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Sunday, 31 August 2008

Taking the rise

Earlier this year I received a letter from our Head Office advising that the way in which my company pays its staff was being changed. The idea is to move away from one annual 'one size fits all' pay rise to performance related pay based on individual contributions. This was to be assessed via an annual review. Those who achieved a good score (of which I was one) would be awarded a 3 percent rise, those who did better got 4 percent, and those who did the best of all got 6 percent. We were told that these new rates would be effective from 24th August 2008. Since I got a 3 percent rise, this meant that my salary would go up from £5.53 to £5.73 per hour.

In the meantime, those whose performance was under par would not get a pay rise at all. Of course, in the small (or rather microscopic, print) it went on to say that there were certain exceptions. One of these being that if there was an increase in the minimum wage, which in October there will be, to guess what, £5.73 per hour! The good news is that in October, those who were awarded a rise will get another one, so that the minimum established rate for someone over 18 whose performance is satisfactory will be £5.90.

From the way that the letter was worded, I believed that the £5.90 would be effective immediately, and I would get 3 percent on top, since this seemed to be in the company's own words, the minimum established rate. I was bitterly disappointed on Monday to find that this is not the case, and the company is well and truly taking the rise.

The initial rise that I am getting seems pretty meaningless, since I would have got that in October regardless, when the minimum wage went up, so what is the point then of working hard? It seems that there is little incentive.

At least they are changing the bonus structure, from quarterly to monthly. I should then stand a much better chance of getting this, in theory at least. The trouble is, once we have a closing date, everything will be discounted (the public will be in there like a pack of vultures squabbling over the scraps), so we will be operating at a loss. With the way in which prices keep being dropped, and the margins falling, we have to work twice as hard to earn the same money anyway.

Our sales targets for the next few weeks are ridiculous - they expect us to bring in less money but with a higher profit margin. How are we supposed to do that? It seems to me that this company is being run by people with no business sense at all (see my later post about monkeys). Instead of cutting the prices like they have done, what they should be doing is offering better deals all round, like freebies with more expensive items over a certain price range. That is the way to pull the punters in and keep everyone happy, so that they get a good deal and we make enough money to survive and keep our jobs.

Of course no matter what they do I know that my store is closing - it is only a matter of when. I had my first taste of being a key holder on Thursday afternoon, since my Manager left early to celebrate his wedding anniversary (I do not get any more money for this either, which I think is taking the rise to a whole other level). There were one or two minor hiccups, but nothing I couldn't handle, and overall I think I did really well.

My Manager is off for 2 weeks holiday now, so we have a lady Manager coming to help us out. That should be interesting. The next few weeks will be pretty hectic, with me showing her the ropes. Most of the time it will just me and her together, although our weekend assistant may be able to do odd days here and there (he goes back to college next week), and we may be able to get some help from other stores as well.

These things were certainly sent to try us, and if it's true that they say, no rest for the wicked, I would love to know what I have done!

Monday, 25 August 2008

In Gods hands

The latest energy update from Karen Bishop arrived the other day, and according to her, the aches and pains that my partner and I have been experiencing (mostly around the neck and shoulders) are yet more purging of energies that are no longer needed. I sometimes wonder how much more clearing can there be? It seems that I have been doing this forever with no end in sight. Karen though says that we are very nearly through and by October, everything should be back on a much more even keel.

I do not doubt her words, since when my own Manager looked at the website on Saturday for the coffee house that are negotiating for the lease on our shop, to his surprise, he saw a Managers job being advertised. This must mean that they are very close to signing the lease, and it as good as in the bag. An announcement is no doubt imminent, and I am sure we will both breathe a huge sign of relief.

Now that our Assistant Manager has gone, and with no stores willing to help alleviate our staffing problems, it looks very much as if I will become the new second key holder. My own boss keeps saying I am ready, and he has been teaching me the cashing up, but I still have my doubts. It is totally impractical in a lot of ways, most of all because I cannot even reach the lock - it is just too high up, and at 5 feet and half an inch tall (the half inch is very important!) I have to stand on a kick stool to reach, feeling like a complete idiot. Mind you, it is not as if I will be locking up on my own, as someone else will always be there - I will just have to hope that whoever it is they are taller than I am!

