Going forward I will keep in mind what working in retail has taught me about my own body. My limits are often defined by what it is expected that I do at my job. Yes, this is where I work, and yes I will do what is asked of me. But it might be time to take a closer look at what all of this work is really doing to my body.
Over the years working at the same store I feel like I have adjusted pretty well to the crazy scheduling, long hours, and repetitive work, when I sit back and think about the stress that this job has put on my body not just physically by mentally, it’s scary. Scary to think about because I have only worked at this place for three years and there are people who have dedicated their entire lives to working in retail. People who have not worked retail may not see it as strenuous work because it is not a typical labor intensive job like construction work, most people don’t think that a job in the mall requires putting yourself at risk for physical stress. Of course, there are days when the work is not bad, and the workload is light. But then there are days when you feel like your feel like your feet are going to fall off and your head could pop off at any minute and go spinning into another hemisphere. You feel pushed to your limits mentally and physically.
I, myself, did not anticipate just how much labor actually goes into working retail. The constant bending over, lifting heavy boxes, walking back and forth, standing in one place for an extended period of time, have all had negative effects on my body, and has changed the way I feel I can use it. Being the manager of a store puts even more stress on my body because I am not only expected to do the laborious tasks, but also keep track of all the paperwork, payroll, scheduling for employees, and complaints from customers. It’s primarily mental exhaustion I feel at the end of a shift, the physical stuff is sometimes secondary because my brain has spent so much time focused on getting my work done, and keeping everyone happy. A popular phrase in my store is, “If you aren’t tired by the end of your shift, you aren’t doing it right.” This is a tool used to keep us at the top of our game because we know that we can easily be replaced. So we are being trained to work ourselves to the point of exhaustion with little incentive other than keeping our jobs.
Still, retail companies seem to constantly demand more from their employees. More time at the job, more work, usually it is more work in the same amount of time. Businesses are always looking for ways to “increase productivity”, which usually has less to do with the actual employees and more to do with increasing the bottom line We are constantly told that we are not measuring up to company standards, and that we are making excuses and not putting in enough time. It’s almost as if we do not exist outside of the store’s front door. We can not be tired or emotional, we must always look and act in a certain way. Personal health is not a big concern. A co-worker of mine had major surgery over the summer, and was going to be in recovery for a while afterwards. The main question it seems she was asked was when would she be coming back to work. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of concern for what this kind of work would do to her body, which was healing and couldn’t be constantly in motion. When she came back to work she could barely move and was in constant pain, yet she did not receive longer breaks or less work. Knowing that people need jobs, and will most likely put up with anything demanded of them, companies can push their limits of what they can put their employees through, without breaking any state or national labor laws. Retail can definitely push you to your limits, without you even realizing it. I was recently told by my boss, “Trying is no longer good enough here. We’ve gotta stop making excuses and try harder.”
Not being able to do something because of physical or mental limitations is not an excuse, it’s a reason. One that is often overlooked when it comes to customer service jobs. Things I’ve heard people say:
“It’s a job and you’re expected to work. If you don’t like it find another job.”
“It’s not like you’re doing anything that’s hard.”
I’ve been working in retail for three years. Before I started everyone told me I would hate it. I liked working with people, and doing menial and repetitive tasks never bothered me. “This will be fun,” I thought. Everyone I talked to told me, people will be rude and you will grow to hate customer service. Everyone told me the hours would be long and my body would be in pain. I disregarded their comments, chalked it up to their own bad experiences and took the job. Turns out everyone was right!