The Epic Of The Impossible Store

, , , , , , , | Working | November 12, 2019

I once had a worst-case scenario in my line of work, complete with nearly an entire 40-person staff who quit or had to be fired. Here is the story.

I was hired on as an acting store manager. Basically, for an entire six-state region, I’d fill in whenever a manager was out of the store for longer than 48 hours for vacation, sickness, maternity, etc. We were basically substitute teachers of the retail world. This was only temporary, and when a store manager position opened up, I could step in with zero probation period. There were three of us in this role.

I was the first hire of a rather ambitious new district manager. I interviewed her third or fourth day in the job and she was psyched about everything in the company, and talked at length about her plans. Of course, all this ambition meant she bit off more than she could chew, and within six weeks she was burning out.

The district manager had originally planned to visit every store in her district over her first three months. But according to rumor, the previous DM, knowing he was retiring, had sort of slacked off so all the stores had issues one way or another. She ended up spending far more time at each location than she wanted.

That is why she hadn’t made it to this one store at all.

The district manager sent an email that she was heading down to check up on them just before she left, a semi-surprise visit. We got an email not long after, saying that she needed an acting store manager there ASAP, asking for one of the two of us who were free: [Acting Store Manager #2] and me. Not five minutes later, there was a revision. She needed both [Acting Store Manager #2] and me.

So, knowing we were heading into disaster, we each drove four hours to the store. The place was a mess — not just normal retail mess, but actual dirty windows, literal dirt caked in the corners of the floor, burnt-out bulbs, etc.

The district manager was just sitting at the manager’s desk looking like someone had hit her with a brick. She told us that she walked in, and [Previous Store Manager] handed over her resignation and walked out. The only full-time employee was gone, too. And there was a lot wrong with the store.

So, [Acting Store Manager #2] and I took over registers and finished out the day, and then a part-timer handed in her name tag and said she quit. This was, sadly, just the start of it.

That night, we literally spent the entire night at the store. I can’t tell you in what order we found out the mess there, but over the next few days, it all unfolded.

The old system in place wasn’t really integrated between cash registers and accounting, and there was a step in there where managers would transcribe numbers. It seemed that [Previous Store Manager] had been faking the numbers for cash.

Oh, and the last four deposits? Disappeared. Never taken to the bank, and nowhere in the safe.

Plus, there were these mysterious bins in the front with heavily-discounted “manager sale” items, marked as “Cash Sale Only.”

We puzzled over this for a while before finding that occasionally [Previous Store Manager] would mark shipments as coming in damaged and unsaleable — items which mysteriously were the same as those in the bins.

So, cash fraud. Great.

Then the next morning, none of the morning staff showed up. [Acting Store Manager #2] and I were running the store solo for a while, while the district manager sat in the manager’s office shifting through paperwork, trying to figure out all that was wrong with the store. An employee showed up but just to hand in their badge and tell us to stick it up our a**es.

One of the weird things we noticed was that there were far more people staffed for this store than made sense. [Previous Store Manager] had one full-time employee, and a ton of part-timers, mostly each only working four hours a week.

This didn’t seem the weirdest thing about the store, but we later suspected she wouldn’t have anyone there long enough to figure out things were shady. Almost all of those employees were high school kids, or people who were there to earn spending cash rather than a living. None of them were really invested in the job.

When we finally had an employee show up, she told us that the full-time employee had called her and fed her this line about how [Previous Store Manager] — who apparently was very well-liked by the staff — was cruelly fired, corporate was swindling everyone, and they needed to make a stand. If all of them quit, the store would go under and they’d benefit… somehow.

Apparently, a really good number of them decided the statement was worth more than the job and had decided to quit.

The district manager ended up telling me to call the entire staff one by one and ask if they planned to continue employment. I spent an hour with everything from slammed phones to cursing to lame excuses. Most talked about how they hated our corporate, who was mean. A few mentioned how corporate wouldn’t even give them their bonuses.

What?

At the end of the year around Christmas time, all employees who have worked more than six months get a Visa gift card, value dependent on the number of hours worked. I hadn’t heard of any problems. Neither had the district manager, who forwarded it on to accounting.

