Back when I first moved out to California, I worked at Toys R Us. At the time, TRU was one of the worst possible places to work at. They had incredible turnover amongst their employees, and, the funny thing is, they couldn't figure out why. After all, they paid minimum wage, right? Anyone should be happy with that. A job where they hire no full-time employees so that they don't have to provide benefits. A job with no employee discounts. A job with absolutely no flexibility to your schedule and, even worse, no routine to it. Really, they did their best to own you by making you be available to them whenever they wanted you to be.
But you should be thankful for the job.
I've heard that it's better there, now. Well, at least, now, they have an employee discount program. I'm not sure about the rest.
And, yes, I'm sure I just described quite a bit of corporate minimum wage retail jobs, but I only have experience with the one. [And when I say that it was one of the worst places to work, I'm not saying that from my experience. During the time I worked there, it was ranked in the top 10 worst retail places to work and, I'm pretty sure, had the highest turnover rate of any retail chain store.]
But all of that is beside the point. Background, if you will. I suppose it's important to note that no one worked there because s/he wanted to work there. No one aspired to working at the local Toys R Us. [On the other hand, I did actually know people when I was growing up (and, remember, this was the South) who did aspire to work at Wal-Mart. Their goal was to one day get to be a manager!]
[I'm totally serious about that.]
[Completely, totally serious.]
To cut through what could be a long story, it wasn't long before I was put in charge of other people. Actually, for someone that started at the complete bottom of the TRU food chain (maintenance (a fancy word for janitor)), it was incredibly quick (as quick as they could make it without violating any of their weird policies). It was unhappy-making for some people that had been working there for years, but, see, I was self-motivated (meaning I didn't wait to be told what to do (because most people, upon finishing a task, would just float around the store until someone found them and gave them a new task (which meant a lot of people spent a lot of time just avoiding being found))), decisive, and more than competent (meaning I didn't need to be told more than once how to do any particular thing).
Which brings us to the interesting part of all of this: I was put in charge of other people because of those traits. I was good at figuring out what needed to be done and making sure it got accomplished. [Actually, my biggest issue was with delegating, because I feel much more comfortable just doing tasks myself rather than depending upon someone else to do them.] These were things the managers liked seeing in their employees. They were not traits, however, that the other employees liked so much. Specifically, they were not traits that employees working under me particularly liked.
Every morning, all of the department heads had meetings with the people that worked under them to hand out tasks. Mostly, this was a pretty uncomplicated interaction that went kind of like this:
"Okay, Employee 1, you need to do Task A, today. It's not a rush job; you just need to be finished with it before you leave for the day." [That's eight hours to do a job that shouldn't take more than two or so to do, but you had to leave in time to help customers. Still, those kinds of tasks shouldn't have taken all day, although they usually did.]
"Employee 2, you need to do Task B. This is a rush job, and you need to focus on getting it finished as quickly as possible. If a customer has a question that you can't answer on the spot, call someone else to help her."
"Employee 3..." [I'm sure you get the idea.]
Seems straightforward, right? Except this one morning, a young lady interrupted me by saying, "Why do you always act like you know everything?"
I think I stared at her for a moment, because, really, I had no idea what she was talking about, then said, "Excuse me?"
"Why do you always act like you know everything?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You never say 'I think' or 'I believe,' you just tell us what to do like you know everything."
Point #1: If you think something or believe something, it's redundant to say "I think" or "I believe," because, obviously, if you're saying it, you must think or believe it.
But that's not what we've been taught in our current society. In a world where everything is subjective, we're supposed to always preface anything we say with a phrase that casts doubt upon what we're saying. Personally, I think that's bullshit. [Yes, I prefaced that with "I think" on purpose.] I don't go around saying "I think 2+2=4." Why? Because I know 2+2=4. Sure, I could be wrong (I'm not), but I believe that I'm correct, so I just say it: "2+2=4." People, though, get all bent out of shape with when you act confident about anything more complicated than that, because, you know, we're all entitled to our own beliefs.
And, see, I believe that. We are all entitled to our own beliefs. But that doesn't mean I have to be wishy-washy about what I believe. And you shouldn't either. If you believe it, if it's really what you think, drop the preface. Just own it and say it. Don't make it sound like you don't know, yourself, if you're sure about what you say you believe.
My response was something along those lines, "If I'm saying it, I must think it, so why should I bother to tell you that's what I think."
"Well, other people say it that way. They tell us what they think we should do. They also ask us if that's what we want to do. Why don't you ask us?"
"Do you mean I should say, 'Hey, would you like to re-do the endcap on aisle 7, today?'"
"Yeah, why don't you ask?"
"Because it's not an option. If I'm giving you the endcap to do, you don't have the option of saying 'no,' so why should I ask you if you want to do it? That would be misleading."
By this point, the other 5 or 6 people under my charge were all staring open-mouthed at us.
"Well, why don't you see which things we want to do and let us pick or something? I don't want to do [the task I was giving her for the day]."
"That's why I didn't ask. It's my job to assign the tasks to the people I feel best equipped to handle them, and you get to do [whatever the task was she didn't want to do]."
Point #2: If you're in charge of something, if it's your thing, it doesn't matter what other people think or feel about it. You have to make the decisions. Trying to figure out how everyone else feels about a particular thing and making it work for everyone will result in some things never happening. Like, you know, when someone smeared poop on the bathroom walls (and, yes, that would happen in the boys' restroom every couple of months), someone had to go clean that up. It wasn't something that was really up for debate, because that's one of those things that no one ever wanted to do, so saying, "Hey, who wants to go clean the bathroom?" wasn't going to get you any responses. You had to pick someone and tell them to do it and ignore any "Why do I have to do that?" and "I don't want to"s.
You may be wondering, at this point, what any of this has to do with, as a writer, liking your own work, but both points are very relevant. And I'm not saying that feedback can't be useful, but too much feedback, or trying to accommodate too much feedback, is debilitating. It's yours, your work. Believe in it. And I'll talk more about all of this in part 2.
Just to wrap up the story, as it turned out, that particular employee had been passed to me through about three other people who couldn't get her to do her assigned tasks. They had not been firm enough and had given assignments out as if they were options: "How would you like to do..." or "Why don't you take..." or "It would be great if..." She had taken all of those assignments as if they were optional and opted out of doing them. So they gave her to me, and she did what I assigned her even though she didn't like it.
However, about two weeks later, on a day when I was not at work, she had tried on a manager what she had tried on me, and she was fired on the spot. Actually, she was told she could "go home for the day," because they (TRU) never actually used the term "fired" (except that one time the one guy was caught stealing a buttload of video games, but that's another story). Then, she was never re-scheduled and when she came in for her paycheck, she was told "things aren't working out" and let go. Don't you just love all the euphemisms? I think they're great.
This post has been brought to you by Alex Cavanaugh and the IWSG.