Turning Point

A friend of mine from work was terminated on Sunday.  In many ways one could have seen it coming, but the way it happened was particularly jarring, and its been bothering me since then.  Of course, I was somewhat embroiled in the action, since I had to stand in for the union steward who just happened to have the day off.

*Jack (not his real name) has been working at the store since before I started back in 2012.  He was part-time, a good worker, but he’s always had a drinking problem.  It’s not inaccurate to refer to him as an alcoholic.  His typical day involved getting up in the morning, going to work, going back home and drinking himself into a stupor, or using the alcohol to assist him in getting to sleep, then starting the whole routine over again the next day he had to work.  To say this is self-destructive would be putting it mildly.  However, it’s hard to be able to count the multitude of times his co-workers have gone to bat for him, trying to get him help, only to be turned down (always politely) and things continued down the road.

About 18 months ago he confided in myself and a couple other co-workers that he was considering committing suicide.  When someone says something like that to you, you take it seriously.  On my lunch break I called my wife and informed her of what I’d heard and asked for her advice.  She worked for the local county social services for 30 plus years, so to me that was about the best place one could go for how to proceed.  She gave me several options, one being getting the store manager involved.  Unfortunately, the store manager isn’t exactly the most approachable person, and he tends to be a bit of a hands off sort of person when it comes to issues like this.  Even so, I forged ahead, informed him of what I had heard, involved another co-worker that had acted in the past trying to help Jack and all three of us assembled in the manager’s office, informing him that we were there to help if we could, and did he in fact need help.  He very politely insisted that he wasn’t interested in assistance and that he was in fact fine.  Of course after this happened he knew enough never to mention it again.

Last week I was on vacation, and I’d heard through the grapevine that Jack was pretty out of it on Saturday.  There was supposition that he had come to work inebriated and wasn’t exactly even close to being on his game as far as getting work done.  When I saw Jack Sunday morning, he didn’t seem his chipper self, in fact it did seem like something was off.  Over the course of the morning when I talked to him, he seemed ok but not completely ok.  As if there was something wrong, but when I asked him about it, he brushed it off, and I didn’t pursue it.  I was in the midst of getting my own work done, so by the time it was getting towards the end of my shift, I had forgotten about it.

I was about 10 minutes away from being done for the day when the grocery manager came into my department and told me the assistant store manager needed me in his office for a union issue.  Well, not me particularly, but he needed someone who was A. Full time, and B. been in the union for a while, rather than one of the part timers that don’t have much (any) experience in disciplinary actions and how to go about the union side of being an advocate.

Heading up to the office I figured it was going to be a quick affair, probably it was a cashier that either had too much money in their till, or too little.  It would be something along the lines of a verbal or written disciplinary action, I’d have to do my part and be done for the day.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  When I got to the office, not only was the ASM (Assistant Store Manager) there, the night ops manager was too…and….Jack.

Apparently, someone had observed him and determined he was acting strangely.  At this point I’m still not sure if it was a customer or co-worker, but at this juncture it really doesn’t matter.  It was brought to the attention of the ASM and once that happened he was duty bound to investigate.  Whatever he either observed himself or through someone else was brought to the attention of Human Resources (which is never a good thing, HR in my company is pretty much a forgone conclusion, never positive) and at that point the ASM was given 2 choices.  Either Jack had to submit to a breathalyzer test from the local Police, or he had to be taken to a medical facility to be blood tested and determined what sort of substance he might be on.  It was put to Jack and he was the one that had to agree to one or the other.  Of course I’m sitting there as his union advocate, and I know he’s in a pickle.  He has to agree to one or the other, OR he can be terminated for refusing either.  After 20 minutes of back and forth, it’s agreed he’ll go with the breathalyzer.  And at this point, even for just his sake I’m dying inside.

Long story short, it was determined he was drunk on the job.  Not just a little drunk, if the breathalyzer was accurate, it’s a miracle he was even upright.  That bad.  The ASM went back to the manager’s office, called HR and they lowered the boom then and there.  All the while, Jack was insisting that he hadn’t been drinking, that he was fine, but clearly there was something amiss.  After the ASM did his thing, I made sure Jack got a ride home, and promised him that I’d make contact with both the union steward and our union rep so he could hopefully get into the process of getting his job back.  But even as I was telling him that, I couldn’t see that happening.  Having a union is a good thing in my experience, but there are some things that can’t be fixed.

Perhaps 20-30 years ago it might have, but unions are way different than they were back then.  There’s only so much advocacy, only so much that union reps can do when it comes to members that are terminated for serious allegations like being drunk on the job.  This much was related to me on Tuesday through the steward, who said that the union wasn’t going to be able to help Jack, because there aren’t any programs that the union has to combat alcoholism.  Even if Jack could prove that he was in the process of turning his life around, going to AA, or rehab or something of that nature, he himself would have to contact the company HR department and plead for his job back.  Just him.  So in that respect the union really failed him.  He paid his dues, and didn’t get the support in return.  Just a cold shoulder.

