Monday, March 31, 2008

Unemployed Again, Naturally

I got laid off from my job at the tea shop. This past Friday was my last day. So for the second time in 14 months I find myself back at the unemployment office. While waiting my turn to file my claim today, I was treated to free entertainment in the form of a white trash guy (a chav, to use British terminology) on his cell phone - while sitting right next to the sign that read "For the consideration of others, please turn off your cell phone." He was putting the heat on some guy who owed his girlfriend forty bucks, using ominous yet vague threats like "If you don't pay her then I'll do what I have to do." Then he called some girl that he apparently had been involved with eleven years ago, who was accusing him of popping pills in front of his daughter (an allegation that this young man insisted was unfounded). And he wasn't at all embarrassed at the fact that everyone in the waiting room was now privvy to his personal life.

I wasn't too upset at being laid off again. This time it was due to the economy. The tea shop has been losing money for the past three months because no one is coming in to buy overpriced gourmet tea during the present housing crisis and impending recession. So the owner decided to restructure the staff, and chose to eliminate the only full-time employee (me). But far from being angry, I'm actually relieved. The owner was a nightmare - an impatient, passive-aggressive, anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive pathological liar with an anger management problem. She scheduled me for several ten-hour days a week (with only one half-hour break) so that my actual work week was between 43 and 45 hours, yet as a salaried employee I was only paid for 40 hours. None of the hourly employees worked a full 8-hour day. They only worked 6-hour days, so basically I was making up their two extra hours at no additional cost to her. Everyone who works for her dislikes her. So upon being laid off I feel like a prisoner who was paroled early. Some highlights during the past eight-and-a-half months:

1. The Amex Incident: The owner forgot to put a stamp on the envelope when she mailed the check to pay her American Express bill one month. Not surprisingly, the envelope with the check came back to her, thus making her payment for that month late. When I gave her mail to her that day she plucked out the envelope, waved it in front of my face and said "When you see this, you put a stamp on it and put it back in the mail. Now the payment is late!" Typical: she avoids accountability for her own actions. For every mistake she makes (and we all make mistakes), she'll either lie to avoid admitting it, or she'll turn on those around her, as in this case, genuinely convinced that someone else was at fault.
2. The Phone Incident: She was in the middle of carrying some items out to her car to take over to her business partner when the partner called. When I gave her the phone, she barked "Stay here!" I assumed she wanted me to wait because she needed my help with moving things to her car. So I stood there awkwardly while she chewed out her business partner for calling her while she was on her way out of the store - to go see her business partner! Typical: this woman loses her temper at the drop of a hat, over insignificant things. She spoke to her partner the way she talks to all of her staff - like we're idiots wasting her time. So when she finished the conversation, she threw the telephone down on one of the tables and stormed out the door like an immature child. If there were any customers in the shop at the time, or if she had done that in someone else's establishment, people would wonder what the hell was wrong with that woman. When I asked if she needed help carrying things out to her car she said no. The reason why she made me wait for her to get off of the phone was so that I could take the phone from her and put it back in its base (something she does all the time -she never hangs up the phone. She hands it off to someone else to put back for her, like we're her handservants). Yet she didn't even have the common courtesy to hand the phone to me. She threw it down on the table, leaving me to pick it up and put back for her like I was her lackey.
3. The Baby Incident: She doesn't like children. It's obvious, judging by her reaction whenever children came in with their parents. But when this one young mother came in with her baby, the owner was being really sweet with the child. "I looked just like you when I was your age," she told the baby, who couldn't have been more than a year-and-a-half. It surprised me how good she was with the baby, until the mother and child left without buying anything more than a cup of tea and a pastry. Then it all made sense. The owner turned to me and said "Usually the way to their hearts, and their wallets, is through their kids." (I should have known). She said it in all seriousness, and I detected a sick sense of pride, as if she was imparting her years of retail wisdom to me, so that I can follow her example. What little respect I had left for her went out the window that day.

When I was first hired, I thought the job would be a nice, relaxing change from the fast pace of the corporate environment. But the owner put sales pressure on her staff to sell more of the merchandise, claiming "I don't make money selling tea." If I wanted to harangue customers and resort to high-pressure sales tactics I would have gotten a job at the mall. But the hypocrisy behind the shop's mission was that she would tell customers "We're more than just a gathering place. We're an institution, where people can come to get healthy mentally, physically, spiritually." Yet she was anything but. It was a retail establishment disguised as an oasis of relaxation. And ironically, the owner stressed out her staff and had everyone walking around on eggshells. During the 8 months I was there, we went through 6 employees. Three successive employees quit after only three days, including one kid who took his fifteen-minute break and never came back! The owner never had any real respect for any of her staff. We were all underpaid and overworked, with no health insurance. And judging by her behavior, I seriously suspect she has a personality disorder. She's a liability rather than an asset to her shop. While she may be a good business woman, she has no business managing people.

I know there is a world out there beyond the tea shop - one that is reasonably more well-adjusted, respectful, and with benefits. At least I can sleep at night knowing I remained true to myself. I got along well with the people I worked with and I can say that they genuinely liked me. I also take pride in the fact that I truly assisted customers without resorting to exaggerations, untruths, or tactics to try to make a sale. It's too bad the owner values dollars and cents above customer satisfaction. But she'll never change. And I don't think the shop will make it to Christmas this year. As for me, I started this blog last year to give me something to do while I was unemployed, so perhaps this means I'll be able to start blogging more again.


Steerforth said...

Good to see you blogging again. I thought you'd given it up.

I'm about to become unemployed. It's a long story, but the short version is that I had a successful career with a company I loved, they were taken over nearly two years ago and since then I've known that my days were numbered.

Being unemployed isn't great, but it's better than working for a nightmare boss, isn't it?

Yours sounded particularly awful. At least her business is going down the pan.

Nowhere Girl said...

One can only hope!

Sorry to hear you're in the same situation. But you're right, it's better than being miserable. This could be the chance for a much better opportunity to come along for you. I'll keep my fingers crossed.