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! 

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