Christmas. A time of cheer. Eat, drink and be merry. Spending time with your loved ones-the very people you work your butt off for so that you can do wonderful things with when you get some much needed time off. Precious time.
Unless you work in retail. Then its a case of “what time?”.
OK, just to summarise, I have always work in retail. In every job I’ve had, I’ve ended up in a management roll. I’m used to working every Saturday. I essentially enjoy the job, the team spirit, the customer interaction. Never though, have I ever HAD to work both Christmas eve AND Boxing Day.
Until this year.
For most people, Christmas is a time for all those things I mentioned above. For my family, its about those of us that are still here, being together. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that we lost my sister just after Christmas 2013. Then just before Christmas 2014 my husband left me. By a long stretch I know there are people out there who have even more upset associated with Christmas than us, but we have had it pretty tough. If I am able to have two days together to get through Christmas, and the day we lost my sister, I can go into work, do my job and not let it affect me. That was taken away from me this year. The greedy, greedy world of retail took over and I was powerless to respond.
December was looming and I was mentally having to prepare for being forced, by the company I had previously worked four successful christmasses for, to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Something I have never ever had to do in my whole working life. Now I accept that retail over Christmas is unsociable, however at Christmas, having two days off together has always been assumed, a given. Leaving my very capable Assistant Manager in charge in my absense, a job she does all year round on my two days off a week and to cover my holidays, has always been the obvious choice, and a proven success on the day I don’t work. For four years, it worked. Why change this year? We never really got an answer.
Throughout December , my well practised “brave face” went on. My existing assistant manager handed her notice in for reasons heavily influenced by the Christmas working conditions. Issues in my private life unfortunately reared their very ugly head again, threatening to ruin the little free time I was getting over the “festive” season. The thought of someone else spending more time over Christmas with the son I’d been looking after practically full time since the summer, was killing me.Trying to get on with my life after everything myself and my very small family have been through, was seeming impossible without the interference of people who, quite frankly, gave up their own right to interfere. I’ve since realised that its very hard to let go off something that doesn’t seem to realise you’ve long given up the grip you ever had. Drama I neither wanted nor created followed me around all month, when all I wanted to do was spend the time I had away from work with those I love and love me back. I made a very big stand, and handed the baton of responsibility that I had somehow unwillingly ended up holding, onto those who should be stepping up and taking control of someone that should mean more to them than that someone now means to me. The past is the past for a reason.
For probably only the second time ever, I let a customer reduce me to tears. No, its not very professional of me as a store manager, but yes, I’m only human. She was a vile human being who threw my goodwill back in my face leaving me wishing I’d just stuck to the law and “company” procedure and sent her on her way. Its not like the company valued me going over and above to offer customer satisfaction, and she certainly didn’t. I dealt with the whole situation whilst wearing a Christmas hat. The hat did not remain on my head after wishing her a Merry Christmas and leaving the shop floor.
I felt compelled to say sorry to my staff that witnessed my upset.They, of course, thought nothing of it. They knew what I was going through. Hey, they were going to see more of me this Christmas than my own family. As part of our job, we are expected to greet every customer within a minute of them entering the store. When it is busy, and there are only a couple of us working due to hours allowed, its hard, but we manage. When I say “greet”, I just mean a simple ” hello”. My already fragile mood would get even more delicate every time our “hello” was responded to with “I’m just looking” and a roll of the eyes as if we were pressure selling! The amount of times I had to stop myself from saying “and I’m just saying Hello”……
When returns from the website and other stores kept bringing my till figure down and we were on the receiving end of the grief and anger caused by the reason for the return which wasn’t our fault, my brave face struggled to stay put. It did, but it was a struggle. It was easy to identify those had never worked in retail in their lives…. there anger was personal towards whichever unsuspecting member of staff was polite enough to greet them when they entered the store. The phrase ” I don’t get paid enough for this” went round in my head so many times.
I was suffering. I struggled to stay “upbeat”.
I clung to the days off with my son and the occasional evening with my Mr Amazing as if they were as precious as the first and last moments on earth. Both were my rays of sunshine. They were like my own personal bookends, holding me together from either side.
Days off flew by and days at work dragged along. I started to dread the 7.15am alarm call. Each morning I got closer to Christmas, I hit the snooze button one more time. Each morning leaving the house a few minutes later, to start the cold twenty minute walk to work. I didn’t want to go. It felt unfair. One day off for Christmas. Well meaning friends would shrug, say that’s harsh but put it down to ” being retail”, until I pointed out that I’ve worked in retail 21 years and have never had to do both before. My other half told me he was only working three days the week up to Christmas, leaving me silently reeling about the missed opportunities to spend time with him. He works at a supermarket, an area of retail way busier than mine at Christmas, and he was getting reasonable time off! He was my angel, a true life Godsend, taking me into town on my last day off before the big day so I could buy all my families Christmas cards, because the half hour lunch breaks I’m allowed at work were not enough time to face the card shop madness. Then on top of that was my annual “accidentally end up in front of the Sister cards in the shop because noone would move and then have to leave that shop and go to another before I burst into tears that I no longer need to buy a sister card” scenario. It never gets easier.