I must admit that I was knocked for six when he asked me to consider the job. It is in some ways the obvious solution, since I am already here and a known quantity, who has proven that she can be trusted. It is after all, a lot easier to get a sales person than it is a key holder, as we have already found. The problem is, that my boss has a weeks holiday starting 8th September, and there is no way I feel ready to run the shop for a whole week - bear in mind that this mean working a 6 day week, probably without lunch breaks, since there will be at the most three of us in. A lot can happen between now and then - and I hope and pray that a solution is found so I do not have to do this. It is far from ideal, since it is also the week that I go to see Stevie Wonder - I had hoped to be able to leave early that day, but I think that will be out the window.

With the Area Manager on holiday, once again everything is on hold waiting for him to get back. It looks very much as if he will have to tell someone from another store that they have to transfer to us - like it or lump it. A lot of them are over staffed and over budget and have paid lip service to our requests for help, so now it is time to get tough.

All this has made me once again look at my own issues, as to why I feel so inadequate and ill equipped to take this key holders job, when in actual fact, I am more than capable. I suppose it is natural to feel reticent when faced with a situation like this, but it much more than just lack of confidence, it is terror that strikes right at the heart. I really do not want to do this, and yet when I look beneath there is the still silent core that knows that I need to work through and experience this. It is almost as if I was given this job in order work through these issues - issues of lack of confidence, embracing and balancing my masculine and feminine, not wanting to be seen and heard and noticed, fear of not being seen and heard and noticed, anger and feelings of injustice at the way that my career (or lack of it) has gone, and the opportunities that have passed me by, all these things and more. When I have worked through and confronted these issues head on, only then will I be ready to leave.

I have resolved not to worry about getting another job, but place it all neatly in Gods hands. I will continue to look, but not to focus on the outcome. If I get another job then I will know that I have worked through these things and I am ready to go, but if not, then I will know there is more work to be done. The fact that this coffee house appear to be so close to signing the lease tells me that the work is nearly done. Maybe I will stay with this company, maybe not, whatever does happen, I know that I will be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, and it is exactly where I am meant to be.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Key holden to whom?

I was so tired I went to bed at 9pm last night and slept right through to about 6am. With the situation at work, which rapidly seems to be going from bad to worse, this is not surprising.

Our Assistant Manager leaves on Friday, and with no replacement key holder, all that leaves is me, my own Manager, and a weekend assistant who has been working odd days as and when he can (and not very often at that). We had been hoping to get someone from another store, but they have all turned it down. I was quite flattered in a way on Monday then, when I was asked if I wanted the job. I was also rather surprised, since I have only been here 9 months and there is still so much I don't know. My gut feeling was and is to say no, but the trouble is if I do, then this will leave my own boss right in the proverbial, as with no second key holder, he will be forced to work 6 days a week until we find one. As one of my friends though said, I have to do this for me and not for someone else - and should therefore look at it from this perspective.

When I stop to think about it, there is absolutely nothing in it for me, except a lot more grief. Emotionally and in terms of knowledge I am sure I would cope, but there is also the practical side. Being only 5 feet tall, and not the strongest of women, there are a lot of things that I cannot lift and carry. I can't even reach the lock to open the front door, as it is just too high. How then can I be expected to open and close the shop?

My boss has said that he intends to try and an ex colleague back in, whom I replaced, but he recently had a hip replacement, and so there is a lot that he can't do either. He can't use the stairs for one thing, to get stock, or even go to the loo, but has to use the one at the Pub over the road. When my boss's wife was expecting a baby in 2007, this colleague acted as key holder then, so that he could dash off at a moments notice, so he at least has some experience, and could maybe help me, but that is not the point, it is just a totally impractical solution - to have 2 people running the store, neither of whom can lift heavy items (we would end up turning people away who wanted to buy them from stock) and one of whom cannot use the stairs. It is clear to me that they have to find someone else who would in my opinion be a lot better suited.

I have to have a long talk with him today and lay all my cards on the table, and NOT be guilt tripped into changing my mind. He has to get on the phone to his own boss and start telling it like it is, stop pussy footing around, get off his big fat armchair (my Manager's boss, our Area Manager that is) and do something!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

In a right two and eight!

I have been in a right two and eight these past few days, as usual it seems for nothing, wondering what decision to make if I was offered a job that I was interviewed for last week.

I started in my current job at the end of November last year, and although for the most part I enjoy it, it has not been without its challenges, not least of which have been being the only female in a male dominated environment, and also the fact that the store is a complete tip. This is not our fault, since the company have not invested in it for what seems like years - our shop fittings are at least 10-15 years of date, everything is covered in dust, the paint is peeling off the walls, and there is a horrible musty smell in the upstairs warehouse and staff room.

