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Thursday, October 25, 2012

NSFW Thursday: The Death of Professionalism

I take my jobs seriously and expect the same of my coworkers, but it doesn't always happen. 

Let's start with the Urban Dictionary entry for the word "professionalism" (please note that while my NSFW posts are actually safe for work, Urban Dictionary probably isn't, unless you work at home and there are no kids around): any business practice in which happiness is sacrificed for success.

Now here's what some of my friends (a corporate woman, an attorney, and an early childhood education director) have to say about professionalism where they work. They are all in their thirties and forties.

Corporate America Woman (for lack of a better title for her):


I work in "Corporate America" and the lack of professionalism that I see is running rampant. It's not just in retail. I work in an environment that permits the consumption of alcohol after 1530 on Friday's in the office; we are allowed to use profanity and as long as we don't show up naked, we can wear whatever we want to wear. We are also a "Go Green" company but I don't think it was meant to be taken to the next level when the same few employees are recycling the same employees in the bedroom. I love my job but I feel that many people take advantage of the liberties that are afforded to us.

Every Monday that I come to work, I have to listen to the same few people talk about how wasted they were over the weekend, while wearing the same trashy ensemble that they most likely wore in the club all weekend. The exact same people complain and swear that it is the result of some type of grand conspiracy of why they cannot seem to get a promotion within the company. Really? Who's going to promote someone that is always talking about being wasting and dresses like a street walking prostitute? Although the members of upper management may not always hear it, it gets back to them and they monitor the actions of these people. People just don't realize how their actions result in them being "blacklisted".

Every Monday that I come to work, I have to listen to the same few people talk about how wasted they were over the weekend, while wearing the same trashy ensemble that they most likely wore in the club all weekend. The exact same people complain and swear that it is the result of some type of grand conspiracy of why they cannot seem to get a promotion within the company. Really? Who's going to promote someone that is always talking about being wasting and dresses like a street walking prostitute? Although the members of upper management may not always hear it, it gets back to them and they monitor the actions of these people. People just don't realize how their actions result in them being "blacklisted".

Early Childhood Education Director:



 I would say that there are many facets to defining professionalism. There's appearance, quality of work, relationships, manners of communication, attitude and more. I have decided that, in my workplace, I should not assume that everybody understand, defines and displays "professionalism" in the same way. Standards can vary from place to place, and even from department to department. I'm learning that I have to be clear and specific about my expectations in this regard because it is the first job ever for many of my staff. So I always try to point out things that might be acceptable or not across the board in many settings.

Defense Attorney:


 The ABA requires a course on ethics and professionalism to graduate from law school, and afaik, every state requires a certain number of your mandatory CLEs to be ethics credits...so in theory, there should be no such thing as an unethical, unprofessional attorney. And I have no problem with swearing at work, or using slang...in fact, I have a tendency to lapse into the same language style as the person to whom I'm speaking, and while I don't do it intentionally, I DO think it helps clients feel more at ease with me... 

To me, professionalism means maintaining a separation between your work life and your personal life. It's one thing to interrupt your work to deal with a personal emergency, but it's entirely inappropriate to discuss one client/customer with another, complain to coworkers in front of patrons, or behave in any other manner that might shatter the illusion that the client standing before you is The Most Important Person In Your Life Right Now. 

To expound on what Amy said about professionalism going downhill, I think our society as a whole has become more casual over time.. Think about our grandparents' generation -- women wore heels when they went to the market, and men were never seen in their t-shirts outside their own homes. Now days, you go to Walmart and half the shoppers are in their pajamas... I'm certainly not advocating a return to the days of white gloves and pearls, but I DO think that we're rapidly reaching a point where people think the entire world is their living room..