Christmas eve arrived,along with instructions to open all day and stay after closing to launch the “SALE”. I was dreading it. I wanted to be at home with my son and my other half who was finishing at midday. I struggled to find something to wear as I’d been reluctant to spend my evenings doing mundane housework and washing in between 9 hour days at the shop, so I cobbled together an outfit that was sold by my company but wasn’t technically current stock, or therefore ” accepted uniform requirements “, but I had no other choice. Passing Costa on my way into work , I grabbed myself some brain fuel and headed for the shop. I would be working the whole day with my newly appointed Assistant Manager, a member of my team who was a friend of mine long before she joined my team as a part timer.
We planned out our day, and my wonderful friend and colleague managed to make me smile all day long despite my absolute adamence that I didn’t want to be there. We were busy, we had a good day. Did the manager HAVE to be there? No. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that needed my presence over my assistant manager.
I couldn’t sleep Christmas eve night. Not in a ” I’m so excited” kind of way. More a “I only have one day off for Christmas, and that’s going to be a busy day so if I can’t sleep tonight I’m going to be shattered Boxing Day and I can’t even get drunk” kind of way.
At 7am on Christmas morning, I was up putting the turkey on. I didn’t even have to. My son was still fast asleep. Retail ruined me. I couldn’t even have a lie in as my internal body clock was screaming at me to get up like every morning of the week leading up to this one day. I was not rested. I was not relaxed. Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling Christmassy at all. If I didn’t have places to go and people to see, I would’ve spent the day like any other day off. Pottering round the house, housework, listening to music. Noone wants to do housework on Christmas day, and this year I was working so much that I was having to keep working when I got home to get the house “Christmas ready”. The money grabbing fat cats don’t think of that. When are us lowly retail staff meant to do the normal mundane stuff? Days off were the only chance I had to shop. Evenings were spent cleaning, tidying, sorting. I was physically burning the proverbial candle at both ends. And even round the sides. I’ve said in a previous blog that there’s no shame in letting the people around you help you, be it emotionally or practically, and I am blessed with people in my life that want to make me happy. So, for them, I plodded on.
And BECAUSE of them, I had the most wonderful Christmas day in a while. The morning was spent with my son, my parents and my nephews. Then just my boy and I had a perfect dinner together. The afternoon I was able to put my feet up for a couple of hours while Mr Amazing and my son battled it out on Lego Dimensions, and the evening, although sober and short, was quality time just my boy and I. Although I couldn’t, and didn’t, forget that I was back at work the next day, every single person I saw and interacted with made my “One Day Christmas” the best it could’ve been. From seeing the gratitude and appreciation on my boys face when he opened his gifts, to the thoughtfulness behind every single present Mr Amazing got me, and the clear plates at dinner time.
Boxing Day at work was achieved with the company of my two part timers who had both had Christmas eve off, so were relaxed and raring to go. Their enthusiasm got me through again. Another busy day, but again, nothing that needed the managers input.
My next day off after Christmas was the anniversary of when we lost my sister. My feet hadn’t touched the ground and I wanted, and deserved to sit and do nothing all day. However, lunch with my son and parents was on the agenda, and rightly so, to remember her.
New Years Eve we managed to close an hour early. My colleagues went for a drink to celebrate. I went home, to make the most of an extra hour with my son.
2017 was seen in the only way I wanted to, with my boy and Mr Amazing watching movies.
New Years Day, the shop was closed. I happily spent the whole day at home and didn’t do a thing. A full on no make up day. The washing was piled up around me. The plates from the previous nights tea still in the sink. But I had nowhere to go and I fully intended to benefit from it.
So, remember, when you have the luxury of a day off in the run up to Christmas, and can browse the shops at leisure and clean your house in between knowing that you have at least two days off together to enjoy all your hard work, there will be staff out there that don’t have any choice.
Don’t shout at them. Don’t be rude to them. They are doing their job so that your Christmas with your family goes as smoothly as it can. Yet all they desperately want is the time with their family that you have. Its not about the presents. Its not about the food and drink. Its about the precious moments with friends, family and loved ones.
This year, I’m so very grateful that my work colleagues fall in those categories. Without those girls, more tears would’ve been shed.