I hope Jack finds the help that he needs.  And gets back on his feet.  I wish him the best, but I’m not exactly confident that all is going to work on for the best for him.


Work Ethic (or lack thereof)

Something happened at work today.  Though I was aware it was going to happen, I wasn’t there to witness it.  One of my co-workers got fired.  For cause.  And it was most definitely avoidable.

Joshua (*not his real name) wasn’t exactly what I would call an exemplary worker.  If anything he was fairly typical of his generation, at least from what I’ve observed over the past month or so.   While he was able to show up to work on time, once he got to work, he needed to be led.  Always.  He honestly did not appear to have any ‘get up and go’ or the ability to think on his own.  He expected someone to tell him what to do, and if he didn’t do something correctly, once it was explained to him he merely said “Ok” and it was never seemingly clear that he either understood what he did wrong, or was interested in changing it.

It was my responsibility to train him to be my backup.  To work on my days off, and when it came time, to do my job while I was on vacation.  From the beginning, I wasn’t really certain he was going to fit in the job.  Even so, I did my very best to give him the ‘bones’ of the job, explain how to do things, the order they needed to be done and so on.  When it came to the technology aspect of things, he was all ears.  When it came down to nuts and bolts, to the physical side of the work, he wasn’t so much interested.  His lack of enthusiasm was immediately apparent, but he seemed like a good kid (he’s 19), and I did my level best to train him appropriately.

As time went on though, there were things that he wasn’t doing correctly.  He’d be called on them, corrected, he’d say ‘Ok’ and then go ahead the next time and do it wrong again.  When asked why he did it wrong, his stock answer was “I don’t know, I just wasn’t thinking.”  Too, he had a routine I could have set my watch by.  During a six hour shift, within an hour of first arriving, he’d need to use the bathroom.  And his bathroom breaks would last 15-20 minutes.  Midway through the shift, he’d have a 20 minute break.  Early on in his employment, he’d be gone only about 22-23 minutes.  Over time, he’d manage to stretch it out to almost a half hour.  And on off days, he’d disappear for large stretches of time, then without warning or asking ahead of time, he’d leave for the day anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.  One of the meat cutters mentioned it the other day.  He had work for him to do, and he just wasn’t there.  He’d left without saying anything.  Which is absolutely both irresponsible and against company policy.

For me, the last straw was this past Wednesday.  On the day previous, we had a load come in, I’d done most of the work that needed to be accomplished and left him with the remainder to put up and enough work to keep him occupied.  One of the responsibilities in the job is to mark down product that’s close to it’s throw out date.  Typically, Joshua was never good at recognizing these items, would miss a lot of them, and that would constitute loss for the department, as they’d have to be marked down at a greater degree the day of, rather than less so on the day before.  I’d mentioned that many times to him, attempted to impress upon him the importance of why it needed to be done, but either he didn’t care, or just expected me to get it for him the next day.  The other part was that he just didn’t bother putting out the product that was empty on the sales floor.  He would wrap the meat that was freshly cut (and occasionally mark it inconsistently) and then wander around the store doing nothing instead of his job.  The meat cutter that was working with him isn’t the sort that likes to chase after people for not doing their job.  If they’re not, he just lets them fail, and shrugs his shoulders expecting them to hold up their end.

The store manager got involved yesterday when I had a long talk with MY department manager about Joshua.  I was pretty adamant about the fact it wasn’t fair for me to be busting my keister to get things done and on my off day for him to drop the ball and expect me to fix everything the next day.  I quite honestly had had my fill of it, and he agreed it was time to do something.

My department manager spoke to the store manager about it, after having had a chat with the assistant store manager the day before.  Originally, it was going to be a ‘write-up’, where Joshua would be counseled and informed that he was still employed, but he needed to really pay attention, buckle down and do his job.  The fact that he’d been leaving work without permission (far too many times) sort of put the whole thing over the limit and the decision was made to separate him from employment.  He wasn’t yet a member of the employee union (he hadn’t worked there long enough) so that wasn’t an issue.

No one likes to see someone else fail.  But when they don’t seem to care one way or the other, I can’t even fathom what that’s like.


A sobering several days

I’ve been at my employment location for almost ten years now.  In that time, I’ve worked two distinct jobs, stocking shelves overnight and working in the meat department (I work retail, in a grocery store).  When I started here, there was plentiful help in all departments, hours to do the work was also plentiful and there wasn’t an overall sense of not having enough time to get everything done.  That’s changed over the years.

The company I work for has been through a bankruptcy, but they managed to come through somewhat unscathed (several under-performing stores were closed, some redundant positions were removed and so on) but the amount of management had been reduced during the bankruptcy and hasn’t necessarily been replaced after.  Too, all of the departments are now under-staffed, and the ones that are left are expected to carry on as if we were at full capacity.  One can’t expect the work of three people to be done by one.  Yet, that’s the mind-set at corporate for some reason.  “Make do with less.”  is the mantra we keep hearing.  Yeah, well you try it buster.  It doesn’t work in reality.

