Op-Ed: Make These Holidays the Season to Be Kind to Service Workers

Every time you step into a shopping mall or department store, you have a chance to bring kindness and cheer to someone who is working there.

walmart guy with baby

April Flores holds her son at a picket line in support of striking Walmart workers protesting unsafe working conditions and poor wages outside a Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California. (Photo: Jonathan Alcorn /Reuters)

Black Friday 2012 brought another onslaught of big-box stores opening earlier than ever, and depriving service workers of their holiday with their families. Walmart workers staged a strike again, as they have done in past years, and policies didn’t change. It’s easy for me to become despondent and angry at the state of retail in this country. After all, I was behind the counter for over 15 years.

Before I became an author (Retail Hell; The Return to the Big Fancy) and blogger, I worked at a swap meet, a drive-in movie theater, a Long John Slivers, and a Macy’s—because I wanted the employee discount to buy clothes! That pretty much sealed the coffin of my retail career.

I ended up at a large department store. I won many awards for top sales and customer service. I managed a $5 million handbag department, producing increases and winning company awards for leadership. The entire staff knew me as “Freeman in Handbags.” And, yes, store management is not pleased with my books. 

Big Box Workers’ Lament: Voices From Thanksgiving Retail Hell

Even though my experience gave me friendships that will last forever, I have no love for the big department store. On Christmas Eve it was mandatory that all the people in the men’s areas work until 1:00 a.m., setting up a sale that had to be ready for the day after Christmas.

Why do retailers keep workers past midnight on Christmas Eve? Because of tradition, a tradition of ruining Christmas Eve for families.

I wrote my books (Retail Hell and Return to the Big Fancy) because I wanted people to see how crazy the commissioned retail world was, and I wanted to make people laugh about it! When I wrote Big Fancy it was the first year that several stores decided to be open on Thanksgiving. It was also the year of Occupy Wall Street and the “down with corporations” message.

Please be kind and patient to the people behind the counter. They have been working long hours, and missing their families, while trying to have some semblance of a holiday. It’s not their fault the line is long, or the register system decides to crash.

We were all upset about Target, Walmart, and Best Buy working their people on Thanksgiving. I blogged about it, there were petitions. And nothing happened.

Black Friday came and went, and the retail stores had the biggest increase ever. Corporate America is controlling us all—everyone went shopping, and nobody cared about the humans working behind the counter. (And that bad movie replayed itself again in 2012!)

This year, I channeled my Black Friday frustration into a new holiday for service workers: Selfless Saturday: Be Kind to Service Workers Day. The official holiday falls on the day after Black Friday, but shoppers should try to keep the Kind to Service Workers spirit alive at least until the New Year.

Because of profits, the corporations will never give Thanksgiving back, but I saw an opportunity to give our thanks back to the service workers of America.

We can take the hellishness out of retail by refusing to follow their rules. It is always a good idea to shop local, or buy directly from the person who provides the goods, such as supporting artisans that make furniture, farmers who grow your food, and chefs that prepare it.

Also, this holiday season, it pays to be nice to sales associates! They will go the extra mile for you. If you’re a Grinch, they will want to ban you from Whoville. Another great tip with this is to ask another customer’s advice about a gift idea if you can’t find a salesperson. I’ve found that customers love to help each other with advice! And they are a good third opinion from someone who isn’t trying to win a commission by making you buy.

Please be kind and patient to the people behind the counter. They have been working long hours, and missing their families, while trying to have some semblance of a holiday. It’s not their fault the line is long, or the register system decides to crash.

If you laugh and be friendly, you will make their day and holiday! And maybe they will make yours!

Have you seen any retail miracles of human kindness this holiday season? Leave them in COMMENTS.

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