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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Retail (and Fast Food) Red Flags


There’s a post over on Captain Awkward about Red Flags in Job Searches, but most of the warning signs are more applicable to office work/white collar stuff. I thought people might be interested in some red flags I’ve noticed in retail/fast food. I wrote a super long response over there but something happened and it is lost forever to the ether, so I’m reproducing what I remember from it here.

What’s the employee turnover?
The last retail job I worked had basically two sets of employees: those who’d been working there 10-30 years, hired when the place was still owned by previous corporation and working at a higher rate of pay and paying into a (no longer available to new employees) pension, holding on until retirement and afraid they wouldn’t have the skillset to get a new job; and people who worked less than a year and quit as soon as possible. In the time I worked there, there were two waves of hires. Of the 8-10 people hired at the same time I was/soon after, when I quit, only one was still working there. High employee turnover is generally indicative of a high stress job that’s poorly paid, with low or no benefits, and a manager who’s unpleasant. Especially when you’re dealing with a huge recession with ridiculous levels of unemployment. Good managers are able to hire and hold on to good people. Bad managers are not able to, and instead of fixing underlying problems they throw new employees at it.

Are there a lot of really young employees?
I have nothing against young people, and have worked both as a young person and as an adult with really super great hard working amazing young people. However, there are two kinds of managers who hire very young people. The first type is a stand up individual looking to provide young people with experience, work history, and spending money. They tend to work with outside adults, like social service agencies and schools, and also tend to follow the law. The second type hires young people because they are both inexperienced and less likely to advocate for themselves. They are less likely to be aware that they can’t be required to work through lunch breaks, for instance, and less likely to say no if they ARE asked to. The power dynamic is so much greater between a 40 year old manager and a 16 year old employee with no work experience, and a 40 year old manager and a 30 year old employee who’s got 10 years of experience. A lot of managers look to create unbalanced situations in which they can bully and take advantage of people, and hiring people less likely to advocate for themselves is a big sign of that.

Is there an “employee of the Month” display and is it updated?
I’ve worked places that had a strong emphasis in the hand book on employee recognition, and which had employee of the month deals, but the actual physical store had signs that weren’t updated. This indicates a huge lack of respect toward employees. If the employer doesn’t care enough to write a name on a sign, what else will be too difficult for them to do? Likewise, are name badges hand written, or are they printed out and professional looking?

What is the physical condition of the store?
If the carpets are worn down and the walls are dirty and need painting and the equipment is old and unmaintained, those are pretty big warning signs. A manager that can’t take care of the physical location, the first impression on a customer, won’t take care of employees but will have no problem expecting the employees to fill the gap. You can vacuum a carpet every hour on the hour, but that won’t make the carpet any less shabby. I’ve seen employees yelled at for failing to make a carpet worn down to the underlayment look clean enough, something that’s impossible to do.

How are employees treated?
With a potential retail or fast food job, you can lurk around a bit and get a feel for how managers and assistant managers/supervisors address employees. Do they interrupt employees while they’re working? Do they literally yell at employees? How do employees interact with each other? Are employees literally expected to be in two places at once/do two things at once? You can get a good feel for the culture and expected behavior of an establishment by just hanging out quietly a bit. You can also take a look and see if there’s racial/gender disparities. Are all the high level managers/supervisors white men? Are the people who interact with the customers white/light skinned and/or women while those in the back are POC/men?

Can management/HR answer questions?
At my last retail job, I did two rounds of interviews. The first round resulted in a lot of double talk and evasion of questions, which I was alarmed about, but I really needed the money. The manager told me that, as a part time worker, I wouldn’t be given more than twenty hours a week unless something unusual happened, or it was a holiday rush, and my hours would NEVER EVER EVER top twenty-five. During the second interview he told me I would be expected to work 20-30 hours a week and acted like I was stupid for thinking it would be less. I had written down while he was talking the first time what he claimed hours would be. He lied and treated me poorly when called on it. That is a huge red flag. (NB I wound up working 40+ hours a week and he refused to change my schedule or consider me full time, as I wasn’t available from 5am till midnight to work)

I might put together another list of things you see in the first few weeks of a job that are big red flags, including lack of training material; expanding job duties; inflexibility in scheduling; and more.

posted under advice
2 Comments to

“Retail (and Fast Food) Red Flags”

  1. On July 18th, 2013 at 10:45 am Gretchen Says:

    This is a great list.

    I once interviewed at a bar and the manager mentioned something about high turn over being usual in the industry, and at the time I thought “yeah, at the last bar I worked at, most people stayed 6-18 months, because it’s the sort of job you do while studying or looking for work with better hours.”

    Turned out his idea of high turnover was higher than mine. He hired four of us from that ad, and two had left within the month.

    I stayed for about 10 months, and in that time more than 50% of the staff had left, including the other bar supervisor, and one of the chefs.
    Gretchen recently posted..some things

  2. On July 18th, 2013 at 12:08 pm Brigid Says:

    @Gretchen – Yeah, some jobs totally, by their nature, are seasonal/high turnover. They attract ppl who are on break from school or are stepping stones to something else. But even within jobs that have high turnover, there can be even HIGHER turn over.