To me, professionalism means maintaining a separation between your work life and your personal life. It's one thing to interrupt your work to deal with a personal emergency, but it's entirely inappropriate to discuss one client/customer with another, complain to coworkers in front of patrons, or behave in any other manner that might shatter the illusion that the client standing before you is The Most Important Person In Your Life Right Now. 
To expound on what Amy said about professionalism going downhill, I think our society as a whole has become more casual over time.. Think about our grandparents' generation -- women wore heels when they went to the market, and men were never seen in their t-shirts outside their own homes. Now days, you go to Walmart and half the shoppers are in their pajamas... I'm certainly not advocating a return to the days of white gloves and pearls, but I DO think that we're rapidly reaching a point where people think the entire world is their living room..


I have had lots of paying jobs in my life, and I haven't always behaved in what I would call a professional manner. Usually it was because of age or inexperience. I had to learn as I went along, and make embarrassing mistakes that I sometimes got called out on. My first job ever was when I was 17. I worked at the pretzel stand in Montgomery Mall in Montgomery, Alabama. I made the mistake of following the behavior of my equally immature coworkers (which didn't make a lot of sense because I wasn't a follower) and it led to the manager, who was exhausted and pregnant with a toddler at home and a husband who also worked there at the mall, pulling me aside saying she hired me because she thought I would be different than the others who were there when she took over. I had a job at 18 where my fussing at the computer out loud was distracting to my coworkers and they let me know it. 

Now I work in retail, and because I used to shop a lot, I know that customers can potentially hear everything we say. This is first and foremost in mind before I say anything on the sales floor. I try not to say anything that I would be embarrassed about if someone called my manager and reported it (people get upset about things that puzzle me sometimes). I'm 36 and work with a lot of younger people. For some of them, it's the only job they've ever had and they have nothing to compare it to. For others, it's a second or even third job they're holding down to pay bills and support a family, just like me. Several are also full-time students. Whether you're a part-time student living with your parents and working a few hours a week or working fifty hours a week to keep afloat, the mind doesn't always focus on work. Everyone has slip ups. 

The lack of what I consider to be professionalism in the retail workplace involves language, appearance, conversation, and dependability. It actually has less to do with how well you do your actual job and more with how you conduct yourself around your managers, coworkers, clients, and customers. 

I've come up with some guidelines.

1. Keep the language clean. Profanity doesn't belong at work, not in front of customers/clients, and not in front of your coworkers. FTR, I feel like "ass" and "bitch" are not really profanity (I have a bit of a mouth myself but save it for friends and not for my coworkers) but would still hesitate to use them in front of a coworker, even in a casual setting.

2. Dress neatly. I make $7.67 an hour and can't really afford to buy a lot of trendy items because of things like the power bill, the water bill, and the gas bill. Thanks to money I used to have, and to a spouse who has found ways to purchase well-fitting, fashionable items for me for next-to-nothing, I can dress nicely for work. One reason I love working where I work is that I can dress well. But even if I couldn't dress well I would dress neatly. Pants should stay up (this is not a problem with the young men I work with, but some young ladies should switch to dresses...those of us with big bottoms have trouble finding pants that stay put). Tops should cover your tummies and backs. Your fingernails should be clean. You shouldn't look like you just rolled out of bed, even if you have. This is not a matter of having the nicest clothes, but of taking care of the things you have. It is fine if you have to wear the same clothes to work every time, but be sure they at least look and smell clean, even if they're not (believe me, I've been there).

3. Your customer/client comes first. I like chatting with my coworkers if we have opportunity, but I always greet my customers and ask if they need assistance. I tell them my name and am sure they know where I am (my job involves putting out a LOT of merchandise, changing watch batteries and removing watch links, showing fine jewelry from cases to customers, recovering the fashion jewelry department and the beauty department, and working as a backup cashier when other lines get too long). Private conversations shouldn't be had in public. I tell you, I hear customers say all kinds of things I wish they would keep private! Also, don't complain about customers when you have customers! (One great function of the employee lounge is that it gives you a place to complain about customers. Everyone in retail bitches about customers. It's part of the game. But don't do it in front of other customers.)

4. Your manager is not your friend, but she should be your ally. Don't share too much with your managers. Work issues? Definitely. Personal issues that affect your work? Yes. But the full details of your weekend (or your day off) and all of your family drama need to be shared with others. Make friends, please. (In this same vein, managers should be careful about oversharing with their employees.)

