Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let's Be Friends! ...Or Not!

     In my time in retail I’ve had a number of managers that I’ve had to deal with.  I’m not talking about my direct supervisors, but instead, I’m talking about those who run the store.  At my first job I didn’t really have much direct contact with them and that’s the way I liked it.  They were just these generic (usually male) figures in suits that could’ve been replaced with anyone else and I really wouldn’t have noticed.  That’s not to say some of them weren’t nice but I was a teenager and they were typically older with little in common with myself.  They – probably – only saw me as one in a long line of faceless workers that might not be at that job longer than a year.      As I worked at that same job longer and I grew out of my teenager’s shell, I made more and more friends with most of the workers there.  The supervisors that came and went were usually easy to get along with but I also came into more contact with the store managers since I had been there so long.
     Relationships with managers in retail always swing from one extreme to the other.  They either are complete tightwads who think about nothing other than the job or they are really laidback and relatable.  You get the ones who are only focused on moving up in the business or those who are just cashing in the nice paychecks until something better comes along.
     In the grocery world, I’ve had more of the former than the latter, but that only really affected me when I was a cashier and nearly constantly surrounded by them as they went into and out of their office.  When I was off in other departments, however, I could find ways to avoid them bothering me.  Then again, you would get one or two managers who couldn’t leave you alone because they always had something extra for you to do (you know, besides the 4-5 other things you were trying to get accomplished).  I typically didn’t have many personal conversations with my managers and I preferred that.  I don’t care if a manager tries to be my best friend as long as they let me do my job.  In my years in the grocery retail world, I think I knew 1-2 facts in total about the several store managers I’ve had.
     In the electronics world, I’ve had more direct contact with the managers since the staff and the store are both smaller.  You not only have your supervisor to watch over you but you have several other supervisors who patrol the stores and then there are 3-4 managers who are in charge of everything.  I’ve had one of the best store managers in electronics retail but also the worst store manager.
     The best – let’s just call him Alex – was laidback but also knew how to talk to people as if they were people instead of five-year-olds.  Alex talked to you and seemed to enjoy talking to you.  It wasn’t one of those things where it was forced or awkward.  He could joke around with people but could also put customers in their place when they were being overly obnoxious.  One time, with another manager and a coworker of mine, we had a mini snowball fight toward the end of the night.  How often does one have a snowball fight with their management?  Alex seemed like a pretty straightforward type of guy who, at the very least, presented the image of a person you could talk to about things and felt like he was taking your concerns to heart.
     Sadly, like all the good management people, they don’t last.  They get transferred or a promotion or a better offer from a competitor.  What’s worse is that anyone after that person will pale in comparison.  What’s even worse than that is when that next person isn’t just a letdown but is also truly the worst manager you’ve ever had.  When you go from a nice environment as that to an environment where you dread coming into work each and everyday, things seem truly depressing.
     The worst manager – let’s just call her Karen – was the opposite of Alex.  It was either her way or the highway on a lot of issues.  If she didn’t like you, she really didn’t like you.  When it came to rallying the troops to have “fun”, every word she said felt so forced, as if she was a robot created in a lab with no contact with humans.  Her tone was almost always set to “condescension”.  She treated longtime employees like they were suspected criminals.  Our store lost quite a few good people under her reign than under any of the other managers at that job.
     I hate to say this but I’ve noticed a lot of women managers who seem to take their authority to their heads and act like dictators.  And I feel this is a comment more on the American work environment than anything else.  It’s as if they feel like they have to be harder, stricter, and ruder than their male counterparts just so they can prove themselves capable managers.  Which is ridiculous because I’ve had a number of male managers who were complete buffoons.  And the higher up you found men in management roles, the more idiotic they seemed to me.  If the pay scale was better in women’s favor and more roles of management were opened up to them – not to mention a whole host of different social/economic changes that could take place – I think they wouldn’t feel the need to go mad with power.
     But as it was, whenever Karen tried to have a friendly chat with me about my family or my schooling, I felt like she was mentally ticking off the seconds that the conversation lasted so she would know when she could end it.  This is the mental conversation I pictured Karen having as she talked with me:
     “Okay… now smile as he talks… thirty seconds… nod… forty seconds… say something as a follow-up… okay, now raise your eyebrows in surprise… good, good… almost there… say ‘that sounds nice’… perrrrfect… laugh and then thank him for all his hard work today… and now walk away.  Great!  That’s one conversation down for the day.”
     The only thing I hate more than the fake attempts at being friendly is the fact a lot of managers talk down to their employees like they were all children.  This fact is especially amusing since most of the managers I’ve had in retail were either around my age or younger than I am.  I understand that most electronics stores hire younger people but that doesn’t mean they’re babies.  So stop treating them as such!  Most of my coworkers, while young, are still smart enough to do their jobs, and if you’re hiring them, why don’t you trust them to know what to do?  When you talk down to someone who either doesn’t deserve it or is older than you, you come across as a total douchebag.  Then nobody likes you and everyone looks forward to you being fired or transferred.
     Another awkward development of the Internet age is friend requests on Facebook.  Now, I’m not talking about every person you’ve ever worked with requesting to be your friend despite only saying 3 words to you in over a year of working together.  No, I’m talking about managers who request to be your friend.  I get the fact that some just want to spy on their workers to see what they say about their jobs (and if that’s the case, do they really think we don’t know what they’re trying to do?) but others just either want to keep an eye on people’s behaviors outside of work or truly want to be their friend.  Either way, there’s danger ahead.  I’ve friended a few managers on Facebook but I try to keep that number low – only those who I think are genuine in their request – or I wait for them to have left the store before doing so.
     But what do you do when they request your friendship?  Do you accept it and patrol what you say?  Do you ignore it and then constantly wonder if that manager is going to bring up the fact you haven’t added them on Facebook yet?  Don’t you just hate that?  I don’t do a very good job of patrolling my own thoughts but I’ve learned to deal with the fact that if managers want to judge me on what I say on some stupid social site then that’s their prerogative and I can always find another job doing something else.
     If managers are going to go the route of acting like our friends then don’t act like our warden the next minute.  That will just breed resentment and hostility in your workers.  Nobody likes a two-faced manager.
     I just wish that if all of these managers are forced to attend the same brainwashing training seminar, the seminar instructors teach them how to fake being relatable better.  Because most of them are doing a horrendous job of it.  Again, I don’t think managers have to be our best friends but if they’re going to try and be friendly then look up what the word “friendly” means in the dictionary.  Otherwise, just go about doing your business and I’ll do mine.  Hey, I’m just here to try and help you managers become better people, is all.  You’re welcome.
More soon from the frontlines...

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