Just from my dealings with the folk who stayed, the word was that corporate “maliciously yanked their bonuses at the last minute and [Previous Store Manager] is valiantly fighting to get them back.”

Meanwhile, knowing that we had basically no one to work the store, we sent out an email to the closest stores. If they could spare a few employees, we would pay for their transportation and meals while working, if travel was more than an hour we’d pay for a hotel room, and they would have a 50-hour week at double normal pay. This was during summer when there were a lot of college kids, so people jumped at it. By close, we had locked in about twelve people from six or seven different stores to work starting the next day, and staying for at least two weeks, in addition to the four or five part-timers who hadn’t quit on us.

Meanwhile, all day calls came in from corporate, from the corporate lawyers, etc., to the district manager, who looked like she was ready to cry. We got word that corporate was sending two representatives into town.

Again, my timeline isn’t entirely straight here, but in the next few days the district manager found out that all the bonuses were given out, sent to the store with signature required. All appeared to be redeemed. Then, later, I heard that all of them were redeemed at the same store nearby.

Oh, yeah. [Previous Store Manager] stole from her adoring employees.

We later heard from the sub place next door that just before the district manager showed up, [Previous Store Manager] and the full-time employee had been loading boxes into their car out of the store. Wait, “their” car? Oh, yes. The two were dating! And who knows what they had just stolen?

We also found over the next few days that inventory was just a nonexistent thing. According to the system, we had more negative quantities than positives, and none of our stock was made from anti-matter.

We tasked a few employees to re-inventory the store headed by [Acting Store Manager #2], while I handled store operations and hired a new staff. She found out that there were just boxes of stuff everywhere, tucked in nonsensical places, still in packing boxes, mixed in illogically.

Inventory was nearly impossible as they kept finding stuff. A box in the bathroom. Shipping boxes stacked in the back room, used as a table. A box stuck up in the freaking ceiling tiles, found by the electrician.

I was trying to retrain the old part-timers, meanwhile. Some realized they needed to basically erase how the store was run and start over. Others insisted that “this is how it’s always been done!”

Like layaway. Our company doesn’t do layaway. We’ve never done layaway. Apparently, [Previous Store Manager] did layaway, but that’s wrong, and I have no way of verifying what those customers spent. Lots of confusion arose and issues were forwarded to corporate.

At one point, I had this conversation:

Part-Timer: “How do we make a payment on layaway now?”

Me: “What?”

Part-Timer: “A customer wants to make a payment on layaway, but the book is gone.”

Me: “We… We don’t do layaway.”

Part-Timer: “Well, [Previous Store Manager] always did! But I can’t find the book.”

Me: “There is no book; we don’t do layaway. We never did layaway.”

Part-Timer: “Well, I don’t know how to do this layaway without the book, but this lady wants to make her last payment, so can you handle it?”

Imagine facing a woman who claims she’s given the store over $200, with a twenty in her hand, thinking she is taking home merchandise, and I didn’t even know where this merchandise is!

Actually, it was a best-case scenario for it. I literally had a corporate higherup in the office for them to scream at, someone who could actually make high-ticket judgment calls without issue. It was also great to watch because I don’t think he’d ever dealt face to face with the public.

One or two employees just had to be let go because they insisted on doing things “[Previous Store Manager]’s way.”

The employees who insisted on doing things [Previous Store Manager]’s way were the biggest pain, frankly. I don’t know if it was some sort of pushback over everything changing, or if it was thinking that they were now super valuable because of everyone quitting. But these two just whined over how “your new way is sooooo hard.”

I wanted to tell them, “It’s not a new way; it’s the way and you have been doing it wrong.” Some of this was really simple stuff, like the rule that all transactions have to go through the register. Apparently, [Previous Store Manager] would have them do paper transactions for some sales. I kept being pulled to cash to explain that there were no more paper receipt books, and getting a fight.

Then, there was the idea that when you aren’t on cash, you should be tidying or cleaning. Apparently, [Previous Store Manager] would let them grab a cigarette outside the front door when there wasn’t a line. I chased them back into the store far too many times. Finally, I had to just pull the old employees off of cash register and start retraining them and supervising them individually.