5. Be friendly with your coworkers, but oversharing is bad. I do work with some delightful people (I mean delightful! They are sweet and fun and genuine young people) who are all best friends with each other and they still manage to work well together. I think that's great. But while they're at work, even though there's some fun banter, they still work. I'm sure they know all kinds of things about each other that I will never know...thank God. I like most of my coworkers a lot, and I care about what happens to them outside of work. I don't want a situation like I had at my last job where someone died of breast cancer because no one ever told us she was sick. But some things I just don't want to know about my coworkers (like whether you use regular or super tampons, which is a real life complaint a friend had to make about her coworkers to their manager!).

6. Do your job and take pride in it. Care about your customers and your coworkers. I like working with the public. I feel like I was made for retail. According to my company, my first job is to provide excellent customer service according to our corporate philosophy. I believe I do this every time I step into my store. What's your job description? Read it carefully. Are you getting the point? Ask your manager to be sure. It might say your job is to run a cash register, but I bet there's more to it. Look at the goals of your job.

 For a while, when people I went to school with years ago (and had high intellectual and career expectations of me, no doubt) asked what I was doing now, I was kind of shy. But you know what? They have to buy their stuff from someone, and I'm glad it's me, someone who cares about their needs being met. Do I like throwing away coffee cups they leave behind and showing ten different diamond rings only to have no purchase, or cleaning up the fitting rooms when customers leave their stuff everywhere? Not especially. But I understand that my job description of "provide excellent customer service" is multi-faceted. And I understand that the more I show customers I care, the more often they will come see me. It's job security.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The one where I ramble on about death

Death changed my family.

It changes every family it touches. I remember reading Catherine's blog when her dad died. And I remember when one of my favorite Tweeters died suddenly from the H1N1 virus, leaving four young kids and a very young widow. I've followed the changes of Joanna's family online. I remember too well that day in December 1998, when the grandfather I adored died unexpectedly in the same way his own son, my dad, would die in August 2012. We were sad because we just loved him so much (we really did), but the sadness wasn't the only thing that happened. The family dynamic shifted. The vivacious, generous, and sometimes cranky man who had been at the center of the family was gone. No more listening to Cincinnati Reds games on the radio in the basement, no more extravagant dinners out, no more taking twice as long to hand-wash dishes so he would keep telling stories. No more thick-sliced bologna from the deli, the kind with the red wrapper you peeled off.

I don't know if everyone thinks their parents will live forever, but I did. I'm a smart woman, really, but I just assumed that God would always be sure my parents, specifically my dad, would be around for me. My parents were never sickly until my father had his heart attack in 2008. And within a year of that he was well again, active and healthy. We had rarely seen eye to eye but my dad was always my cheerleader, encourager, and comic relief. He was the center of our family dinners. He was funny and kind and treated people with respect. Dad defended my bleeding-heart-liberal self against the adamant Reaganite singer from his band when I was in high school. We shared a deep, complicated faith that I came to as a child and he came into as an adult. 

At first, I thought the only obvious change would be that Dad wouldn't be around any more. I wept for my mother, who had lost the love of her life while they slept side by side. I wept for my children, my nieces, and my nephew, who were losing the only granddad that could rival my beloved Papaw. I'm not sure I cried for myself much at first. I was heartbroken that my dad and my spouse wouldn't have a chance to get to know one another, because I think it would have been a precious friendship. I was sad for all the people who knew my dad through work and church, because they looked forward to seeing him. He lit up a room.

Then a dear friend told me I would be grieving soon for the loss of my parents. I acknowledged this but wasn't really sure what it meant. (In fact, a lot of things people told me I would feel, I put aside as a list in my head but didn't really get it yet.) Now I see it. My mom is always sad. In fact, her mother, who had been sick for months, died a couple of weeks ago. Within about six weeks of my dad's death, in fact. Talk about unfair! But I don't have parents any more. I have a mom. Even my kids, whose parents divorced, have parents. In fact, they have three parents now. But I don't. I have a mom. I love her. But she's angry and bitter, and it shows. She's sad and lonely, even with lots of friends and support. Her temper is short and she asks mean and pointed questions. I call to check on her, and I text her, and I wish it were easier to spend time with her. But it's not.

