Thursday, December 6, 2012

You Can't Do Your Job Properly

I had to grit my teeth this morning over a package of Cool Mint Oreo cookies on my kitchen counter.  Not because of my post yesterday (although I probably should be gritting my teeth for that reason) but because of how they ended up there.

Tuesday night, after a trip to the hospital for routine testing on our soon-to-be born second child, we made a trip to the grocery store.  The time was around 8ish, and we had to get home and get our little guy bathed and to bed, so we rushed through the store, grabbing what we needed.  The place was relatively empty, and only two checkout lines were open, so we proceeded into one of them, unloaded our groceries onto the belt, and then waited for the cashier to scan them and the bagger to put them in bags and into our cart.

Except, perhaps because the store was empty, the bagger was chit-chatting with another cashier—probably the office cashier—who had come up and was also bagging our groceries.  You’d think with two of them bagging we’d have been out of there fast, but these two were chatting it up so much that neither of them was paying much attention to actually doing their jobs.  They were talking about hunting and eating deer meat and blah blah blah, and as my wife finished paying the cashier at the register, a good third of our items were still waiting to be bagged.  I then watched, a little annoyed, as the cashier began scanning the groceries of the person after us, sending them down the belt right into our pile of things.  And wouldn’t you know but the bagger—not paying any attention—picked up THEIR oranges and began to put them in our cart.

The cashier stopped him, luckily, and I thought a mistake had been averted and that all the groceries ended up in the proper places.  But apparently not.  This morning, as I was standing in the kitchen making my coffee, I looked over and saw those Oreos.  I asked my wife where they came from (knowing SHE wouldn’t put them in the cart), and she blamed them on me.  She was so insistent about it that, for a brief moment, I actually thought I had blacked out during our shopping trip and actually DID put them in the cart in some sort of drunken Oreo-craving stupor.  Then I thought maybe my 3-year-old might have snagged them off a shelf and tossed them in, but he hasn’t done anything like that (yet), and I knew that it had to be that inattentive bagger.

Ordinarily I probably would have shook my head or laughed this off, but what ticks me off about this is that the manager of this grocery store, a guy named Dave R., was my former boss.  You see, during my sophomore year of college, after having transferred from Pitt to PSU, I was living back home and looking for part-time work.  My girlfriend at the time had applied to the BiLo grocery store (a different store and chain than the one we go to now), and they called her about the job.  She didn’t have consistent transportation to work the hours they wanted, but she mentioned that I was looking for work, and so they called me and I went in and interviewed for a “carry-out clerk” position.

The store manager, Dave R., was in his late 30s at the time, and he conducted the interview, which was rather juvenile if I recall.  I sat in a room with another girl (who I discovered several years later was the then girlfriend of one of my best friends now), and he proceeded to ask us a bunch of silly questions loosely pertaining to morals and ethics.  One of them that I recall: if you found a $5 bill on the ground in the parking lot, what would you do with it?  I’m sure that lots of people would fail this interview, and I tried not to let it insult my intelligence as I responded that I’d turn it into the office.  He then actually had me take a math test where I had to solve about 10 addition and subtraction problems.  Mind you, I was taking a partial differentiation calculus course in college, which I explained to Mr. Dave R., but he told me this was standard procedure.  So a week later he calls and asks when I could start.  I remember we had planned a trip to the beach that week, so I started a week later than that girl who was also hired (and whose grandmother worked in the office there), so I ended up on the very bottom of the carry-out clerk totem pole.  I recall being annoyed about that, because we were both technically hired at the same time, and I thought she had been given preferential treatment because of her grandmother.

Anyhow, on my first day I was trained by this woman in her 30s who was incredibly shy and socially awkward.  She showed me the obvious ways to pack bags: meats stay together, doubled-bagged if they are bloody, refrigerated and frozen items stay together, cleaning products always separate, bags no heavier than 5 lbs., etc.  Common sense stuff, really, but with some of the jokers I ended up working with, I realized how important those trainings were.  But aside from bagging groceries, the carry-out clerk was also responsible for, you guessed it, carrying out the customer’s groceries to his/her car.  This, in my opinion, was one of the dumbest ideas ever thought up from a corporate mind.  With the exception of little old ladies, nobody wanted someone to push their cart out and pack it into their car for them.  Yet this was a requirement of the job, and for each customer’s groceries we bagged, we had to ask if they’d like us to carry them out to their car for them.

