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Surviving a job in retail

Updated on August 12, 2015

Chances are, many of us at some point have had experiences in retail. From full or part time work to something to keep you busy for the summer to make college a little more affordable. Stress comes with every job, but there is just something about retail that makes it so unique. And by something, I mean customers. You never really know what you are truly made of until you are resisting the urge to punch someone right in their stupid face because of a dispute over a bag of sugar. I am fully aware that violence is never ok, but we have all fought the urge and there is no shame admitting to it. But although customers may be a severe pain, they are not the only obstacle retail workers must overcome on a daily basis.

The aches and pains

I am pretty fit as a rule and I am used to some strenuous exercise, but when I began working in retail, I can honestly say I was not prepared for how much stress and strain it puts on your body. After the first few days my body began to tell me that it was not happy about adjusting to the long hours standing and repetitive lifting and stacking, my feet suffering the most. After a while though, your body does adjust and things get a little easier, but it doesn't completely free you of all the aches and pains.

Repetitive strain injury is a common problem for retail workers. Sitting at a register scanning and moving items from one end of the till to another, or stacking shelve after shelve is undoubtedly going to cause a problem or two for your muscles, not to mention the headaches and many other physical tasks that are required of you over the course of your 9 to 5. Hopefully there are one or two tips here that might help make things a little easier;

  • Get yourself into a pair of comfortable shoes. Or there are always supports, inserts and comforters you can add to your current pair. Trust me, when your feet are happy, the day is always a little easier.
  • Try not to rush. I know that having a boss or manager piling pressure on you can be intimidating and you can find yourself with a hundred things to do in a day, but try your best to do things with care, especially if heavy lifting is involved. You can easily find yourself with cuts and bruises, sprains or even the odd fracture.
  • Make the most of your break. Try not to end up completely stationary on your break to avoid cramping up. Relax and tense your muscles from time to time to keep the blood circulating.
  • If you find yourself doing repetitive tasks and find yourself getting a little sore, take a second or two to stretch out your muscles.
  • Put your feet up when you get home, take a hot bath or nag someone into giving you a massage. Also some physical exercise on your time off is something I would highly recommend. The stronger and fitter you are the better.
  • Always keep some painkillers handy.

A boss on a power trip

For me personally, dealing with my boss was the worst part of the job. Some bosses can be emotionally abusive, where as others can just simply be obnoxious and self important. Either way, meeting someone like that is always unpleasant, and when you find yourself working for such a person it can have some very negative effects on your mental and physical well being. There is nothing worse than being treated like you are just a worker. I mean, yes you are there to do a job, but when you are treated as though you should have no thoughts or feelings of your own is not only demoralizing but dehumanizing too. Going to sleep with that sick feeling in your stomach, dreading the thought of waking up the next day only to endure it all again is a horrible experience. And maybe its not only a boss or manager, but simply another co-worker who is making your working day a living hell. Whatever the case, try to remember that;

  • You are more than just a name tag. You have a life outside of work, and people who are not only happy, but lucky to know you. You have friends and loved ones who might just think you are the best Mom/ Dad, Son/ Daughter or sibling in the world.
  • Know your rights. A boss, manager or co-worker might bluff or intimidate you into thinking they can treat you as they please and get away with it. In these cases, it is vital to know your rights. Your rights can be found on any citizens advice website and it is well worth taking a look.
  • Confront them. Depending on your personality etc, confronting the source of your distress may or may not be an option. If you feel that it is, make sure you first know your rights and have a plan of attack. Keep a list of what it is exactly you have an issue with and address them. Also, complaints can also be made anonymously to a higher source, union or employment rights agency.
  • Stay off the radar. If confrontation is not your thing and their constant nagging is more of a simple nuisance than anything else, You can always just stroke their ego, roll your eyes internally and cut the argument short before it begins. Say "Yes Sir/ Ma'am" and just get back to work. Again, this is only if the stress they cause you is minimum.
  • Talk to other workers who are in the same position. Its always good to vent and sometimes you can come up with a solution together.
  • Walk away. For some people, walking away may not seem like an option, but even if that is the case, always be on the look out for work elsewhere. A job is simply not worth putting your mental and physical health at risk over. Yes if you are struggling to feed a family or pay bills I know quitting is not just something you can do, but bide your time, keep your eyes open for alternative work and imagine how good it is going to feel to slap your letter of resignation on their desk.. or possibly staple it to their forehead.

The holiday rush

Christmas, for most people, is a wonderful time of year. However, If you just happen to work in retail it is the most stressful time of year. The endless cycle of Christmas music, the forced smiles and "Christmas cheer", missing out on all the fun because of the extra hours and of course, having people jokingly call you a "Grinch" if you are not enthusiastic enough etc.. Not to mention all those coupons people just love to cash in on during the holidays. I realize I may sound a tad bitter, but im sure most of you know exactly what I am talking about. Yes the hoards of customers is only one part of the holiday struggle. But it is possible to survive the panic.

  • Hum or sing your favorite songs to try and drown out "Jingle Bells". It may not be 100% effective all the time, but it will help.
  • Stay hydrated and eat right. It will help prevent headaches and keep your energy levels up. Stay away from stuff high in sugar too and opt for some carbs instead to keep you from crashing.
  • Think of the extra money (if you get any)
  • Just get it over with. Its better to just put the effort in and avoid bringing any extra hassle on yourself.

The customer is ALWAYS right....and so on.

Oh the joys of customer interaction. Don't get me wrong, you can meet some really lovely people and the majority are pleasant to deal with, but occasionally, you meet the exception. A bad customer can come in all forms, from irrational to just plain rude. I spent time working in a supermarket and often, the most annoying thing a customer can do, may not even be completely intentional. For example, your manager tells you to organize a stand. You take your time and organize it to perfection only to find it completely obliterated an hour later and have to do it all over again...and again. Or you have had a long stressful day, it is 5 minutes to closing time and a customer walks in, grabs a basket and begins to browse the aisles. When a customer decides to vent their frustrations, regardless of whether the issue is your fault or not, there are do's and dont's;

  • Remain calm. a reaction, or overreaction will only make things worse and could have consequences
  • Dont take it personally. They could be having just as bad a day as you. Its no excuse to take things out on you, but not everyone thinks rationally when frustrated.
  • Apologize and sympathize. Even though it may not have been you that forgot to order that particular brand of flower, apologize and follow the standard procedure so to speak.
  • Listen to them and try to find a solution. Offer them an alternative or some form of recompense.
  • Whatever the proposed solution, Make sure you follow up on it as best you can.

Working in retail may be frustrating at times, but it can be full of surprises.There are good and bad days just like any job, and all you can really do is make the most of it. If you manage to keep your head, there is little that will topple you. And if you really find yourself at a loss keep it simple and try the advice of Michael Scott below and just improvise.

Good Luck!!

© 2015 Sean Gorman


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    • profile image

      Lucy dooo 

      3 years ago

      Haha this is my life down to a tee

    • profile image

      Joe Carey 

      3 years ago

      So true!! Fund this very entertaining and hit the nail right on the head with the Christmas tunes.


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