The demands of fake smiles, endless platitudes, and other ridiculous requests that come from the pits of despair that capitalism and humanity are, will be familiar to many of us. I myself spent a long and painful summer dusting bags (I’m not even kidding) and waxing lyrical nonsense about stylistic merits and versatile functionality at Australia’s oldest and leading women’s fashion retailer™. Every retail job begins in roughly the same way: you arrive excited in your smart-ish all-black uniform, or in whatever trendy gladrags you’ve managed to scrounge up on your spending allowance. The first day flies by in the nervous flutter of newness. Are you greeting customers too awkwardly? Do the seams on your folded pants/shirt align correctly? How does the cash register work? How do you process a refund?
Soon however, you acquire the haggard weary cynicism of a retail veteran. Marked by the perma-smile fixed on your face, and your very own trademark ‘retail-voice’. You wince only slightly near the tail end of an eight-hour shift as an unassuming mother-daughter duo slip in past the semi-closed glass door only to begin a slow and lengthy perusal of inventory five minutes out from closing.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 20.8 per cent of students experienced some capacity of employment as sales assistants during the course of their degree. But when does the payoff of disposable income in exchange for barely-skilled labour start to suck more than it’s worth? The following are a series of questions you should ask yourself in order to gauge whether your job does, in fact, suck more than it is worth.
Do you hate people? Are you an introvert?
If you answered yes to either of these, then why the flying heck are you working in retail? Perhaps consider a side-hustle in a less egregiously inter-personal vocation. If you’ve managed to make it into the hallowed concrete halls of ANU, you should be able to convince some unsuspecting parent of a failing high-schooler to let you tutor them in something — a job which requires no: ‘That looks in-CRED-ible on you … and would be even better with the matching earrings’, but only: ‘Dude, that is definitely not how you do a quadratic equation.’
Are you getting paid your minimum legal entitlement?
If you answered no to the above it may be worth considering whether your employer is intentionally ripping you off, in which case your first point of call would be to initiate a discussion armed with all/any relevant legislation which could help your case. Feigning initial confusion to avoid direct confrontation always helps. i.e.:
You: ‘What award does my employment fall under?’
Boss dude: ‘… General Retail Industry Award [most likely]’
And that’s when you hit them with: ‘I’ve double checked with the Fairwork ombudsman and it specifies that according to that award I should be paid _____, but I am currently being paid_____.’
If you’re working for a massive chain-store corporation, you will mostly be dealing with a long chain of middle managers who are probably not personally out to get you – though nor do they have the power to change your rate of pay if underpayment is a company-wide issue. If underpaying you is an honest mistake (which does happen more frequently than most of us realise due to the nature of casual employment payslip irregularity and the complexities of casual loading), this will be corrected with relative immediacy. If it is a result of the latter – purposeful and exploitative underpaying – you could bring the employer to the fair work commission. This is, however, a tedious, lengthy and not to mention expensive process.
Do you hate your boss? Do you hate more than one of your co-workers? Are the customers so aggressive in their demands of your abilities as a lowly shop assistant that you feel the urge to commit grievous bodily harm to yourself or others on a regular basis?
If you answered yes to more than one of the above, it might be time to get the heck out of that hellhole.
At the end of the day, I know it’s a rough subject because, let’s be real, most of us stick it out at these jobs because we actually need them to survive. But if you feel like talking to people is just not for you, you’re not getting paid what you deserve, or your manager is just a major [insert expletive of personal preference here], then you owe it to yourself to at least start looking down other avenues, rather than just copping it. You can always make an appointment to have a chat with someone at the Careers and Student Experience Department and they can help you to polish up that resume, hone your interviewing skills, and source a new workplace ASAP.