But the biggest fights were over the discount bins. 

We basically told them, “Look, the pink-stickered stuff was actually [Previous Store Manager] stealing merchandise, selling it at a discount, and pocketing the money.” 

But they whined that the pink-sticker stuff is the reason people shop here! They love it!

Now, we were already dealing with confused customers looking for the discount bins, but we just put it that we weren’t doing that anymore, and we guided them to the very real clearance area. But as soon as they had an employee whining about how we took away the bins and changed everything and yadda yadda, suddenly those employees were back.

It’s a weird feeling, pulling someone in the room and saying that although 90% of staff quit, we’re now firing you.

The backroom was a mess, and I spared man hours just to clean. Cleaning up back there, they found a door that had been covered with empty boxes. It was locked and [Acting Store Manager #2] and I were debating whether it was “ours” or lead to the adjoining store somehow. 

Then, one of the part-timers chimed in something along the lines of, “That’s the trash room; they locked it up when it got full.”

Now, that employee was high-school-aged and I think this was her first job, and she said it like this was a sane and logical comment, as though every business has a full trash room.

She had to know it was weird, as I was staring at her as she was describing this to me. But she was just really matter of fact, nearly flippant about it. Nothing in her tone suggested she thought it was unusual. If anything, it was like she was sort of teaching me some necessary information.

Part-Timer: “Oh? You don’t know the wonders of a trash room? Let me explain it to you. Then I’ll describe the nature of a filing cabinet.”

This also happened right when we thought we were getting things under control, about a week in. We had a temporary fix for staffing, corporate was there, we were making a dent in cleaning, major problems had been discovered and passed on to the right parties and… Oh. A trash room. Because, of course, a trash room.

So, not really wanting to know the answer, I asked what a trash room consists of. Apparently, if it was raining, or they didn’t want to go out to the dumpster, they’d just throw their trash in there.

The district manager had just sat down with the corporate guy when I walked up to the office and informed them of this. They both just stared at me like they couldn’t even process what I’d said.

A locksmith was called in to open the door, and we found a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot room chest-high full of boxes and trash bags and stuff. The only saving grace was that it had been closed up long enough to not be a “fresh garbage” smell, but a “musty old garbage” smell, instead. At any given point over the next few days, we had an employee wearing gloves and digging through it. They found a bag of receipts, kept for evidence. A bag of trash from the bathroom. A box of unopened merchandise, covered in fluids leaked from a questionable bag that may have contained food at some point. Inexplicably, a busted-up bicycle. The employees came up shell-shocked on break describing the weird horrors they’d found.

I took the staff that I had and divided them. Half were trying to clean the backroom, and once discovered, the trash room. The other half were working the registers and were charged with cleaning up front. There was a lot of junk around the registers. Then, they moved to washing windows and literally scrubbing floors on their hands and knees.

The area gets icy in the winter, and the salt off of people’s feet had mixed with dirt and crystallized into these little slopes of dirt along the baseboards. On the corners, it was just literally drifts of filth. But because it was solid, we had to wet it, let it get soft, break it up with a broom, clean it with a cloth, and then clean the salt haze off with a mop. After the first day, all of our hands were cracked and burning from the salt, and we got the heavy, dishwashing type of gloves for everyone.

Considering this was summer, it meant that the floor hadn’t been cleaned in at least six months, but I really felt like I was looking at a longer period of accumulation. Strata of filth, if you will.

All this time, I was hiring a whole new staff. Normally, we do background checks and a lengthy interview. This was shortened to my fifteen-minute judgment calls on someone and “Can you start training tomorrow?”

As far as the thefts, etc., I can’t tell you the end conclusion. The district manager and the corporate guy kept that bottled up, but there were lots of calls to the lawyer. 

The end result was that the store needed a new manager! They needed someone who could finish training the random new hires, handle the pissed-off customers who were suddenly seeing their store turned upside down, handle inventory, and of course, deal with the angry ex-employees.

Thankfully, they picked [Acting Store Manager #2], and I got to move on to my next, less stressful assignment.

