Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What are some personal examples of the worst working environments? What was it like? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
My worst working environment was with a rather well-known bra-panty-lingerie-loungewear company, which I worked for while living in the extremely isolated upper Midwest (think five hours from the nearest Costco at the time).
There were positives of course and the job was fun at times, but here were the parts that made it the worst working experience ever:
- The training was subpar. Coming straight from a company known for its exceptional dedication to training (Starbucks), this was a huge shock for me. At face value, the training system looked similar to Starbucks (and I believe someone involved in training at Sbux had been hired to help design training here), but the execution was nowhere near the level I’d been used to. There was minimal support, even though I was assigned another manager of a neighboring store as a coach, and there were no group culture classes or training sessions. Training consisted mainly of being in the backroom for 8+ hours for a few days in my first week, sat down with a handful of DVDs (that weren’t too realistic and really unhelpful when it came to the actual job) and a few binders of POS manuals and policy guidelines. I saw my training “coach” for fifteen minutes every four hours or so, as she was working on the floor and didn’t seem to have time scheduled to actually train me or walk me through things. There was an overload of information without a really great way to learn it or retain it, and then it was just time to go. Training was condensed and quickly signed off even if I still felt totally unprepared. I did most of my learning as I went, which made for a much more difficult experience for me and my team at times.
- Mealtimes and breaks were required by law, but rarely taken at the right times, if at all. Although there was a VERY careful phrasing when this came up to ensure that it was clear that our DM was saying we needed to take them, the followup message was subversive: “I know how tempting it can be to just clock out and keep working or skip it altogether, because I always did this as a SM because I wanted to support my store, but …” Message received. She couldn’t tell us to do it, but … This was tough, especially when I was pregnant with my second child, then trying to fit in pumping times during my long shifts (9 hours were minimum, but the amount of times we spent over 10 hours in the store minimally are countless, especially during sales and holiday season).
- Six or seven day workweeks, even if not full days on the 6th/7th day, were not uncommon. In fact, although there’d be a perfunctory “chiding” on the call, the undertone was more of a praise for being so devoted. Most of the managers in our district made a habit of coming into the store on their days off, whether it was to do the work in the back office we couldn’t squeeze in during our actual days of work or whether it was to have meetings or touchbases or get on conference calls scheduled on our off days.
- Coaching conversations had to be given (“in a sensitive manner”) to supervisors below us who weren’t dressing “to impress” – AKA needed to wear makeup or fancier black clothing.This is awkward. There’s nothing more awkward than having to tell someone she needs to start wearing makeup – but try to do it in a way that doesn’t leave you personally up for lawsuits. The suggestions were to “make it fun by doing makeovers on each other!” My own makeup skills are subpar, but on the days I managed to get most of it on, I received a lot of extra compliments and praise from my colleagues (the other SMs) and my direct manager. Pretty clear that I needed to step up my makeup game too.
- Marble tiled floors, high heeled shoes, 9+ hours a day standing/walking on them. Of course we “could” wear flats, but so much positive push was given in suggestions and “notice” that it was pretty clear that the more glamorous you could be, the better this was for you and the store. This meant that I spent 9 months pregnant wearing heels on the marble floors. I received so much “praise” for this that it became uncomfortable for me to even attempt otherwise until the last week of my pregnancy, when swelling made me forego even my 1.5 sizes big heels for dressy sandals. (This is just a minor gripe, but you’d be surprised how much your feet being in constant pain will affect your love of work, haha!)
- Turnover and retention were a constant battle. For our entry-level sales associates, pay was not competitive and the schedules were grueling. It’s retail. Even with extra pay for holiday, it’s still grueling work at thankless hours and days. For our managers, what sounded like a generous salary with good bonus opportunities to begin with turned out to be not such a great deal given the demands. Because …
- Work/life balance was nonexistent. Not only did I constantly get calls from my store and my DM during my off times, I got them at odd hours of the day (late at night as the store was closing, early in the AM as the team would go in to open, middle of the night during retail sets if I wasn’t already there). I got more calls than my husband, who’s a doctor, ever did when he was on call with the hospital! And not only that, but during my maternity leave, I was “told” of important conference calls etc, and told OF COURSE they weren’t asking me to be on them! but they wanted to give me the info just in case because they KNEW how involved I’d want to be … In fact, while I was at the hospital in labor with my second son, I was fielding calls from both my DM and my functional manager who was going to be covering for me during my leave. (This actually happened to me at Starbucks too – my DM there called me while I was in labor with my first son to talk about some store issues, since I’d been admitted earlier than we expected – but that was an extreme one-off for the company.) I would continue to get calls throughout my leave, and even ended up going in a few times to help sort out issues with scheduling, etc (that could have been covered by my DM or other SMs, but that just wasn’t the expectation, and being rural, it was an hour to the nearest store).
- The way the culture was internally (at least in our district), you could call your peers for support, but you needed to know they probably would use whatever you said against you. There were a few exceptions where I knew I could get support or have questions answered WITHOUT worrying how this would be spun to make me look bad to our manager, but they were few. There wasn’t a great culture of support, the way things were, the culture was much more trying to stay out of trouble by flinging someone else in. That tells you about the environment set overall, where we maybe all were feeling always threatened or unsupported and were all reacting with fear instead of confidence that if we asked for help, we’d get the help and training we needed instead of immediately landing on a downward track list.