To err is human. – by Denis Kaplun

“To err is human.”

Indeed, people make mistakes and, in time, people learn from them. That is the basic textbook definition of “experience.” My experience at my last place of employment certainly presented me a lot of so-called experience, none more important than the realization that working there may have been one of the biggest mistakes my life. This company is a business model—a model of what every employer would want to avoid emulating.


In order to preserve some sort of anonymity, I shall refer to this place simply as J. J is a well-known retail location, which has expanded beyond anyone’s guess. While its success seems admirable, the behind-the-scenes look shows this to be a façade. From treating its employees, the supposed most important asset, as expendable property to screwing over customers and workers alike, J has become a haven of bad business theory, enacted by uneducated management.


To err is human. I am human. I too could make mistakes and am susceptible to bias. As a result, I shall present only fact and logic. Emotion will not be implicitly stated, although each reader is urged to come his or her own opinion.


As an employee of J, I was entitled to fewer rights than the customers I was supposed to serve. In attempt to make a personal purchase, I myself have become a customer. Being an employee I am entitled to a discount, albeit not usually a very promising one. As a result, I could obtain no help from the salespeople in helping me choose a product. On one such instance, I have gone to the store and asked a salesman a question about a certain item. Unbeknownst to him, I was his coworker and thus he helped. Upon finding out about my status, and knowing he will not be receiving any commission for his help, I have yet to see him again. J creates an atmosphere in which its subjects refuse to aid anyone unless it benefits them.


J carries an extremely popular item, one that is not easy to obtain and is usually sold out. When it does come in stock, one would think that an employee would be able to get one for him and increase his productivity through happiness. But J, being a keen business entity, bars employees from such items. These are reserved only for those who are lucky to not wear the badge of J. In my attempt to get this highly sought product, I have asked a manager if I can pay full price to get it. I decided to not just to go behind their backs, but to be up-front. The answer was a very dismissive “I’ll talk to the buyers” as he made a haste exit and I have yet to hear any more from him on this issue. My money, as it seems, is not good enough for them! And once more did my employment at J result in me getting a worse treatment than a customer.


J is a type of company that preferred to do things that are legal but are inherently immoral. They would often pick on a person so often that would be forced to quit. This would save J money, as they do not have to pay any unemployment. Because the pay we received was above minimum wage, they would force people to work whatever hours they desired (but more on that later.) When a manager (who was one of the very few who was actually good) died, the company went on as nothing happened. At the funeral, which I was honored to attend, only two of the upper managers came. The owner, of course, was too busy to be bothered with such an event.


The management of J, as I quickly realized, has no experience being actual management. They were instead egomaniacs on power trips who instituted policies randomly and arbitrarily. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, they have done it to the extent where it is downright counterproductive and insulting. The head manager, who could not compose an email with no grammatical errors to save his last follicle on his head, enacted policies, which have caused a mass outcry.


I have worked 8 hours a day, plus an hour lunch, 5 days a week. When it was a busy season, J enacted a mandatory 6 days a week schedule (which is of questionable legal nature) in order to have enough staff. However, once enacted, J would rather keep this policy even when it is no longer necessary. Since they pay the same regardless, they have no need to limit the hours. This policy is kept to the sole whim of the management, and not for the greater good. While this is somewhat understandable, J also deems it necessary to use this as a source of punishment. Every so often they suddenly surmise—based on no evidence whatsoever—that it will be busy. They ask for volunteers. But of course we are all privy to their faux future telling and no one volunteers. Instead of taking this with stride, they decide to punish everyone by making them work an extra day. They were wrong; it was not busy.


Among the more ridiculous reasons to penalize an employee, J illegally punished us for minor infractions such as misspelling of a customer’s email address. They wanted us to get the email address twice and then read it back to them, no doubt so they can sell it of to the highest bidder (and probably the lowest bidder as well!) People were penalized because when we told the customer the truth, full aware that it is the truth, we had not consulted with the management. There is no need to involve them and yet they demanded so just so they have an extra bullet in their barrel for you! We even got punished when a different department made mistakes, which was unbelievably common.


The thing that J’s managers hated the most was to give the employees any time off. Be it a personal day, a vacation, or a legitimate illness, they vehemently refuse to accommodate. They even went as far as to demand make up days! They would force and threaten people to come in when they were sick and could not physically make the trip. Some managers provided advice on what to do so the employee could still come in, never mind that they had no medical training whatsoever. Others, the lazy ones, would just transfer the person to a manager who was very adamant and stubborn. And an employee would have to pray to whichever deity it is that they pray to in order to escape the fury that would follow if one would call out on a weekend! I once had a family emergency and called out, saying it was a personal issue. The management called me back three times and then called me into the office to explain myself the next time I came in.


The management was such that it expected a lot but appreciated nothing. No act was good. When a fellow employee broke a record, which has stood there for 20 odd years, he was praised. Until the next day when the owner of J, Mr. J himself, squeaked at him that he was not impressed. He would rather see less performance but in which the customers are squeezed for everything they are worth. If you excel in one area, they will attack another. If you improve that area, it is not enough. They will always find some sort of problem, ignoring the fact that the business is slow. I myself was told that I was too fast of a worker, even though I was efficient and good at what I was doing.