I started here part time, working 10am-3pm four days a week, and after Christmas changed my hours to four full days. I have to had to deal with a lot of personal challenges during my time here (for a long time I blamed my problems with my book on the job, since I was no longer around to work on selling and publicising it), and it has been a real steep learning curve, since the job is so much more than selling. The day usually starts with a team briefing, bringing us up to date about what we did yesterday, plus any new offers, and being given our targets for the new day. On an average day, I print the new tickets out, make sure my own section is clean and tidy, deal with customer problems, put up some new POS (point of sale), sell various stuff, and generally run around like a blue arsed fly! Our stock room is upstairs, and I lift and carry heavy items that I am sure I shouldn't. On Mondays I also have to help with the delivery - not actually unloading the van, but taking the stuff upstairs to the stock room and ticking the items off the list. This is a wonderful way of keeping fit, and I have lost a whole dress size since I started here.

Customers don't expect us to know everything of course, and I freely admit when I don't and am not afraid to ask for help. Still, there is so much that I don't know, that to be honest, a lot of the time I feel out of my depth. I also feel that I cannot really be myself, with the customers at least, and am forced to wear a mask. It is not as pronounced here as in other jobs, but it still has its toll.
The problem is that there is just so much to learn - and the market and products change so quickly. It is not just about knowing the difference between different types of products, but the the difference between all the various makes as well. This is exacerbated by the fact that I don't have an awful lot of faith in much of what we sell - a lot of our customers are very ego driven, thinking that all this stuff makes them better, when in my opinion it has the opposite effect. It can also be very difficult working in a store with loud music blaring out for most of the time. I am quite a sensitive person and need peace and quiet, not noise. On the other hand, I also need a job that stimulates me and which involves learning and new challenges. This job certainly does that, but not always in the right way.

Because the store is closing down (we have been waiting for almost 3 months now to be told when), most of the staff have either left or are working through their notice. One of the men, whom I nicknamed the waffler, was the biggest challenge of all; the typical egocentric male, full of bulls*** and bravado. Despite his excellent salesmanship, he was not a team player. He left abruptly about three weeks ago, as he said he could not cope with the stress and the pressure of it all - his girlfriend is pregnant, and he wanted to put her first, so he leaped before he was pushed.

The Assistant Manager is working through his notice and leaves on August 24th, and all that will leave is me (I have been working full time since the waffler left) the Store Manager and a weekend assistant, who normally works on Saturdays only, but is currently working around 3 days a week. We hope to try and get some more people in, and have hopefully poached a second key holder from another store, but it is difficult since we do not know how long they will be needed for and people want and need to know where they stand.

Things got so bad that the week that the waffler left, if I had not been able to work on the Friday, which should have been my day off, then the store would have had to close, as there was only one other staff member in that day. As it was, following his departure, there were 2 of us in every day for 2 weeks (because of holidays), and I did not get a lunch break for 2 weeks. I have been paid for those hours, but it is not the point. This should not happen, and is actually illegal, but there was nothing we could do. I never want to go through anything like that again.

I have spoken to a few other stores, and have been weighing up my options. There are three possibilities for a transfer - two of which are within five or six miles from home, and one further afield. From the two closest stores, the furthest one would be the best choice, since it is only a few more miles travelling distance, has a wonderful lady manager, and would also mean a large pay rise due to London weighting. I would get the pay rise at the other store as well, which is slightly nearer home. The store also has a particularly high turnover of staff, which is never a good sign. As for the third store, which is much further from home, it is tempting, as it is a superstore, and my future would be much more secure long term, but it is twice the distance from home and so would cost a fortune in petrol, plus I would not qualify for London weighting, and would therefore earn a lot less.

With everything that has happened, I am not sure if I want to stay. My Manager says that I should try and look at things from a detached perspective and realise that a lot of the problems that we have at work are unique to our store, because of its age and lack of investment, and a newer more modern store would be totally different. I am sure he is right, but still there is something that is holding me back from making that decision. Maybe I have just not accepted that we will be closing, and once a date is announced, this will help me. Maybe it is the convenience of working in my local town, and not wanting the hassle of starting again with a new set of people and a new store - it seems that none of my jobs last long, and I do get very tired of this and the continual search for something else. The store is though closing whether I like it or not, and I will have to do that though wherever I end up. There is nothing I can do to change that.

