There are a lot of weird things that happen in the world of retail, as anyone who has ever worked in the business or shopped in a store obviously knows, and then there are those things that only those who have spent time in the trenches know about and scratch their heads over. This is one of those things.
Schedules are made by those in charge to let everyone know who works and when they work. It is supposedly done to allow for the best use of manpower, to allow for the best customer service possible and to get all the work done that needs to be completed on any given day.
It makes perfect sense, but then again, this is retail, and nothing makes complete sense, as anyone who has read my column entries has seen. One of those things that do not make sense is the concept of invisible employees. Now before you get excited, an invisible employee is not someone who exists but cannot be seen, and therefore pulls pranks and jokes on both customers and employees alike; this would be preferred over the actual meaning of the invisible employee.
An invisible employee is one that remains on the schedule even though they are no longer employed by the company for whatever reason; maybe they quit, maybe they transferred, maybe they were fired, maybe they were never hired in the first place or didn’t pass their drug test (it sounds funny, but I have seen this happen in my time working in retail) and yet they still remain on the schedule, with shifts assigned to them.
Sounds funny and harmless right? Well it stops being funny and harmless when it’s time to go home and the person that is supposed to replace you is nowhere to be found. So people look to the schedule and see that X is supposed to work tonight, only X has not been seen in weeks and will definitely not be in tonight.
One of my favorite examples happened when I worked at a 24-hour location. Every Friday night, we would take in the weekly truck. Three of us would work receiving and unloading it while other employees would be on the floor keeping the store moving and the customers taken care of as best they could. We started to notice that we kept getting calls for photo, but we ignored them, because Steve (not his real name) was scheduled and should be getting them. As we continued to work, we saw that no one was getting the calls, so we took turns going out to see what the problem was and to help the customer. We looked at the schedule and saw that Steve was scheduled; maybe he was on break, maybe he was on lunch, maybe he didn’t hear the calls, had to be something like that we thought.
Next Friday came and we once again took in the truck and once more the night was filled with calls to photo and no one getting them. We went to the floor and asked where Steve was, going so far as to page him to the department, but all to no avail. It was as if Steve never existed (but we knew that he had, because we all had heard the story of how he got drunk and his pro-am football teammates gave him a tattoo that got infected).
When we saw the store manager on Monday, we asked her what happened to Steve and why he never seemed to be in the department on Fridays while we were taking in the truck and had to stop what we were doing and make our night longer by covering for him. She told us that Steve in fact, no longer worked for the company. So why was he on the schedule? She told us that no one wanted to work Friday nights, so she just kept him on the schedule instead of trying to fill his shift, and it’s not as if we were doing anything important, if you consider three people taking in a 1200 piece truck at 10 PM to be nothing important. So now we knew what had happened to Steve and we learned to shut the lab down when we worked and blame the machines being down for no one being able to help the customers.
I would love to say that this was an isolated incident, but then again, it would not be a story if it had been. My current location loves to schedule invisible employees as well, and it is not just the floor that does this but the pharmacy as well.
One more, the pharmacist wanted to know who was working that morning, who would be the one to get things going when the store opened. We looked and it was Ruby (again not her real name). Well Ruby did not call in or show up for her shift and so people were ready to call her and see if she was okay and whether or not something bad had happened to her, when it was revealed that she had quit two weeks earlier but had not been taken off the schedule. So her shifts were still there, unfilled and budgeted into the payroll for that week. Last time I checked, Ruby was still on the schedule and she has been gone for almost a month now.
This also happens when an employee takes off or is on leave and there is no communication between the person who knows this information and the person who makes the schedule, which makes sense, until you realize that at my location it is the same person for each of these tasks, which makes it more sad than anything else. I cannot tell you how many times I have shown up for work and said where is X, she should be here, only to find that she took a personal day or is on vacation or out on leave, with no one but myself to do her job and my own as well.
Just when you thought you had seen and heard all that there was to see and hear about retail, you learn about the invisible employees and how hard they make the job for everyone else who is actually visibly there.
Cover image courtesy of Alberto_VO5 via Flickr