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….

Working with lazy people

Its always boggled me how lazy some people can be when there’s one thing that no one wishes to do.

There’s a cardboard baler where I work.  Since the vast majority of the products that we get in are packed in corrugated cardboard, the baler gets quite a workout day to day.  When it’s full, it needs to be shut down, opened, wires run through it, tied off, and the machine spits out the bale once chains are attached to the compressing ram.  The bale falls onto a wooden pallet, the pallet is put on a trailer destined for the warehouse and the whole process begins anew.  The recurring problem lies with who gets to make the bale.  None of the department people want to do it.  They’d rather fill up the baler and leave it for someone else to take care of.  As a matter of fact, on a day like today, those same people filled the baler to a such a degree, it was nearly impossible to get the bale made safely.

On one of my trips to the baler Tuesday morning, I encountered the deli manager throwing her cardboard into the already overfilled machine.  She looked up at me and said “Looks like a bale needs to be made” and proceeded to walk off.  I called out to her rather loudly “the baling wire is right over there, if you wish to give me a hand WE can make one…” and she turned, shook her head and walked off, not a care in the world.

It’s not my responsibility to make a bale.  But I certainly know how.  I learned many years ago, and have taught countless people how to do it.  It’s pretty simple, and a single person can do it alone if they’re careful.  The sheer number of people that work there and have zero interest in something that would help literally everyone else just boggles me.  It makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Of course, the worst offender is the one person that you would think would have the most to gain by helping out is the store manager.  One day the baler was full, I went to move the pallets of water out of the way while he was in the back room, and he asked me what I was doing.  I told him I needed to make a bale and could use some help.  He recommended I get someone else.  I replied he was available, since he was only using a broom to clean the back room.  Needless to say, he gave me a withering look and in one of the most condescending tones I’ve ever heard from someone in his position might have, he said very plainly “I don’t make bales.”

At that point, I didn’t tell him what I was thinking.  Anything I might have said at that juncture would have more than likely involved not only the union steward (the aforementioned deli manager) and/or our union rep.  So best left unsaid.

It doesn’t take a lot to be helpful.  We get pounded into our heads daily that ‘Customer Service’ is a priority.  Well helping out your fellow employees is a good thing as well.  Pity that it’s so far down on everyone’s to-do list.


Fix-it Man

Over the last five days, I’ve been having some trouble at work with a certain piece of equipment that’s integral for getting my job done more smoothly.  When I came into work on Thursday, I discovered there was a problem with this particular piece of equipment that had started the day before, and it wasn’t going to be an easy fix.  After trying a certain number of things that had worked before, it was still not working correctly.  Our only recourse at this point was to use it for what it could do, but it was unable to successfully tag the products with a price.  That had to be finished at another manual machine, thereby doubling the amount of time in order to put items on the shelf for sale.  I contacted the assistant manager and informed him of the issue, and he said he would make a call for service.

The main issue is, our location is very remote, and the likelihood of a quick service call was also going to be unlikely.  We were aware of this when the piece of equipment was brought to us, and the person that was sent along informed us that service was going to be spotty.  Too, getting supplies for this equipment is problematic, given the distance it has to be delivered from.  Generally there’s only one other of this type of equipment nearby, so shipments have to be doubled and delivered to one central point and our store has to pick it up from there.  Naturally, since we have to drive there, there’s no compensation for gas to get it, so someone ends up getting shafted on that.  It can’t be helped, just the way it is.

At any rate, for the last six days, we’ve been doing this convoluted way of pricing product.  It’s been getting very annoying, and yesterday our assistant store manager called the service place again, as when he checked with us to see if we’d heard anything from them, the simple answer was ‘no, we hadn’t.’  A few hours after he called, we received a call from their technician, asking what the problem was.  Fortunately, I was able to be in on the call and was able to give him in detail what it was supposed to be doing, and what it was actually doing.  Of course, being that my frustration level was about at the nth degree, I gave him probably more information than he needed.  Though, as I expected, his reply wasn’t very comforting.  Issues where he is necessitated that he couldn’t promise a quick fix, or even a service call anytime soon.  So basically he was telling me we were SOL (Shit Out of Luck) for the forseeable future, and we were essentially on our own.  Could be weeks before there was a solution.

Today, I finally got fed up and did a little investigating on my own when I had a free moment.  I remembered what I was told on Thursday morning, about when it started to misbehave.  Using that as a starting point, I went over the part of the machine that wasn’t working correctly and started to see if there was anything unusual there, anything that completely stood out as being incorrect, or out-of-place.  I was just about to give up when I saw it.  There was a rubber roller underneath where the tags are dispensed and it had several blank tags rolled around it, and one of them was slightly sticking up, exposing its glued backing.  That had to be the problem.  I only state this because it had happened on the other side of the machine, where there’s another tag dispenser, and removing the rolled up tags had remedied the situation.  Only it’s in a very inaccessible location, so it took me about ten minutes with a very sharp boning knife to cut the tags free enough to unwind them from the roller.

Once that was done, I re-threaded the tag roll, and re-set the machine.  Crossed my fingers and sent a few packages through.  Success!  It worked.  Wanting to be sure, I did a few more packages and then went through like it had been doing it accurately all its life.  Boom!  I was stoked.  I informed my manager what I had done, showed him what the problem was, though I cautioned him that the machine still needs a tune-up since there are other issues that need to be addressed.  So cancelling the service call would be a bad idea.  But for the time being it’s working the way it was last week before the tags got caught up and it started misbehaving.

So this, and the successful repair of the roto-tiller.  Two for two.  I’m pretty pumped about this.  I can’t fix everything, but I did pretty well in this instance.