It seems that everything that J institutes has the sole purpose of demoralizing its employees in order to be able to train them better. We received threatening emails from the management, we were being threatened to be fire on a continuous basis, we are treated as disposable assets. They bring people up just to make them crash farther. They give out “employee of the month” award, as the name would imply, on a monthly basis. We have long since learned that this “award” is actually a kiss of death as most people get suspended or fired within weeks of receiving this “honor.” People have been known to quit within a week and I even heard stories of people taking a lunch on their first day and never coming back. The turnover rate in my department, and especially in others, was tremendous. The customer service department always had new faces and we wondered what happened to the old ones. Most of the other departments are seriously understaffed. And when mistakes occur due to not having enough manpower for all of the work to do, they fire people in great haste and with very little consideration. They release the workers and then they ponder why there is so much workload.


Which brings us to J’s finest hour. As a favor to a fellow worker, I have switched schedules with him in order to accommodate his evening plans. I came on time for his schedule but unfortunately he had come a little late. Toward the end of the day, my fellow coworker has a conversation in the office of one of J’s managers. To pacify the manager, my coworker has offered to stay longer to make up the hours but the manager has declined the offer. As my coworker was leaving, the manager, in his infinite wisdom, cursed out his worker. Being a man of pride, my coworker has confronted him. The following day, he was told he was on thin ice, as this manager cowered in the corner as another had to do his dirty work. He was then promptly fired due to the fact that a manager cursed him out.


In a normal work environment, the management is there to help the employees do their job. It is on this mutual relationship that businesses prosper. J, however, decided to have a different style. The management would not make decisions, as they did not want to be liable. They would always say they would ask someone else. They just wanted to cover their own asses. They would at times tell us to ask on a different day just so they can ask someone else. While they had no problem is forcing us to do their bidding, so to speak, they had a tremendous problem doing anything on our behalf.


They also liked to play a game of “good cop, bad cop” when they had to inform us of anything. They will make it seem like we were in big trouble and that they fought to lower the punishment to whatever it is. In reality, they just wanted that punishment. A coworker of mine was told that he was in trouble and that no manager liked him. The only way he could save his job was to go to a later, and a lesser sought, shift. They pretended to be on your side and blame everything on their superiors, but in reality they were basically autonomous and made the decisions and instituted punishments all on their own.


We did socialize with the managers, joked around. But their feeble egos cannot react properly as soon as their authority is challenged. It is like talking to a bipolar multiple personality disorder patient, unsure which face you will be talking to today. One time a manager walked by and scolded me for having my feet on my desk. While that gripe is understandable, not a week has passed since he was doing the same. I questioned his doing so and his return explained it all: “I’m a manager, I can do it.” Some of the managers asked us to get them food if it was on the way for us when we were doing so. One of the managers asks me to get him food during my lunch hour and then he chides me for being late! I suppose manners were not taught! Not more than four hours have passed that he suspended me because a customer, who was in the wrong, complained about me.


And this is a good segue into J’s biggest downfall: the customer, as wrong as they are, are not always right, but are entitled to presidential treatment when they deserve a straightjacket (literally, in some cases.) The management assumes the customer is always right and allows its employees no chance to defend him or herself. Well, they do. They just do not take that into any consideration; once their mind is made up, it stays that way. The customers would make up any story they could, reality was optional, fact was overlooked. The managers bought their stories. Be it an increase in returns, faulty price adjustments, lies about what they were told, and of course the apparent mistreatment by the workforce. The managers, in their laziness, would oftentimes give customers free items or money back just not to speak to them. While the customer could do no wrong, we were the scapegoats. Be it issues related to the customer’s bad credit or the customers providing wrong information to begin with, we were at fault.


Up until recently, J was involved in a program that allowed people in prisons and mental institutions to call and pretend to do business. These inmates would call up and waste an inordinate amount of time. They were almost always rude. They demanded things that just could not be done. And the saddest thing of all: J probably bid and won such a privilege.


It would seem weird how much went wrong and how little was mentioned of Mr. J, the owner. Mr. J is a man who married well. His wife’s father gave them the money to start the store and this store expanded. Instead of thanking his lucky stars, he relishes in the fact that he is better than everyone. From his speaking manner to his actions, nothing about his screams humble. This man was banned from the store by his wife due to his treatment of employees and customers alike. He is now only allowed into the warehouse, although he is wanted there by no one; it is as if the whole place is on red alert when he is present. He is known for his mood swings and his squeaky voice. He threatens people in all department, claims to know more than we do, and makes up stories when he is proven wrong! While he is not allowed in the store, I have seen him sitting by the store—like a watchdog of sorts. This is from a man who parks on fire hydrants because he is too good to look for a parking spot (proof is readily available.) This is from a man who has physically threatened people to bash their skulls in. This is from a man who would take candy from a baby just to try to get his employees to sell it back!


The year and a half I have spent there was filled humorous stories, had they been featured in a comedic movie. It was full of backstabbing from the managers, absurd rules that they decided to pass, and fake interactions between us. So yes: to err is human. And thank you, J, for the experience that I have received.


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  1. Pingback: To err is human. — Driving while intoxicated blog

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