I think maybe 1 out of 10 people actually wanted (or didn’t object to) this service.  We were told by Dave R. himself that we had to be stern with them, that we should start pushing the cart out for them as soon as they had finished paying.  Most people would say, “No thanks, I’ve got it,” and they’d take the cart themselves and go.  Some would wait until we got outside and then say they could handle it from there, knowing we were required to take it outside and not wanting to get us in trouble.  For the one in ten that actually let us take their groceries out, we’d pack them into their cars, and then we were required to round up any carts in the vicinity of the person’s car—thereby making sure that all of the carts were back inside on a consistent basis.  That, of course, never worked well because most of the carry-out clerks were lazy and would ignore the other carts, and there were so few people that actually wanted this service that we’d still have to send out a cart person every hour or so.

Anyway, after working there for a few months, we were told by Dave R. that one of the regional supervisors had been sitting out in the parking lot for the past few weeks monitoring the frequency of carry-out clerks carrying out groceries, and he was “extremely disappointed” in how few of us he saw outside.  Dave then called several of us into his office one by one, me included, to chastise us for our ineffective work.

I remember him coming off as angry and upset, and I told him that I was doing exactly what the customer wanted each and every time.  I told him that many of the customers would decline the service and take the cart from me, and he stated that I shouldn’t be letting that happen.  In other words, go against the customers’ wishes and take them out anyway.  He even told me that I should tell the customers that this was my job, and that if I didn’t do it, I could get fired.  And then he said, “I’m not kidding.  If you can’t do your job properly, you won’t be here much longer.”  Seriously.

So I took his advice and was a bit more aggressive.  I probably started taking out groceries for 2 out of every 10 customers.  By the way, we were not permitted to accept tips for this service, and if we were caught doing so, we would be fired on the spot.  I actually had an old lady once go so far as to chase me down and stuff cash in my front pocket—seriously, what was I going to do?  Knock her to the ground?  Luckily I wasn’t caught.  But anyway, I worked there for about 8 months before another BiLo in Bedford, PA closed, and because we were all part of a union, those employees with seniority wishing to retain their jobs were offered the chance to work at my store.  One by one the carry out clerks on the bottom of the totem pole were laid off.  They had hired two or three after me, so they all lost their jobs, and then finally they called me on a Sunday morning and told me not to report that day as I had been laid off as well.

I don’t think I’d ever been so happy.

A month later I got a part-time job doing some computer work at a mail processing plant.    The management at that place wasn’t all that much better, but at least I was doing something I enjoyed.  About four months in, I got a call from BiLo asking me to come back to work, and I declined.  No way was I going to do that crap again—making minimum wage and being yelled at by my boss for “not being aggressive enough toward the customers.”  And a few years later, BiLo closed all of its stores in the Blair County, Pennsylvania area, probably because of all the dumb ideas and misplaced priorities of the regional management.

So you can see why this pack of Oreos on my counter had me gritting my teeth this morning.  Apparently Dave R. has become extremely lax in what he demands of his employees, as they can’t apparently do their job properly either.  And I see him at the store all the time, and he either has no clue who I am or just chooses not to acknowledge me.  And I’ve literally stood right next to him once or twice as he’s stocked shelves or talked to employees of the store.  Sure, I look a lot different than I did back then, but I’ve had people that barely know me recognize me after having not seen me for 15 or 20 years.  And I’m not easy to miss being the big guy that I am.  Perhaps he’s ashamed of how he treated me, but I doubt it.  I think he’s just completely oblivious.

At times I’d like to tell him to do his job “properly”.  You know, simple thinks like making sure the baggers don’t give the wrong bags to the wrong people.  Or telling the stockers not to put their stock carts in the MIDDLE OF THE AISLE where nobody can get their carts past.  Or properly training his cashiers on how to ring up 5 gallon water jugs (I swear I know how to do this better than 80% of them).  Or even ordering enough groceries that the shelves are consistently stocked.  Seriously, if this wasn’t the closest and most convenient and cost-saving store near us, we’d go somewhere else, because running out of things like orange juice and iced tea and diapers shows a serious lack of properly managing a grocery store.

I’m sure everyone has had a horrible boss at one time or another, and this one is probably pretty minor on the “horrible boss scale”, but man did those Oreos bother me.  I know, I know, I should learn to let things go.  And hey, at least they were free, right?

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