In the last six months, the company has been doing -some- hiring, but not a lot.  Particularly in my department, when it comes to my days off, there’s no specific person that fills in the gap.  It gets worse when I go on vacation, as there’s no one really scheduled to help out, and when I come back from vacation, I walk into a disaster.  I understand it’s not specifically my responsibility to make sure that things work smoothly when I’m not there, but it can be understood that I feel responsible about my job when I’m not present.  At least that’s the mindset I have.  Not everyone has it.  Certainly not someone that was born in the most recent generation.  Generation Z, as they’re colloquially referred to.

Over the last several days, I’ve had the unique opportunity to be exposed to someone of this generation.  I’ve been attempting to train him as my backup in my position and I have to say, it’s been a bit of an eye-opener.  This particular person is 20 years old, in his (I think) second job post high school and already I’m dubious about what sort of future this person is going to be living in, working, etc.

It’s been hard going trying to find someone internally that’s interested in working in my department.  It’s a difficult job with a lot of thinking required, it’s a cold environment all the time, there’s a good deal of heavy lifting, and someone needs to be able to work on their own most of the time.  Be able to make good, rational decisions (that they’ll be responsible for) and not have to be ‘led’ as they’re doing it.  Not a lot of oversight, even though its a subordinate position.  Communication is a big part of it, one has to retain a lot of information and be able to move quickly when necessary.

With that in mind, since there were only two people that had applied for the position (both were rejected as they were already known to be inadequate) the store manager decided to hire someone new and hope for the best.  Enter my new trainee that started on Monday.  For the sake of argument, I’m going to call him Z.

During my initial conversation with Z, I found out that he’s 20 yrs old, his previous job was working at a big box retailer as a cart pusher, and that he was laid off from that job within the past month.  Since he was laid off, he qualified for unemployment, and had been collecting it, but in order to stay on the ‘dole’, he had to apply for jobs.  Someone in his family had suggested a local temp agency, and he used that to connect with similar jobs in his skill set.  He applied at my company and was hired.  Though I’m not certain that he was put into the proper department.

My company has a policy that an employee isn’t supposed to have their cellphone with them while at work.  As the policy stipulated when it was enacted (everyone had to sign an agreement to abide by it at the time and I believe it’s now just folded into the agreement that no one reads when they’re hired but sign anyway) the only people that should have their phone with them are managers and their immediate subordinates.  I leave my smartphone in my locker when I’m working.  The vast majority of my co-workers carry theirs with them.  Management knows about it, but doesn’t enforce the letter of the law, unless someone is flagrantly spending a good deal of ‘work time’ with their attention buried in their phone.

Over the past three days, Z has spent considerable time pulling his phone out of his pocket, looking at it and then putting it back.  The first day it must have happened at least 100 times.  I couldn’t imagine what it was that was so necessary to be looking at all the time so finally I asked him. “Oh, I’m just checking the time.” he told me.  I pointed to the clock on the wall.  Informed him that if he needed to know the time, he could look there.  He said, “Oh, I don’t do analog.”  I blinked, processed that and incredulously said “You can’t read the clock on the wall?”  He nodded and held up his phone.  “I only do digital.” OMG.  When I got home I asked my wife about it.  She nodded and said she’d read an article that said members of his generation are very unaware (or don’t care) about things like analog clocks or older tech like rotary phones and things of her and my generation.  If it’s not computerized, electronic or internet-connected, they’re not much interested in it.  I have to admit I was pretty floored by that revelation.

After about the first day, I was fairly convinced that Z is not the right man for the job.  You get a feel for someone’s manner being in their close company for more than a few hours.  Admittedly, he’s a nice kid, but he’s got no sense of urgency.  He takes his time, when he’s not doing something he puts his hands in his pockets (granted he might be cold, because it is chilly in the department, but body language would suggest if your hands are in your pockets, you don’t have anything to do) and waits to be told what to do next.  He’s never once asked me “what’s next?”  He expects to be led into the next thing, and in this job he needs to be motivated to do things on his own.  Things of which I’ve attempted to instill in him, giving him tips on how to get things done faster, to move things along and so on.  I fear he’s just not getting that it’s not a job similar to his last one.

I have him for one more day this week, and next week he’s been scheduled for 12 more hours in the department.  Next Wednesday he has to do the job without me, as that will be my day off.  I expect that will be an unmitigated disaster.  But I can’t stop the train wreck, just hope for the best.  After being with him and working with him for the past three days, today I’m going to hang back a little and let him have the reins a bit and see where he leads.  I know there are going to be mistakes, that’s a given.  Just have to be sure that they’re not insurmountable or worse yet he gets chewed out by Bob, the department manager, who has less patience than I do.

We’ll see how it goes….