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When Being Straightforward Isn’t So Straightforward

, , , , , | Working | November 10, 2019

(I’ve been job hunting and get a call from a prospective employer. She asks some pretty standard questions about my availability and ability to get the job. I answer honestly, only once asking her to hold on for a moment while I grab a piece of paper and pen to write something down.)

Hiring Manager: “All right, so we’ll see you at [time] on [date].”

Me: “Sounds good. I’ll be there.”

Hiring Manager: “I look forward to seeing you. And… thank you for being so professional on the phone.”

(I pause, a little surprised, since the conversation had seemed perfectly straightforward. I kind of cringe, trying to imagine what kinds of facepalm-worthy calls she must have already gone through, to say that.)

Me: “Um… You’re welcome. I… uh… guess I don’t need to ask how your morning has been. I hope the rest of your calls end up similar to mine, then.”

Hiring Manager: “Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate it.”

(In the end, I didn’t end up getting that job, but there’s now a part of me that never, ever wants to become a hiring manager.)

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Only Those Without Babies Can Understand What It’s Like To Travel With Them

, , , , , | Working | November 7, 2019

I’m currently on maternity leave, two or three months before I’m due back to work, and I realise that I still have a lot of vacation days left over. I ask a colleague who I should talk to about scheduling my vacations — there have been some personnel changes while I was gone — and she tells me to talk to [Superior #1]. She also tells me that technically, all vacation times had to be planned by last November — I was already on maternity then and it’s now June — which nobody told me about. No big deal since we don’t have any trips planned; I figure I’ll just talk to [Superior #1] and get some time off scheduled when nobody else is on vacation. Whatever works. 

I email [Superior #1], asking if I can come see her about when to schedule my time off. She emails me back saying, of course, I can come to the office about that. 

I make an appointment, take my baby with me, ride through half the city, and go to the office. 

When I arrive there, [Superior #1] greets me warmly, and then proceeds to tell me that while she can show me the schedule of who is going away when, I really need to talk to [Superior #2] about when I want to take my time off. 

I just stand there, flabbergasted, with my baby in a carrier, wondering why exactly she couldn’t have told me from the start that she wasn’t the person to talk to about that issue.

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When The Light Goes Green, Their Mood Goes Dark

, , , , | Working | November 6, 2019

(I have requested the personnel files for an operative who will be transferring to our region. Within a minute of sending the email, I get a phone call from the manager.)

Manager: “Can this wait? We are processing payroll.”

Me: “Absolutely. I’ve just sent the request in. It can be handled at your discretion.”

Manager: “I just can’t understand why you would request this during payroll. We are very busy!”

Me: “I just sent the request; there isn’t a deadline. It can wait.”

Manager: “Couldn’t you have waited? We are doing payroll!

Me: “Yes, I know you are doing payroll. Like I have said, it can wait.”

Manager: “This is just ridiculous. Your request will not be completed until we have finished with payroll. Be more conscientious in the future.” *hangs up*

(I’m a bit befuddled by the call but just assume I sent the request at the wrong time, and that they were quite busy. I receive an electronic copy of the operative’s files within fifteen minutes, however, from someone I’ve never had correspondence with before — their title is Commercial Manager for another region. I forward the email on to the site manager.)

Site Manager: “Why is [Commercial Manager] sending this?”

Me: “I assume [Manager] was too busy, so he asked her to help.”

Site Manager: “[Manager]? Oh, no, no. [Commercial Manager] shares an office with him at [Head Office]. She says he sits there all day on Grindr and Facebook.”

Me: “He seemed pretty stressed about payroll…”

Site Manager: “You know how you can’t start payroll until the little circle turns green on the system?”

Me: “Yeah?”

Site Manager: “That’s his job — his entire job. For some reason he is the only person in the UK with the power to change it green. He does absolutely nothing else.”

Me: “Wow… at least payroll personnel are part-time, I guess.”

Site Manager: *with a pained look* “No, he’s full-time.”

(Thankfully, I haven’t interacted with [Manager] too often during payroll since, but when I do, the conversation is near identical.)

