9 Reasons We Should Give Retail Workers A Break During The Holidays

by Harmony Hobbs
Originally Published: 
A retail worker at the cash register, dressed in a green uniform with beaded hoop earrings and hair ...
Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock

Ah, shopping. Some consider it a joy and a privilege (because it is), and others avoid it at all costs (hello, Amazon Prime).

There are so many kinds to choose from: grocery shopping, back-to-school shopping, comparison shopping, window shopping. People shop at thrift stores and private galleries with thousands or zeroes of dollars at their disposal, loving or hating every minute of it. But regardless of your financial situation or personal preferences, almost everyone enters some kind of retail establishment during the holidays.

It’s difficult to avoid. Believe me, I’ve tried.

In the hustle and bustle, it’s very easy to get annoyed with the person behind the cash register staring at you with soulless eyes. Maybe she mumbled or didn’t give you correct change. Or maybe he bagged a bunch of bananas on top of the bread, squishing it flat. Maybe you’re in a hurry, and no one else is moving fast enough.

Retail employees tend to bear the brunt of our holiday stress. And why shouldn’t they? They’re the ones standing there at the precise moment when you just can’t take it anymore.

This year, I submit that we cut them some slack. People who work in retail get the holiday spirit beat right out of ’em. They’re restocking shelves, bagging egg nog, mopping up spills, and answering unintelligent questions all across America when they would much rather be somewhere else.

But they have bills to pay. So they’re there, wearing that damned elf hat.

When I was working in the customer service department at a grocery store, a woman once returned 12 full-sized frozen turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. She had the kind of attitude that let me know I was ruining her day by existing, probably because she hated life and I looked like I was trying to enjoy it. I had nowhere to put the birds, so they piled on the floor behind the counter and slid around my feet like hockey pucks until a guy from the meat department showed up to load them up and put them back where they belonged. This is the kind of stuff that happens to people who work in retail.

Here are a few reasons why we should give retail workers a break:

1. They’ve been listening to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer since September, so yeah, they kind of want to punch Santa in his bowl full of jelly by the time December rolls around.

2. Their work schedules are notoriously shitty, because retail never stops, ever. That grumpy cashier probably just found out that she is scheduled to work on Christmas Eve and she has no idea who is going to care for her kid while she’s at work because schools are closed on December 24, but not stores, never stores.

3. These people have families of their own. They might be ringing up your purchases while silently worrying about how they are going to pay for Christmas or buy enough groceries to make it through the week. The sales lady who just looked at her watch? She might be sad that she’s missing her kid’s bedtime. Yes, this is their job. Yes, we expect them to do it well. But also? They deserve kindness and empathy during what is likely a rough time for them.

4. It is not the employee’s fault if the lines are to the back of the store, if your coupon doesn’t scan, if you happened to pick an item with a missing price tag, or if your feet and back hurt. These things are out of their control. Rein it in, people. Save the rage for spin class.

5. Customers are assholes. They just are. Some people take the slogan “the customer is always right” a wee bit far. Good customer service does not mean that customers should feel entitled to act like deranged lunatics and berate the people behind the counter, and yet, it happens daily.

6. Employees have to control their words and actions unless they want to end up unemployed or incarcerated for the holidays. (See No. 5.)

7. They’re exhausted, just like you. They are on their feet all day. Yes, they sometimes stand on a cushy mat that is supposed to ergonomically correct their posture, but does it help? No. Their backs hurt, their feet hurt, and they’re tired of saying, “Have a great day!” to customers who won’t even grant them the courtesy of making eye contact.

8. The life has been slowly drained from their body by countless hours of listening to elevator music

9. Three words: the general public.

As you work your way through your holiday to-do list, take the time to look that sour-faced Best Buy employee in the eye and be kind—unless he’s not doing his job. Then you can ask to speak to a manager.

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