How To Be A Great Coworker/Employee (at least in retail)

A few weeks ago, I posted a list of things that retail customers can do to be the best customer ever. More recently, I wrote a rant about coworkers not pulling their weight, which is especially detrimental in retail. Today, I had a good day at work, and good days at work usually have a lot to do with my coworkers. It’s maybe 60% customers and 40% coworkers that determines whether a shift was awful or awesome. Which is why it is important to always be aware of how you treat the people you work with. When you treat people nicely, they are happy, which makes customers happy, which makes our bank accounts happy, as I have said before. So without further ado…

1. Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave (If you know which movie that’s from, you get a cookie)

At least at my Fred Meyer, whenever employees cross paths, they will greet each other. A smile with a nod, a wave, “hi”, “how’s it going?”, it doesn’t matter. Something that says, “I acknowledge you. We work together (or not. Maybe you work in different departments, but you’re still coworkers.) We have no beef. You’re friendly; I’m friendly; let’s make it a good day. I’m happy you’re here. You are valued.” No, really. Think about how you feel when you smile at a coworker in passing and they make eye contact but don’t smile. No face at all. Feels weird, right? I still feel like one of my apparel coworkers doesn’t like me because she rarely returns my smiles. I don’t think much of it because I have my tasks to focus on and I’ve never done anything to her, but it still makes me slightly uncomfortable around her. BUT I promised myself this would not be a rant, so… just be friendly. 

2. Take the plank out of your own eye first

Basically, focus on your own current task before thinking about how someone else is not doing theirs. Say, you have the first two hours of your shift to do nothing but recover the men’s clothing before you are swamped with fitting room go-backs. You’ll want to dedicate your thoughts and energy to that task so you can finish while you have time. You don’t have time to run and help someone with recovering women’s or children’s because they’re not working as fast or as hard as you are just because it frustrates you. By the time that’s done, you’ll have to do fitting rooms, and then men’s will still be messy by the time your shift is almost over and then you’ll be rushing. No one wants to rush. It’s much more relaxing to focus on the task you’re given and then assist your coworkers with theirs. Trust me, everything gets thrown out of whack when you act on emotions and not instructions. That being said…

3. Help! I need somebody! Help!

If asking your supervisor/coworker for help because you don’t understand or are overwhelmed won’t earn you respect, then I’m sorry, but you are working at the wrong place. A good manager understands that an inquisitive mind gets you places and that is a good thing. People who refuse to ask for help either think too highly of themselves or too lowly of themselves, in my opinion. Either they believe that asking for help is below them or they are afraid that asking for help will make them look stupid. Look, everyone starts somewhere. Even if you’ve worked in retail for 10 years, your first few days or weeks at a new store will probably require many questions. Everywhere will have different standards and procedures for so many things, it would be imprudent not to ask someone when you’re not sure about how to do something. I’ve been in retail for just over a year and Fred Meyer for four months, and if I’m even 1% sure that I might not know the answer to a customer’s question, I nearly always call a manager or supervisor just to double check. At my 90-day review, the department manager told me I’m really good at asking lots of questions, even if I usually already know what I’m doing. They like it! It’s a good thing! Keep doing it! 

4. Be A Helping Helper

Managers LOVE it when you ask, “Hey, I finished my task! What could I help with?” They love it so much! Do it all the time. As long as your own tasks are finished first, jump in and ask if someone needs help with their section, or if someone is obviously struggling, helping without asking (or needing to be asked) is usually appreciated. The difference between helping being appreciated or not is your attitude. If I notice that someone is behind on fitting room go-backs and could really use a hand, they’re probably not going to feel very good if I swoop in and grab stuff, all huffy and puffy, sighing and glaring when I think they can’t see. This is rude. I don’t do this. Sometimes I feel like this, because honestly, it’s embarrassing to have customers see a giant pile of clothes where a nice clean rack should be, but it helps no one to have a negative attitude about it. If you’re going to help someone, and you should always be eager to help people, you need to have a positive attitude about it. Or at least smile. Fake it til you make it?

