Sickness and retail

As we move into the height of flu season (in Canada anyway) be aware – the employee serving you at the coffee shop, the restaurant or the shoe store in the mall may be sick. Here’s the trouble with Retail: often they are staffed very lean and they hire younger, less experienced workers. On top of that their managers are also often, young, inexperienced and not given the leadership training they need and deserve. The result: A model whereby Management pressures employees to come into work when sick.

How do I know this? I’ve had three children grow up in part-time jobs in various retail industries. Across the board it’s the same story: You’re calling in sick? Get someone else to cover your shift. You can’t? Then come in. It might be that the Manager doesn’t believe the employee is sick (thank goodness for doctor’s notes). Some will argue – if a kid wants a day off to go to a dance, what’s wrong with making them get someone to fill in?

This practice of having an employee ask another employee to work for them is appalling to me. I work in HR and I cannot imagine any manager asking an adult to “find someone else to take on your workload if you going to be off.” Or dealing with a suspected absenteeism problem by saying “you can take the day off, but find a replacement.” First, that’s not the relationship between peers. Secondly, that’s the MANAGER’s job! Scheduling work and ensuring it gets done is what they are paid for. Dealing with employees who want to be at a party instead of at work is also the Manager’s job.

There are many ways that younger employees are treated as less than adult, although the jobs they are given are seldom scaled back because of their age. It’s demeaning (and just plain mean) to make an employee with a fever of 103 start phoning people they don’t even know and beg them to take that day’s shift. The stress when no one is available is something the Manager should be experiencing, not the sick employee. And younger employees, who often are just beginning their work careers, do not want to disappoint. Sometimes the authority of the Manager is too much for them to buck – and they go to work sick.

The solution? Next time you are waited on by an employee who is obviously sick (serving you food, handling your change) – ask for the Manager. Tell him or her that you aren’t coming back to this store and then suggest that the  employee be sent home.

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