24 June, 2015

The Little Joys of Working in a Grocery Store

I know there are many people who think there can't possibly be anything enjoyable about working in a grocery store. They're forgetting that all you have to do to make something en-joy-able is to inject joy into it. If you keep that joy close, it's easy to do it with even the most mundane of tasks.

I've been doing the same basic job, with varying levels of responsibility, for almost fifteen years now. Most recently I've been knocked back to the level of pure grunt--but I refuse to act that way, which has raised some eyebrows. I've made a sustained effort to keep in touch with my counterpart on days and also the assistant manager responsible for dairy (which this place inexplicably calls 'fresh') and frozen departments...raising concerns and offering ideas for improvement. I've been dismissed out of hand a couple of times, but I expected that. There's a certain attitude, very prevalent in many managers, that anything coming from a subordinate, particularly one who just made probation, can't possibly be of any use. That's fine: I'll keep politely communicating, and sooner or later she'll listen. The mere fact I'm speaking up puts me miles above most people who just show up, do something that somewhat resembles their job, and go home.

Working dairy and frozen is not rocket surgery. All you do is stock shelves, build displays, and--if your work hours align--help customers in any way you can. That last is an art, and I miss practicing it. My store closes one or two hours before I show up and opens the minute I'm supposed to punch out. I've had precisely zero customer interaction since I came off my two weeks of training shifts. 

But there is a certain joy in making the mindless mindful. After so much experience, I can walk down an aisle at a standard pace and spot one item facing French-side forward. Give me a box of something I carry, and I can tell you what shelf it goes on, in which of 89 doors, and what's on either side. I can also tell you approximately how well it sells, and give you about a 95% accurate prediction as to whether or not all of the units in that box will fit on the shelf.

This is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But it gives my mind something to process over the course of eight hours, and it makes me, if I do say so myself, pretty damn good at what I do. 

My current workplace only allows music if it's playing in your pocket rather than on your head. It's a health and safety issue, as far as they're concerned, and that makes sense when you consider there are sometimes twenty plus people bopping around the store at all hours of the night, one of them on a Zamboni (they don't hire out floor cleaning, like everywhere else I've worked) and many more schlepping pallets from place to place.
 I *really* miss the music. My productivity is fair to good without it--speed is not my strong suit, thoroughness is--but give me a little of this or this (or this or even this) and you'll get more work out of me, and to the same standard.)

Even still, there is a real pride of accomplishment in getting more done than you thought you could do. This is definitely the case now, as my eight hour shift translates to about five and a half hours of actual work time once you take out breaks I never bothered with before, more than two hundred temperature checks I'm obligated to bother with nightly now, two nightly meetings,  an hourly run to the front of the store to turn the damn lights back on (half the lights go out every hour and so help me, I like to see what I'm doing) and all the transport time between cooler/freezer and department--a cool hundred and forty paces each way. Try dragging a skid taller than you and heavier than your car over that kind of distance, multiple times each night, and you'll understand why I can now, once again eat huge portions and maintain my weight. I break a sweat every single night, then have to call Maintenance to clean up the sweat spill in the dairy aisle.

There is something about a well-built display, with good colour segmentation and cross-merchandising. that just makes me feel good. I took one last night that was a dog's breakfast and turned it into something that drew the eye and, I'm quite certain, increased sales.
Even the nuts and bolts of my pedestrian job can be a meaningful, mindful, joyful act. Take a pallet out of the freezer--rejoice that you got it out to the floor without it falling over--marvel at how much of it you managed to stock--reassemble what's left into a nice square stable and ORGANIZED pile that you couldn't knock over even if your name's Ken--and then bring it back and wonder of wonders ELIMINATE IT...you start out with nine skids in your freezer and there's four at the end of the night and how does that NOT feel good?

In the summer, the dairy cooler and freezer are, respectively, a haven and a heaven. On humid nights like last night,  I can't wait to get in there and I don't want to leave.

Dairy and frozen get to call the breaks, on the grounds that we have perishable product on the floor, and I have made it my nightly mission to make at least one creative page. "It's one in the morning. Do you know where your break is?"...or doing the Wal-Mart cheer except spelling out L-U-N-C-H...I award myself points if I can hear somebody laughing. One of the receivers gives herself points if she can spot my reference, so I've really upped my game since she came on board. Matchbox 20--"It's 3AM, it must be lunchtime"; Futurama--"Good news, everyone! It's break time!" She was an English major with a Shakespearean concentration, so I'm working on pages in iambic pentameter...

And of course, home time is always home time, and something to be rejoiced at. I like my job, but there's a limit. And once I've reached that limit--it happens in about, hey, eight hours or so!--it's time to come home to the Love and the Tux and the Mooch and the Bubbles and a nice morning supper and a comfortable bed.

Not everyone shares my attitude towards work, I'll be the first to tell you. There's one man there who seems to specialize in doing as little as possible while making it look like he's busy--those types are everywhere, I had a direct supervisor just like that not all that long ago. He has no idea what to make of me, and treats me with that endearing mix of exasperation, disdain and superiority that I am all too familiar with. But it's a big store and I don't see much of him.

The way I look at it, they're paying me to do a job. Not as much as I'm worth, but they're just learning that, right? And since I'm being paid to get out of bed and go be with friends, it behooves me to put an honest night's effort in. Not to mention something the lazy people don't seem to grasp: the busier you keep yourself and the more work you do, the faster the night goes and the sooner you can go home.

Yeah, it's only a store. You're a hundred percent right, there. My job is not important. I've always been eminently replaceable: proof of that came a little over a year ago when I was unexpectedly laid off.
You know what? I was never cut out to change the world through my employment. The world I want to create doesn't even have employers in it, after all. Any modest world-changing I do will come through my relationships first and my words second. The job? It pays the bills. Make of it what you will.

No comments: