A large chunk of my life I have spent working in supermarkets as a “checkout chick”. I’ve never been fond of the term, but I wasn’t really fond of my job either. It’s not like I absolutely hated it, but I absolutely dreaded going most of the time. It got to the point, the last few years, it made me physically sick.
At 15, I started working in one supermarket. Getting paid only $5 an hour, didn’t seem too bad at the time, but can see now how I and other young employees were exploited. Especially when working after school for two hours for $10, or even longer for the same amount since we rarely got out on time, it hardly seemed worth going in. Not only that, the boss would come and stand staring at us while we scanned things. I found it nerve racking, off putting and creepy.
We always had to count and balance our till after we finished work and we never got paid for it or got off earlier if it was quiet to get it done so we could actually get off on time.
Workers were exploited, underpaid and definitely undervalued and basically treated like crap.
I remember once, I was still on the till about half an hour after I was supposed to finish, and the boss guided over an overflowing trolley into my checkout instead of the almost empty one next to mine. Took ages to put through, then count the till. I worked well over an hour extra, on just that one shift, for nothing.
I hate to think how many hours of overtime I worked that I was never paid for over the ten months I was there. And he got away with it.
But of everything that I put up with, it was working Boxing Day, expecting to get paid a higher rate, only to get my normal pay, when I’d just had enough. My dad went in and had a go at the boss. Apparently he had some sort of agreement, which is how he could get away with not paying proper pay or penalty rates. After that, I was given no more shifts, but I wasn’t interested in going back anyway.
Part of me would love to give him a piece of my mind, but I don’t think it would do much good anyway. He should never have been able to get away with it. And to so many other people too.
I started working at another supermarket, when I was 17. I was happy with how much better everything was. And for awhile, it was good.
But over the years things went downhill. And I dreaded going more and more.
You have no idea how many cranky people there are, and how many people who love to argue there are until you work in a supermarket. And the annoying thing is you can’t say anything back. Just smile and nod when all you really want to do is scream (or something much worse).
There are days when it seems like all the cranky people come out to shop and they just have to come to ruin your day and make you as miserable as they are. And it becomes so much harder to be cheerful. It really gets you down.
But it’s not all bad. You often get those people that come in that make it worth it, and make it easier to put that real smile back on your face. The ones that will make the effort to come through your till, even if it isn’t the shortest. They like to have a chat if you aren’t busy. Seeing these people is pretty much the only thing I miss from when I was working there, and even after six years after I left, I sometimes wonder how they are doing.
New managers came and went and they often tried to change everything and made it worse. Then they’d decide to put it back to the way it was because the new way wasn’t working. Drove me crazy. Some managers I actually liked. If you weren’t paid properly, they fixed it no problems and you weren’t made to feel like like a nuisance. If there were problems with anything, if you told them they would look into it. They were the ones that made going to work so much better because you knew you were respected and there weren’t many problems.
One of the managers who left and returned several times was always having a go at people over something. I was a supervisor at the time and I remember him telling me that the junior workers didn’t respect me. It was him they didn’t respect. One day, I’d had enough, and virtually told him where to go, and funnily enough, he never spoke to me like that ever again. We actually got on okay after that.
One manager almost seemed like he was really nice. He started off okay, but quickly turned into someone almost everyone hated. A few months later, one of my co-workers and I were owed overtime for in charge hours when we had little staff, stayed longer to cover shifts and were absolutely run off our feet, and he told someone that “they don’t deserve it.” I couldn’t believe it. Looking back, I wish we’d just left him to deal with the chaos.
It was actually because of one of the managers I liked that I ended up leaving. For years I had started getting dizzy spells and light-headedness for a couple of days after I worked so I only worked a couple of days a week. Even then, I was struggling. My doctor said I had anxiety and depression. So when my boss said he wanted me to be more flexible and work more hours, I just knew I couldn’t do it.
I was scared at first because it was a part of my life for so long. It was all I’d really known, but I couldn’t stay anymore. When I handed in my notice, I felt free.
I was there for over ten years and I should never have stayed there that long. I actually felt like I was wasting away there and I didn’t have the confidence to do anything else. But it was the push I needed to move on and start a new chapter in my life. And since I left, the dizzy spells and light-headedness went away and haven’t returned since.
Being a “checkout chick” is harder and more draining than a lot of people realise. And they do put up with a lot of crap some days.
So when you go through that checkout next time, and your kids have been driving you insane or you’ve been having an absolute crappy day, try not to take it out on the checkout operator because something scanned wrong, or they were unaware you didn’t want your bottle of Coke and toilet paper in the same bag (yes, I have been yelled at for this). Just tell them what you want (nicely, of course). They aren’t mind readers.
Everyone has bad days. But remember, bad moods are contagious, but so are smiles!