A plea for retail workers this holiday season

BY KRISTEN MILLER
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There’s a scene in one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Home Alone 2,” right before Macaulay Culkin’s character throws a brick through the front window of a toy store. While pondering his decision, he utters one of the best lines in the movie: “This is it. No turning back. Another Christmas in the trenches.”
The brick is thrown. The window shatters. Mayhem ensues.
Somehow, I can’t help but feel this is a sort of sad metaphor for my job. I work in a retail sales position, and the holidays are undoubtedly our most stressful time of year. While we’ve never actually had a brick go through our window, anyone who has worked in a store around Christmas knows, at times, it can share some distinct similarities with trench warfare.
There are harried parents, bargain hunters, husbands carrying lists written by their wives and perhaps the most frightening of all: those who begin lining up outside the store hours before we open our doors on Black Friday. The rush of holiday spenders coming in and out all through November and December is a seemingly endless bombardment of customer complaints, crying children and bad attitudes.
Now, before I get ahead of myself with complaints, I will admit no one is forcing me to work this job. I can seek employment elsewhere. A big part of me is extremely thankful we do get so many shoppers, because it means I’ll be able to keep my job and work as many hours as I need.
That being said, I have a plea to make on behalf of all retail workers this holiday season: please remember that we are people, too.
Yes, we expect to deal with difficult customers on a daily basis. Yes, we understand that our job description is to make ourselves flexible to the needs and attitudes of customers, not to our own wants. Yes, we are expected to keep our cool even if we’re berated, condescended to or even occasionally yelled at. No, that doesn’t make it any less dehumanizing.
There’s a terrible juxtaposition of being surrounded by cheerful holiday ads, colorful hats and gloves and listening to upbeat seasonal music while simultaneously being slapped around (metaphorically) by an angry customer. I am a huge fan of the holidays and all things merry and bright, but there’s a limit to even my Christmas cheer.
In the mad rush of holiday preparation, it seems easier to put on a “take-no-prisoners, all-for-one” attitude. Try to remember, though, the cashier you’re being short with has no influence over how long the line was. The sales associate who just told you the item you had your heart set on is out of stock doesn’t have any control over the inventory. They might seem like convenient targets for your frustration, but for a moment, attempt to put yourself in their shoes.
In the time I’ve been working retail, I’ve seen many people come and go from our staff, some before I’ve learned their names. The tasks we’re charged with such as running registers, folding clothes and addressing customer concerns, aren’t particularly complex or strenuous, but most who leave aren’t quitting because of that.
Dealing with difficult customers takes a certain set of people skills, stress management and a large dose of good humor. After a while, it can definitely get to be too much for some.
However, I won’t attempt to paint all of our customers with the same brush. Working in this position, I’ve met and helped out some extremely kind, courteous and good-spirited shoppers. I’ve gotten plenty of smiles and “thank you’s,” and I am always grateful for the kind souls who have made a horrible day at work a little brighter.
Something else to consider is the behavior of the associates themselves. As I’ve been out doing my own holiday shopping, I’ve encountered salespeople who have no interest in helping me. They seem annoyed that I’d consider asking for assistance. These negative attitudes from employees seem to make it more acceptable on the part of the customer to treat them badly.
No matter where it starts, everyone has the responsibility to practice a little kindness. We as employees can be just as guilty of not doing our part to keep morale high. We have to keep in mind the fact that we might sometimes, in fact, be to blame for the treatment we receive at work.
So, if you’re hitting the stores this season, whether to shop or work, keep the golden rule in mind. Each retail worker you encounter has had to deal with more customer service nightmares than they can count, and you have an opportunity to brighten their day.
Smile a little, try not to treat them like your personal servants and keep in mind that under the nametag or company uniform, they’re probably just a college kid trying to save money for school.
After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and by keeping a little good cheer you can help ensure everyone has the chance to enjoy it.

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