This year, we're having Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law's house. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and while I'm kind of dreading having to deal with the sadness this year, and not looking forward to a day of my mother weeping, I'm going to keep the day as positive as possible. My kids will be with their dad on Thanksgiving this year, so my spouse and I are going to drive down and visit a while and then just come back when things get too uncomfortable. 

I am still not over this, and it's hard for me to help anyone else get over it.

Is that selfish? Is avoiding family until I can get "more" over it a bad thing? I know there's not a "right" way to do it, but maybe there's a "wrong" way. I don't want to alienate people, but I also need time and space. My dad died when I had been married only a few months. We are still trying to get our own family dynamic going over here. I find it vastly unfair that I have to deal with both at once.

What do you think? How did you get over an unexpected death? Or did you just not get over it? Sometimes at work it hits me that my dad is dead, and I realize it's been more than two months and I'm still thinking that. I still have days when I want to call to ask him something or tell him something, then I remember I can't. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Unforeseen Joy of Saying Yes

Today, I finally learned something my spouse has been trying to get me to see for a while. I've pushed it aside before because I really like my way of doing things. I don't always think it's the best or most effective way, but I know it's my way and sometimes, that just makes it right to me (even when it's not). It's familiar and I can predict the outcome. In a life that's been filled with some upheaval, I like some predictability.

What did I learn? Saying yes is okay!

Some of my friends know the rigid rule-follower I can be (despite my seemingly rebellious views), and some know me as the laid-back, barefoot hippie I am at heart. When I'm stressed (and with all the changes that have occurred over the last few years, for better or worse, it's most of the time), I am the rigid rule-follower. But even more than a follower, I am a rule-maker. The demands I place on my children for astonishing academic, athletic, or artistic achievement are minimal. I want them to be decent people who can love and be loved (and that's truly my only want for them. We had a sermon on this at church Sunday and I can honestly say that's my wish). They are not required to maintain very tidy rooms (another source of stress for me, actually) and they are free (and expected!) to speak their minds to me about anything and everything. So I feel the so-called arbitrary rules I make aren't asking a lot. I'm rigid about bedtimes, even on weekends. I'm rigid on mealtimes and what can and cannot be had for snacks and when things must be turned on and off and what color shirts can be worn to the park (even though I have almost NO other rules regarding clothing, and my kids have dressed themselves since they were toddlers).

I focus on the small and so I lose the big picture.

An example: when my spouse and my kids were first getting to know one another last fall, we would have dinner together and the kids would say things I thought were just awful. But really, they weren't. They were just being themselves! I was so stuck on the perception of them (and more importantly, of me as a parent), that I allowed myself to be frustrated and embarrassed. I'd end up yelling at someone, and then everyone was uncomfortable and unhappy. Instead of letting my fiancee get to know my kids as they were (which is pretty cool by the way), I was trying to control a situation that was not mine to control. Did I think that once we were married, the kids would act the way I thought I wanted them to behave? Or that my spouse wouldn't notice, once we were all in the same house together, that the children suddenly liked talking about farts at dinner?

We have been married for seven months and I am finally learning to relax on some things. My spouse has almost no previous experience dealing with children, but they are enjoying getting to know one another and building relationships that are not parent-child, and not parent-teacher, but something different. Not having had stepparents, it's not something I can pretend to understand. The lack of animosity and terrible preconceived notions is something for which I am grateful every day.

