It felt like I had just been hit by a train.
Her comment had blindsided me to such an extent that I stood there, open mouthed, struggling to comprehend what I had just heard.
Her eyes staring at me intently; her ignorance was astounding but yet I couldn’t respond. I was rendered speechless.
I glanced over at my colleague who gave me the slightest shake of his head. He too couldn’t believe it.
5 months of hard work, insane shift patterns, putting our bodies on the line and for what?
I looked at the metal bar just inches from my left hand. My fingers twitched; I felt an overwhelming urge to pick it up and teach her a lesson.
This is why I gave up my job.
Phase one – Incompetence
My previous job, as I have mentioned before wasn’t exactly a bundle of joy.
I worked for one of the nation’s largest retailers, one of those stores where it’s small enough to know everybody inside but large enough that you felt as though your identity has been stripped and all you’ve been left with is a number.
The laughter factory as I liked to call it, with a touch of irony.
My job title was technically a general assistant, or sales assistant. Basically I was a minimum wage monkey that wasn’t being fed enough bananas.
I accepted a change in position just before Christmas that was supposed to be temporary. They needed people to help with the refurbishment, and when asked, I happily accepted.
It seemed better than serving customers. To be honest punching myself in the face was a better option than that.
If you’ve ever worked retail then you will know exactly what I mean.
The trouble being this job was the worst experience of my working life. They expected us to work 5×12 hour nightshifts in a row. To stay behind even longer if the work wasn’t completed.
“We’ll give you night pay” they said.
“We’ll give you extra days off” they said.
For those 5 months I was underpaid by at least £100 per month. When you’re on minimum wage that is a lot of money but I suppose you can’t reason with incompetence.
I stuck at it. I wish I hadn’t. I simply lacked courage.
Every day I pondered whether I should ask to be transferred back so I could stand in front of the unwelcome gaze that is the general public. It was a tough one but I always told myself that it will all be over soon. These insane shift patterns will be replaced with normality and this nightmare will surely end.
I was half right.
Phase two – Slave labour
Okay, the nightshifts ended and I started working with a new guy. My initial feeling of relief was short lived as while I was happy to be working day shifts, the amount of work we were expected to do was nothing short of brutality.
For 5 days a week between the hours of 8am and 6pm we were basically labourers.
The actual guys that were being paid £200 a day to do a lot of the work were astounded by what we had to do. They couldn’t believe it, especially as we weren’t being sufficiently compensated for our efforts.
We were given a task of clearing out a large room full of metalwork. That previous sentence doesn’t convey how much metalwork this room contained.
It was ridiculous. Tons and tons of the stuff, literally 2 weeks solid work. We had to clear it out, tidy it up and put it all back again. If it sounds a bit pointless then you’ll be right. It was.
During this time my colleague and I would both injure our backs, cut our hands and arms on broken glass, suffer badly bruised legs and all because they had trouble finding worthwhile jobs for us to do.
To be fair our manager at the time would check in on us and he was genuinely thankful for what we were doing. The trouble started when he left for another store 2 days before the end of the job.
One of the senior management team, we’ll call her The Dragon; took over until end of our contract. She was someone who I had a good working relationship with. I genuinely didn’t mind that she was now my temporary boss.
Surely she had been paying attention to the work we were doing?
Phase three – The confrontation
Time slowed down while I imagined myself picking up the bar and beating her in the face with it. Her assistant, a pathetic weasel of a man, would be next. I never trusted him, and I would later be proved right with my instincts.
But I am not a violent, nor a stupid person.
“You’ve hardly done any work”
Her words were so lethal. In my whole working life I had never heard such ignorance. The first time she had even been to this room in weeks and she dared to question our work ethic.
Not to mention the sheer amount of floor space we had created.
This all happened in the space of a few seconds before she uttered her next gem.
“I want all this completed in 2 days”
“No” I responded, venomously. “It cannot be done. We’ve been doing this for 2 weeks and you have no idea how much work this is”
“(Assistant) and I could do this easily. You have no excuses.” She said.
I glanced again at my colleague who I could tell was doing his utmost to remain calm and silent.
“You will stay out here and you will not go inside the store for any reason. You will tell (assistant) when you go for a break, and you will tell him when you return”
Thanks for reminding me, I thought to myself. It’s been a while since I felt like a child.
Later that day in what I can only assume was an attempt to strip us of our dignity, she had her assistant come upstairs and take away our phones (which were essential in our role) and to inform me that I would spend the next week in the staff kitchen ‘pot washing.’
“Oh it’s like that is it?” I asked.
He smirked. I punched the box next to me in a fit of rage.
Phase four – Interrogation
I took that week off sick. You see all that hard work had caused my sciatica to flare up and I needed time off for a rest. The fact it coincided with my ‘pot wash’ week was just a spot of good luck.
Anyway, I had spoken with my colleague not long after our little confrontation and he suggested that I take a week off sick, to screw them over.
I wasn’t totally sure if he was serious or not, but I commended him on his creativity.
You see there was a slight problem with this.
On my return from my totally legitimate back injury, I was summoned into The Dragons office. I would say Dragons Den but sadly I wasn’t going to get any money here.
“So how’s your back?” She asked.
Oh much better now thanks, not great but I’ll manage” I replied.
“So I’ve been informed that you told (colleague) that you were going to skive off last week”
Now I’ll be honest here, I did not expect that.
She stared at me, looking for a sign of weakness, something she could latch on to.
I refused to show any.
Firstly I didn’t say such a thing, so I can only assume someone overheard our conversation and added 2 and 2 together to get 4.1, but this is irrelevant. In her eyes I was guilty.
My mouth was dry. I could feel my heart forcing its way out of my chest.
Our eyes were locked in a stare down straight out of WWE. She wasn’t flinching and neither was I.
It felt a bit awkward, but to hell with it. I’m not letting her win.
More seconds passed. The tension was increasing and I felt I needed to end it.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“I see” She replied. “So are you saying this person lied?”
“I have no idea. I just can’t remember such a conversation”.
Take that Dragon.
She must have sensed I wasn’t backing down so she moved on. She would inform me I would spend the next 2 weeks doing pot washing and then I would work under her as a ‘security guard’. I put that in brackets because I wouldn’t actually have any responsibility.
In her words;
“You will keep an eye out for thieves and then report back to security. You will not speak to anyone at any time or you will face disciplinary action”.
I had two lovely words for her, but I kept quiet. I had other ideas.
Phase five – The end
A couple of days passed while I gave it a bit of thought, (not the job offer, stuff that) and I finally decided that I couldn’t work for this person and this company any longer. I handed in my notice and I had never felt so relaxed and relieved in a very long time.
Yes the final two weeks of my job involved a lot of pot washing and sticking my fingers in various half eaten pies, but I didn’t care. I was free.
I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do but that’s it, no idea how to get started but it was OK. This was a watershed moment in my life and I knew I would never go back to the hell that is retail.
Almost 6 months on and I do not regret a second of my decision. I gave up my job and it was the best thing I have ever done.
If you’re in a job now where you are under appreciated or are being treated with a total lack of respect, please consider your options. Get out if you can. It doesn’t matter if you give up that industry altogether or simply just try your luck at a different company.
Your dignity and your happiness/health are the most important things you will ever have.