Monday, June 11, 2018

Don't Let Your Employer Trick You Into Doing All the Things

Something I've noticed about the post-Great Recession economy is that employers have jacked up the standards for their employees, and this has unfortunately stuck. I'm not just talking about the absurd "entry level position with 2-5 years of experience required" shit, though that is also still going on. I'm talking about the fact that employees now need to be experts in multiple completely different fields in order to get/maintain a job.

As a writer, I see more and more "writing" jobs that ask for (more like demand) completely different skills other than writing. As in, there are separate college degrees for these other skills. Like video editing, or graphic design. They want you to fill the roles of multiple employees. It's bullshit.

I've even seeing this bleed into those minimum or barely-above-minimum wage jobs that people like to say are easy so we don't deserve a living wage for them. I'm working a part time job now that I chose because it's working with cats, and I love cats, obviously. And when I was interviewing for the position, which is absolutely an entry-level kennel tech/retail position, the owner of the establishment said that employees do a little bit of everything. She made it seem like this was an equality thing, like we didn't really have "managers" because we all pitched in and worked as a team.

This appealed to me at first because I get bored doing the same thing over and over. No way did I want to get stuck on the retail floor all the time without opportunities to pet and care for kitties. But now I feel like I was tricked, and I feel a bit foolish, but mostly pissed. Because what's really happened is that I'm expected to be excellent in like five or more different jobs and I get shit if anything falls through the cracks or even falls to a lower priority level for a second.

Now, this particular company is all about doing "all things cat." So it does adoptions, boarding, grooming, and retail. We also put on events and give classes and are expected to be able to give expert advice for free when asked. This could be separated into different actual departments with dedicated employees for each. We do have trained groomers - not everyone is expected to be proficient in that on day one, at least. Still, there is a ton to do.

We have to be excellent cleaners. Not only do things need to be sanitized correctly, we're expected to keep the place looking practically spotless because god forbid a single customer comes in and sees a clump of cat hair on the floor of a place full of cats and decides that it means we can't care for their precious pets. We also need to respond immediately to any bodily fluids that end up on the floor of the boarding room or cafe, and are expected to respond immediately to ANY smelly poop because god forbid a place full of non-human animals smell like poop. Constantly keeping up with litter boxes, litter generally everywhere, oh my god the litter. It's a full-time job in and of itself.

We need to be able to handle money and work a register. If you haven't done it before, it might not sound hard, but it can be a lot of pressure, and in small businesses, everyone has a different weird register system you have to learn.

We're expected to be salespeople. Seriously, we have sales "goals" to meet in each store and are pressured to employ sales techniques we haven't been trained in to get people to buy more. I refuse to do this, and if the owner ever notices/realizes, I don't know how that will go down.

We're expected to be veterinary assistants. Seriously. We do things like syringe feed cats, administer medication of all kinds (not often easy with cats), and even give IV fluids. It seems like something you should need to go to school for, especially considering how much people these days freak out over their pets. If a customer's cat died in our care because of a mistake we made with their medication? Can you imagine? We also need to pay close attention to how the cats are eating because cats can rapidly descend into a dangerous medical condition if they go more than two days without eating or only eating a little.

We're expected to run the adoptions. Not only is this more cats to care for, it also means altering behavior of cats, many of whom come from a feral sanctuary and need to be socialized. We have to pay attention to how they're interacting with other cats and with people, make sure we know which cats to warn people about as they come into the "cafe" where they can interact with adoptable cats. We also need to maintain a baseline knowledge about every adoptable cat who comes through for people who ask questions.

We need to be proficient handlers. You don't have to be trained in grooming, but everyone is expected to be able to properly handle a cat and do so at a moment's notice. Whether a groomer needs help or a customer drops in with a cat who needs a nail trim, we need to be able to scruff and hold, or, in the case of violent cats who are very willing to scratch and bite, we need to be able to deal with it using towel wrapping, cone-ing, and any number of other techniques. Bottom line, we need to be willing to subdue and control what is basically a wild animal. Cats are not technically domesticated. They're also very fast, and their scratches and bites hurt a lot and are likely to become infected. It can be stressful as fuck but we're expected to deal with it. I have a lot of scratches on my hands and arms right now.

We need to be doing inventory and keeping the retail floor stocked and looking nice at all times. Traffic at the stores has increased steadily so it's become a daily job or even hourly job to keep the cans of food fully stocked and looking perfect as expected. We also need to make sure everything necessary for the retail store and the entire business is stocked and ordered when low.

Then there are all the necessary parts of running a business that have been foisted off onto individual employees, and I hope they're getting paid more to do these but I don't know. Graphic design. Marketing. Social media. PR. Information content. We have employees responsible for organizing, advertising, and throwing events that require partnering with sponsors, other retailers, and crafters, ensuring we have food and appropriate dishware and utensils for said food, special decorations, signs, etc. etc. We have employees responsible for screening and interviewing potential adopters, which includes educating them on what specific cats need and what they will need based on the adopter's home/life situation.

It's a huge job. Bigger for some employees than others. But huge for all of us.

If we were paid well and well-recognized for the huge job/collection of multiple jobs we do in each shift we do, it would be fine. But we're not. I was started at 50 cents over minimum wage because "it's a small business." Plus, and this is the reason I'm writing this entire blog post, we got an email from the owner of the business recently telling us outright that she is going to be doing some "heavy duty micro-managing" (direct quote from the email) because we are not paying enough "attention to detail" for her ridiculously high expectations. I don't want to out the business at this point (maybe after I quit) but you should see photos of this place. It is IMMACULATE.

Even worse, she said this: "We only do a limited number of things here, so it is reasonable to expect that we can achieve excellence at this few things."


Never at any other service/retail job have I expected to do so many things in one job. For fuck's sake, the very appeal of the business is that we don't just do one or even two things, but ALL OF THE THINGS aside from serious full vet services. And many of these things require razor sharp attention to detail because lives are at stake, and the human brain is only capable of so much. What she is asking of us is going to be physically impossible for most people.

Now I feel like I've let myself be tricked into doing All The Things for an employer who put on a big show of appreciating and valuing her employees when she doesn't at all.

Don't be like me. And we should all pledge to demand proper compensation for jobs that demand us to do extra work. If we're doing the work of five jobs, we should be paid a whole lot fucking more than minimum wage. If you want me to be a professional writer and a professional graphic designer, you'd better pay me two salaries. Otherwise, fuck you and your entire exploitative company and personal character.

For now, I have some thinking to do. I like my coworkers so I need to seriously consider whether I want to risk a good chunk of my income to distribute literature or even straight talking about unionizing. We deserve better. What's also interesting is that 100% of the employees at this place are women. Again, this at first seemed like a plus, but I wonder if men are reluctant to apply seeing that they'll be expected to do a bunch of jobs for low pay. Because men are taught that their work is valuable.

Just because the owner is a woman doesn't mean she isn't exploiting women.

I hope someday that "jobs" as we know them become an obsolete thing of the past. But for now we need to come together and reject these absurd new and exploitative standards. You should not have to do all of the things to be worthy of a pathetic minimum wage. You deserve so much more.

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