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Inaction Plan

, , , , , , | Working | November 5, 2019

I have an employee who has been told he is the smartest person in the room since birth. As a result, he doesn’t follow directions well because his way is always the right way and critiques or suggestions are met as personal attacks. He also feels the need to hide what he has been working on, making it difficult to gauge if he is actually as smart as he thinks he is. But boy, does he think he is smart! He is the kind of guy who thinks his work is flawless and can do no wrong but won’t look it over and promptly forgets what he did once it is not in front of his nose. 

I have begun to suspect him of plagiarizing his work to appear smart than he is. Compounded with him claiming credit for other people’s work and repeatedly throwing his coworkers under the bus for his mistakes, he is on thin ice. Long story short, I work with a liar, a cheater, and narcissist. 

I am reviewing his work one day and notice he has only completed half the requirements, despite claiming he finished it over a month ago and making comments in meetings that he has addressed any necessary changes. I shoot him an email, assuming he does have the work and it never got properly uploaded. Chaos ensues where he accuses me of bullying him and not being a team player. He makes up some excuse about how procedure should be open to interruption, before he leaves early on the grounds that I have created a toxic work environment. 

It’s safe to say the big bosses are not pleased with him, and they start the procedure to get him on an action plan, if not outright firing him. However, because my boss is going out of town, they decide to hold off on it until he gets back. I am given permission to retrain him and he is informed of it.

Fast forward to Monday morning; [Employee] apologizes to me in a vague manner. He acts like he is concerned for my mental health and tries to imply that I am overworked and being asked to do things outside of my job description. This is all false. I do not give him an inch and offer up some critique. He is visibly frustrated that I have not given into him but am staying polite. When I inform him he is still getting retrained, with [Big Boss #1] in the room, he almost throws a fit again. 

Friday, [Big Boss #1] comes back. Trying to get out of getting the training, [Employee] acts overtly friendly to me, even having his wife bring in a new kitten. We are busy with getting everything in order for a client so I hardly notice when [Employee] pulls [Big Boss #1] into my office. About thirty minutes later, [Employee] reemerges and starts derailing the entire office by apologizing and having many talks with anyone about what their issues with him are, how he can do better, etc. It turns out [Employee] was trying to get me in trouble again and claimed I was out to get him. [Big Boss #1] ended up yelling at him about causing drama. So, naturally, [Employee] causes drama.

Eventually, [Big Boss #1] gets fed up with him and insists that [Employee] speak to [Big Boss #2]. She decides she doesn’t want to talk to him that day as she needs time to process. At any rate, Monday rolls around and we are still trying to get things prepared for a big client so she doesn’t speak to him. Tuesday, she leaves to go on a trip so he is put on ice for the rest of the week.

Well, [Employee] being [Employee], he thinks that he can outsmart her, and sends her an email asking to talk. She replies with a polite email saying that she is on vacation, but with clear direction to do his work and nothing else. She also reassures him that she is looking over all the information provided. This doesn’t sit right with [Employee], so on the following Monday, he sends out a letter to [Big Boss #1] that he feels [Big Boss #2] is creating drama and he can’t do better if he doesn’t know where the discontent is. Of course, [Big Boss #1] is with a large client at that time and reminds [Employee] of this, who continues to try and bully his way into a conference to bully his way out of training. [Big Boss #1] finally gets fed up and replies, “STOP BEING ANNOYING. DO YOUR WORK!”

Of course, that isn’t enough for [Employee], who then continues his tirade via text about how he is feeling singled out and he only wants to talk to [Big Boss #2]. She intervenes and ends up calling him as we are both CC’d to the tantrum. She tells [Employee] to just focus on his work and stop harassing [Big Boss #1]. There is nothing else to talk about until the Action Plan is in place. But it doesn’t end there; [Employee] sends another email minutes later about how [Big Boss #2] refuses to talk to him. Again, [Big Boss #1] reminds him to stop creating drama and calls him annoying. 

At this time, [Employee] leaves for lunch. When he comes back he acts as if nothing happened and all is good. Off to start the next bit of drama, I suppose.

As to why he hasn’t been fired yet? Because we have to document the billion ways we have tried to train him, and he still needs to be retrained next week. It is only after the Action Plan is in place and he is retrained without signs of improvement that we can take the next steps. This goes to show you can’t always fire bad workers as easily as they claim.

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