The estimated reading time for this post is 2 minutes.
One of the worst parts of working retail was knowing that I was absolutely required to be nice to everyone. Everyone. Even the assholes. ESPECIALLY the assholes, because they were the ones who complained.
I worked in a fabric & crafts store for two or three years, and I was fucking good at my job. Really good. I worked at the cutting counter, and I was fast, accurate, and knowledgeable about sewing, fabric, notions, yarn, and knitting. And I worked at the register, where I was fast and efficient.
Most customers were fine. They came in, knew what they needed, got it, and left. Even on good days, though, I left work exhausted, and not just from the bolts of fabric I was slinging around.
First of all, I’m an introvert. Being around people, and interacting with them, whether customers or coworkers, for 8 hours, exhausts me. But, there’s also the element of emotional labor that goes into a customer service job.
The customer is always right. Service with a smile. How can I help you today. What are you making.
Yes, let me walk you through the instructions step by step. Let me tell you how much fabric you need for drapes on windows you haven’t measured, and you may get exasperated by my questions because they’re standard sized windows even though those don’t actually exist. Tell me how hard this project has been. Let me hear that you’re making a gown for the grandchild who died as a baby, and let me tell you how sorry I am. Please yell at me and tell me I’m doing my job wrong when I’m doing everything by the company policy and even though my boss is standing right next to me and she didn’t tell me I was wrong. Treat me like you know everything and like you’re smarter than I am because I can’t possibly have a master’s degree and be working here.
Even thinking about it, I’m exhausted. I had to be interested in everyone’s projects, and I had to share my technical knowledge with anyone who asked.
Oh, and I earned minimum wage.
I didn’t just cut fabric or run a register. I listened to people’s crafting woes, helped them solve the problem, sympathized with either a broken project or dead grandchild, laughed at their stupid jokes.
I was a teacher, a mentor, an audience, a life coach, a salesperson, a fabric-cutter, a mourner, and a fellow crafter all rolled into one.
I should have been paid more.
You can find the emotional labor episode here.