5. Be Extra Nice To New Kids

Especially if they are young! I’m 99.99% certain that the newest person in apparel is also the youngest. She’s like 19 and I think she’s great. She seems really comfortable talking to me about her work concerns, which is always a good sign. Or if she has a funny/weird customer story, she’ll come to me with it. Well not just me, but you wouldn’t go tell a funny story to someone you weren’t comfortable around, would you? I think this is because I’m tried really hard to make her feel welcome as soon as she got here. I know that when I’m new somewhere, I want to feel like I belong, like I’m part of the ‘in-crowd.’ It took a few weeks for me to feel like I fit in with my coworkers, and I’m still getting there, but there are little things you can do to make new people feel welcomed as soon as they arrive. Get to know them; give them gentle advice. Ask for their help just so you can show them how to do things they’re just learning, like folding shirts efficiently or printing a new barcode for something without a tag. Complete tasks beside them and chat about the cute boys in produce. Whatever would make you feel like part of a team.

Basically, working in retail is no exception to the golden rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated. Now, if only some customers could realize this! 


A Rant About Work Ethic

Have you ever worked in a place where the other employees didn’t really pull their weight? Probably. Who hasn’t? It’s extremely frustrating, to say the least. I’m definitely not saying that everyone I work with does this, or that the person who does is like that all the time, because that’s not true. All of us are guilty of it sometimes (unless you’re perfect, and in that case, congratulations), but there are always those who do it more than others. In my workplace, there’s a few. In retail, rather than, say, an office environment, this behavior is especially irritating because, usually, retail workers are part of a team. This team works together a lot more closely and depends on each other more than in a place where everyone has a desk and a task and doesn’t work with customers. If everyone is a team player, the whole team is happy, which makes customers happy, which makes our bank accounts happy. Much happy. So teamwork. Wow.

But when someone is not a team player, bad things happen. Obviously. Suppose there is enough coverage for one person to be in each section of the apparel department, with everyone helping each other with recovery and customer assistance as needed. I’m in Men’s and in charge of fitting rooms. Coworker B is in charge of Women’s and is covering fitting rooms during my hour-long lunch break. If said coworker decides to let people into rooms and then go back to “recovery” (i.e. standing around talking), ignoring the growing pile of clothes on the fitting room rack, that is not being a team player. Customers feel like they are in a dirty, disorganized, ill-staffed store when the rack where they are supposed to hang their unwanted items is overflowing with things and there is no employee there working on it. And then I come back from my lunch and have to spend extra time putting away everything my coworker was supposed to take care of while I was gone (that’s kind of what covering means. I mean, who else was going to do it?), which cuts into my time recovering Men’s.

And then the store has been closed for 15 minutes and we want to leave in another 15, but I am still finishing making Men’s look perfect because I spent so much time on fitting room go-backs AND recovering parts of Women’s that had been overlooked my entire shift, because SOMEONE had to do it. I pride myself on being an extremely hard worker, if I’m being paid to do something. I mean, that just makes sense to me. Common sense! If you do your job well, you have a better chance of keeping it for as long as you need it. If you don’t do a job well when you are perfectly capable of working hard, then I have to assume you don’t need this job very badly. Work ethic means a great deal to me. You are being paid to provide a service to the customer and the company. Do your job and everyone will be happy, including you. Don’t do your job, and, well, I’ll see you later, I guess.

A Small Victory

When I was 16 and in 11th grade, I joined my high school track and field team. Why? Probably because most of my friends were already on the team and it seemed fun. I mean that’s why I joined the marching band in 10th grade (okay, color guard, but still). I had been on a track and field team as a home-school kid, many years earlier, so I figured I would just pick up the same events I did as a small child (9 or 10). Hahaha. Ha. Silly me.

I showed up to the first practice in the clunky running shoes I wore for gym class. The coach later laughed at me for this, like I should have known to wear different shoes. I still don’t know why. After we picked out events (I chose 100-meter dash, 4×100 meter relay race, and 100-meter hurdles), he said I would need spike shoes. I had no money, so he let me borrow an old pair, but because of a miscommunication of terms, I didn’t know about the spikes I had to screw into the soles of the shoes. I thought they had better grip on the track than my regular running shoes without the spikes, so how was I to know? No one told me. I actually thought the metal holes in the soles were the “spikes.” I felt very stupid when he showed me how to put them in. Who knows how I missed that.


Literally the only picture I could find. I was so slow, I considered it a victory if I didn’t finish last.

Eventually, I was getting the hang of running in my spiky shoes, but still not running as fast as my teammates. Understandable, as most of them had already been on the team for a few years. I tried my hardest though. I fell once or twice practicing hurdles, which made me very nervous to leap over them at a meet, with hundreds of people watching. But I was determined to try.

If I did hurdles at a meet more than once, I do not remember the first time, because only one sticks out: The Granger track. It was later in the season, because it took a long time for me to decide I was ready to compete in that event. It was a big meet. Regionals, or only a few meets before. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Everyone was excited to win, or at least PR (personal record). We had a lot great athletes on our team. But as soon as I saw the track, I knew that falling would be especially bad today, worse than any other meet at any other school. See, most tracks are made of textured rubber, or something synthetic that is easy to grip, especially with spike shoes, and doesn’t hurt that much when you fall. I could have sworn that someone had taken a rototiller to that rubber and mixed in gravel. My heart sank. The pressure was on. I made it through the 4×1 successfully, and soon enough it was time to take our places on the starting blocks and prepare to leap. I gritted my teeth, took a big breath, and took off at that gun shot, not even faltering.

Until the last hurdle. I made all the others, my heart pounding with each leap, knowing that even a wrong inch or second could cost me my skin, but my left foot betrayed me, just barely catching the wooden bar, which fell down after me. I put my hands out to catch myself, but my knee hit first, skidding in the gravel. The cheering crescendoed. Familiar voices of my teammates and coaches encouraged me to finish, but I was already up and running. I was shaking and bleeding profusely, but I finished. You can’t just not finish a race. Once my time was recorded, I limped as fast as I could to a bathroom. My only thought was stopping the bleeding. I needn’t have worried; it was barely trickle by the time I got to the sink. I was in shock. I used paper towels to mop up my knee and picked the rocks out with my fingernails. I limped back out and found the coach whom I knew had the first aid kit. She sprayed the wound with antiseptic and stuck a bandage on it.

Finally, I could rest. Until that moment, all sound had blurred together into a dull roar, but as soon as it quieted, I heard my name being called. It was my friend Christy, the main reason I had joined the team. Apparently the 100-meter dash was about to start. She must not have seen me fall, because her voice sounded annoyed, like I had forgotten about my race. Reasonable. I had forgotten, but only because I had just ripped up my knee. I stood up and jogged to the start line, yelling, “I’m coming! I just injured myself!” All the other girls were already on their blocks. I got down in starting position, let out a slow exhale, and waited. The gun fired. I ran with all my might. I applied all the form and technique I’d learned over the previous three months, elbows in a 90 degree angle, keeping my steps high and my shoulders back. I imagined I was pulling myself through the air with my fists. My knee hurt, but it apparently wasn’t hindering my performance, because I DIDN’T EVEN COME IN LAST. I had just injured myself, and I still beat someone who had not just injured herself. I was faster than someone while recovering from a wound that left a scar I still have today.



Doesn’t look so bad now, but imagine it 8 years ago. 

The only point to this story was that when I feel defeated, like I won’t ever accomplish anything again, I remember this victory. I remember that even in the wake of seemingly debilitating trauma (in the heat of the moment), I still have the power to get up do something awesome. If I may paraphrase Chumbawumba, I may get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.