Hindsight is 20/20

Last night, my arachnophobic lottery attendant asked me if she HAD to clean out the drain where a two-inch spider lives. I looked at her for a second, then told her I didn’t give a **** if the drain got cleaned, I was far more concerned that she stayed comfortable and happy. Someone else could clean the drain- just do something else to make it fair for that person. She gave me this weird sideways look like she didn’t believe she had heard me properly, and then she started to grin. A little while later, she found me and started pouring her heart out about the things that bug her about working for this company (to my surprise, none of them were my management style). The rest of the shift was spent in easy companionship. In fact, despite being absolutely dead in terms of business, last night was the most comfortable shift I have ever worked there.

I am absolutely stunned at the number of people who have come out of the woodwork since I gave my notice, specifically to talk to me about how much working for this place sucks. I have heard story upon story in the last week about how they not only feel like our employer has failed them, but also feel like certain members of upper management have gone out of their way to stomp on any hope of advancement or improvement.  Blatant sexism and racism were both common factors in these stories, as was blatant and unnecessary favoritism. None of them are satisfied with their pay rate or the benefits offered.  Most of them only keep their job there because they truly feel they will not be able to find work elsewhere. Although I have had similar concerns in the last year, I have never heard other employees complaining about it so directly. I had no idea they were as upset as I was!

Corporate policy requires managers to remain aloof and distant and we may never become friends with any of the staff. However, I only have six shifts left at this job, and I can no longer even pretend like I believe that corporate profit is my primary concern.  I passionately wish that I had been more open about how firmly I side with the staff when it comes to worker’s rights. I wish I had initiated more conversations with them about what it actually means to work in a “respectful workplace”- that it doesn’t just mean they respect each other, it also means they should expect respect from those who are above them. I wish they could have known how many times I have stood up for them and protected their rights when other management wanted to take advantage of them. I wish they could have known -long ago- how completely messed up it is that no one there makes (or ever will make) more than minimum wage.  I wish I could have fostered an environment where they had felt comfortable telling me their concerns while I was still in a position to make a difference.

Instead, I let my walls drop too late. I have spent the last week listening to their whispers of discontent, and feeling profoundly helpless. The worst part is, I know it is my own doing. I could have helped them, and instead I focused so much on my own discomfort that I ignored the signs of trouble that surrounded me. Now I am leaving, and the hard-working people I had a responsibility to take care of have to start all over again. Some of them may never even know they had a chance at achieving change, and it’s because I didn’t speak up and stand up for myself, and thus empower them to do the same. How sad is that?

My closing thought:

At our last staff meeting, the GM told the staff “We must reach [projected profits in dollar amounts] for the month, or there will be consequences.” It was understood that he meant people would get written up for inadequate performance and their hours might get cut if the goal was not met.

When he said that, it struck me as profoundly unfair in pretty much every way. How is it the staff’s fault if the restaurant doesn’t get enough business to hit a goal that was generated by an algorithm? How is it their fault if our non-existent advertising program doesn’t pull more new customers in? Why should the staff suffer consequences for what other people do? Isn’t that sort of like telling someone “If that group out there that you can’t see or interact with doesn’t do this specific thing I want them to do, I am going to hit you with this stick?”

If that happened to you, wouldn’t you be upset, too?

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