I have then also been looking around for other jobs. The interview that I had the other day was for a job as an Optical Assistant for an opticians across the road. They went bust and have recently been taken over by one of the large chains, and so everything there is in a state of flux too. There is though a lovely peaceful atmosphere, and I know I could do the job and be good at it. The fact that I wear glasses, and could therefore relate to the customers would definitely help. There is also a lot to be said for staying in my local town, but is is very quiet in there, and I am worried I would get bored. On the other hand, it can get very tiring and stressful on busy days, and it is a lot easier to remain calm when you are under less pressure, and do a good job.

The money is less at £6 an hour (officially minimum wage, which soon goes up to £5.73), but they have said they will offer me more due to my experience), but it is full time, and therefore more hours. I have the opportunity to earn bonuses in both the opticians and my current job, but I would without a doubt, earn much more if I stayed with my current employer. Money is not of course everything, although I would prefer to work four days instead of five, and I would potentially have the opportunity to earn more from working less hours. I do miss that extra day off.

I had the interview on Wednesday, and the opticians said they would let me know by the end of the week, which was Friday, but so far, nothing. I may then be getting in a lather over nothing - but why change the habit of a lifetime? It feels in a way as if I have two choices, neither of which really suits, but I have to choose one - stay or go. If I stay will I regret it and end up more stressed, money after all isn't everything, but if I go, will I also regret it and get bored? Will the new owners of the opticians close this store, which does seem very quiet, in six months time, and will it be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?
Decisions, decisions ... In the end I suspect that the universe will make the choice for me - it usually does.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Hope has a place

It has been a strange couple of days, which is nothing unusual in my life, especially of late. I wonder constantly if my life can possibly get any stranger, but the universe continues to surprise me, which I suppose is a good thing, since it keeps me on my toes.

The week began with a two day training course. The course is based around a revolutionary new sales method from Scandinavia.

The retail sector has been experiencing more than its fair share of problems, with competition from the Internet, not to mention ever decreasing margins. In these times of economic uncertainty, with consumers being encouraged to try and bargain, and discounting being increasingly seen as the norm, it is a difficult time for all.

To stay ahead of the rest, the company has therefore decided to implement this radical new method of training staff. The idea is that by being the best in terms of both price and service, the company's image will begin to change, and we will once again become the top retailer in their sector.

The training it has to be said, was unlike anything I have ever done before. It is so radically different, that although it seems on the surface to be completely ludicrous, I can see that it could really work. When the course was over, and I had to go back into the store and start actually using this, to be honest I felt like an idiot, but that is only because it is so different, and no one likes to stand out (at least not that much), but I have seen the results already. It has been my most successful day in fact for a while. This could be down to the trainer, who was an excellent motivator, but I think it is also down to the methods I have been using.
It was interesting that the trainer was actually the female manager whose store I may be transferring to. I can see that if I was to go there, it would be very different to what I am used to, and I could do really well, coming on in leaps and bounds. It has been really difficult to stay motivated given the situation that we are in. It is almost as if there is no life and no vibrancy in the store; all the get up and go has, well, got up and gone. It doesn't help when you have a Manager who makes it clear that he wants to leave, as he does not feel there is a future in this company. I can understand him feeling like this, but it is not the best way to motivate your staff.

I am still in two minds then as to whether to stay or not. When I am having a good day and a good laugh with my colleagues, I feel that I want to give this job my all, and I really get a buzz from what I do, but the next, when there are difficult situations to deal with, with awkward questions, I just think that it is too much stress and too much hassle. One day I am up, the next I am down, and this is the most difficult thing of all.

Discussing this with my partner, it has become apparent that I am viewing this situation in totally the wrong way. Yes the company could have handled things better, and yes it has and is stressful, but when I look at it, they are not the ones in control at all, I am. I have all these choices; whether to stay or go, whether to work full or part time, whether to split my time between work and writing, and if I do stay, which store to go to. The world is quite literally my oyster, and this is a powerful place to be. I am the one holding all the trump cards, and not the company at all. This then is the pearl in the oysters shell.

Think as well what I have learnt from being here, in those nine short months (I wonder what I am about to give birth to), and the wonderful training I have received. I know that whatever does happen, I have been given valuable new skills that I can take to any job that I choose. It is a choice as well, like anything else, a choice of whether to be miserable and negative, or a choice to see the positive and the good.