after a year or two of only being able to stand it in a part-time, on-and-off kind of way) and I'm happy to be nearly done with school and looking at grad schools and a bright and fulfilling future.

The key is to always move from a stable position. Don't quit and then start looking, start looking and then, when you find something, quit. And don't beat yourself up about it. It's important to know when you're doing something unfulfilling and toxic to your mental health. We have this tendency in our society to think that it's normal for most people to be stuck in jobs they don't like, that it's somehow moral and good to keep plugging away at a nasty job out of a sense of some kind of societal duty, but that's not what we were evolved for, you know? Just because many people never find work that they love doesn't mean that you need to give up the search. Keep working at it.
posted by Scientist at 10:39 AM on September 11, 2012

You mention returning to school in your intro and then it never comes up again. Is there something you'd really like to study or is this just a reasonably productive and face-saving thing to do instead? If the latter, it's not a god use of your energy and resources. If the former, fine... maybe then (or thanks to something else that you find fulfilling) you could treat this job with a little more detachment, stick it out a little longer and then move into another job. Try observing what happens on the job without taking it on board emotionally. It's a job, not a career. Take care.
posted by carmicha at 11:28 AM on September 11, 2012

Not to belittle, but most of that is standard work complaints, for resale. I think the honeymoon period of your job is over, and now you are finding out you don't like it.

Start looking for a new job, but keep this one in the meantime. You'll have good days and bad. Enjoy the good! I also find that making friends with coworkers, if only to commiserate about the crappy parts of the job, is quite therapeutic.
posted by Fig at 11:57 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do your coworkers know how to communicate with you? I bet they avoid you because they are unsure how to deal with you. Thiss is something concrete that you can ask management to help you with.

In regards to charging your phone: it is okay to say the other manager told you it was okay, and that now you know you won't do it again. You shouldn't get into trouble because someone told you wrong.

For the questions that seem overwhelming, I try to put myself into my customers' place. Having that empathy helps me think of them as someone who just needs a little bit of my help and not as a drain.

I have a job in the federal government. A lot of the issues you describe are still in play. But I'm well paid and I know my schedule well into the future. Yet it took me one year and seven months to get this job. Don't count on getting a federal job next week or even this year.
posted by Monday at 11:51 PM on September 11, 2012

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