Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Impossible Employee

People like to complain about service in this country. It's practically an art form, with Hipster hangouts like Yelp existing so people can out smarm their friends about the shortcomings of small business. We know big business fails, but small business offers so many new variations on the form. Just today I could write a blog post about the annoying Fox News playing on the TV (I don't want around) at my diner or the lecture I received about pumping gas and hose tension at my usual gas station. There's no limit to this.

Service is uneven for a reason. It comes down to compensation and what it takes to get someone to work a retail or service job, and their inevitable leaving.

My store is hiring right now. Honestly, we've been short staffed for many months at this point. We're always hiring. My problem is I can't find qualified employees, despite an 8.1% unemployment rate in our county. When I say qualified, what I'm referring to is a nearly impossible set of circumstances that rules out all but a particular type of potential employee.

So what does it take to be an employee? Employees, first and foremost, need to have reliable transportation, both to work and to the bank afterwards to make deposits. I'm not allowed to say they have to have a car, but buses aren't running after we close.

I don't offer health insurance, so that's pretty much on them. Heck, I don't offer it to myself. Imagine the UK, where universal healthcare is a huge benefit to retail and small business.

Employees have to have a flexible, part time schedule, meaning the job likely won't pay rent on its own. We're pretty good about keeping schedules regular.  Businesses with rotating schedules are evil, horrible places with lazy managers. Shame on them.

Employees need to be well spoken, appropriately dressed, and fairly well educated and able to communicate electronically with staff and often customers. I can't require they have smart phones, but since they all do, we have systems in place that leverage that, like our backup Square credit card readers.Yeah, I don't pay for that either.

They will be required to learn new skills, improvise on the job, and generally read my mind. They'll get emails day and night from me that they'll need to figure out how to deal with as part of their job responsibilities and hours. That's not an extraordinary part of the job, those are base requirements, and I do expect them to get compensated for this time.

They'll all need to be at least 18 years of age, so they can work alone at times. Some will leave because they feel overwhelmed by the solo gig, or creeped out by having to make bank deposits at midnight (alright, I'm describing me).

In exchange, they will be paid an hourly rate of around $9-10, even if they're a manager. Managers mostly get more responsibility with a token raise in pay. It's a resume booster for later.

So mostly who we're talking about is college "kids", adults who are subsidized by other adults (who thus subsidize my business). Although I've had some employees for years, and I would love to have them all for years to come, all employees working for me are on there way to something else, something better. Sure, I could hire lifelong retail people, but they wouldn't fit my high requirements or the generally unrealistic demands of my customers. They certainly wouldn't put up with my crap for what I'm paying them, and occasionally we'll get an applicant who didn't understand that.

So I seek out these niche people, who, by the way, must have retail experience already. I prefer to have someone else do their basic training. I want to see a resume, not some cheesy application form. It should impress me with past experience, and to get to the top of the pile, it should have something extraordinary. Eagle Scouts get top pick for men. Being female and knowledgeable about games is somewhat equivalent in rarity and desirability. I don't want to down play the female requirements, in fact their higher level of maturity alone eliminates the myriad of problems I have with young guys.

I can do this, being incredibly picky for essentially a sales clerk position, because being around things you love is a wonderful thing. There are toilets to scrub, annoying children to wrangle, and plenty of work to do, even when it's slow, it's still a way better job than anything I had in college. For the most part, you get to share your passion about what you love. Also, if I'm doing my job right as a manager, I'm handing out challenging projects and tasks that engage employees, rather than expecting a counter monkey. The biggest insult you can give to a retail employee is ignore them, or allow them to do homework or play video games on the clock. That's a truly pointless job, and they'll perform pointlessly in response.

So there are opportunities, if we find the right match. Of course, most people who apply think it's standing behind the counter pontificating. Hey, I had to vacuum a lot of floors to get that pontification position. In the end though, everyone will leave. We'll start over with the new person. We'll have new and different problems, err, I mean training opportunities. Ideally, we get better at expressing what we want up front. I've learned to let someone go as quickly as possible if it's not working out, and because I really despise letting people go, I've become much pickier on hiring.

And while we go through this process, some jackass hipster will write a scathing Yelp review about how a staff member hadn't heard of their favorite game from ten years ago or looked at them funny, or wouldn't date them. And we'll all lament about the death of retail and wonder why game stores still exist. Sell more sodas is what they'll tell us, because it certainly can't be about selling games.

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