Today, my youngest wanted to do a science experiment in the kitchen. It was simple. Add water and vegetable oil to a clear glass, put in a drop of food coloring, and add salt. Saying no would have been easier (I was trying to do something with raw meat) but I suddenly didn't feel like saying no. It wasn't even a messy experiment! We have to say no all the time to things that cost money. I felt empowered to say yes to my daughter. I don't have to give in to whining or indulge in every little thing (and I never have), but when I have an opportunity to say YES, I think I'll take it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NSFW (but it's totally SFW) Thursday

Today I went to substitute teacher orientation so I can start subbing again. I let my license expire and have been waiting for a few months to get a spot in the orientation. I loved subbing! High school was my favorite, but I will probably focus on middle school since it's just a couple of miles away. Now I can supplement my income from my part-time retail work, and I am really excited about it. I wanted to be a teacher but for some reason (honestly, I don't know the reason) never pursued it. Going back to school is not an option now, so working as a sub is the closest I can get to working in the classroom. I enjoy working with kids, and I feel like it's a good way to connect with the teachers and students my kids talk about at home. 

Did you know that substitute teachers in Alabama have to show 48 hours of coursework in college, junior college, vocational school, or trade school? This is because of Title I, a program dating back to 1965. It doesn't guarantee your kids will have a sub who knows the coursework for that particular class (trust me, I've subbed in chemistry and trigonometry classes), but it does guarantee a certain level of post-high school education and a chance to have a well-rounded sub. Also, my system has a vocational high school and they are often in need of subs for  not just general coursework, but for their programs as well (like cosmetology, horticulture, welding).

The county I work in pays $66 daily for a classroom teacher sub, $7.25 per hour for classroom aides, and $9.50 per hour for a CNP (child nutrition program) sub. It's not a high paying gig by any means, but it doesn't involve weekends and keeps me in the loop in my community. Those are perks a lot of other jobs can't offer.

Now for something NOT work related. We've had a bit of a rough time here, with the unexpected death of my dad in August, and the less surprising death of my last grandparent Tuesday, plus my spouse and I have been fighting illness that's set us back a bit in the work department (also laundry and a still-broken dryer, and a litter box that won't clean itself even when we have fevers). I returned to work Tuesday night but left toward the end of my scheduled shift when my ex-husband called to tell me my mom's mother had died. She'd been in hospice care for a while, and we knew her time was short, but her death came fewer than two months after my father's death. This is my kids' week with their dad, and we decided to let our twelve year old son travel by plane to my grandmother's funeral with my mom this weekend. 

With so many decisions to be made, and changing family dynamics to deal with, and still being foggy from being so ill over the last few days, we really didn't think we'd be able to have a "date night" this week. (We like to do something on the 8th of every month since we were married on the 8th, but it doesn't always work out perfectly.)

We found out that Wednesday night's Sleigh Bells show at WorkPlay was going to be a buy-one-get-one deal for $25. When the tickets were $22 each, there was no way we could have gone. So despite not feeling all the way well, we decided at the last minute (during church, actually) to go to the Sleigh Bells show for our date night! I totally feel like a woman my age should after a very loud rock show, but it was great, and the singer was so sweet, patiently taking photos and signing autographs for her fans. We got to see friends we hadn't see in ages, and part of the fun was the spontaneity of it all. 

Here's a picture of my love and I with Alexis, the singer for Sleigh Bells. WorkPlay is still a great play to see a show!




Monday, October 8, 2012

Poor Spending Habits

This past Sautrday's edition of Marketplace Money really hit home for me. Click here to read it. (Marketplace Money airs on 90.3 WBHM in Birmingham on Saturdays at 1 pm.)

It was about being poor, specifically being the working poor. It's so easy to judge people from where we are sitting, but the past couple of years I have spent juggling bills and barely scraping by sometimes have taught me to be more understanding of other peoples' situations.

I remember days when I worked 20 miles from home, back in early 2011, calling in sick to work because I didn't have enough gas to get to work and back. One day a friend (who was in pretty dire straits herself financially, I believe) came to see me at work and gave me three bucks in change and I was able to put about a gallon of gas in my minivan. It made a huge difference to me.

Have you ever suffered a major economic disaster that made your standard of living go way down? Did you come from means and then have to downgrade your spending as an adult because you didn't make as much as your parents? What's the "stupidest" thing you've ever spent money on? Did you regret it, or did it bring enough happiness to justify the expense?


Thursday, October 4, 2012

NSFW Thursday (but it's safe for work, really)

I've posted before about my work history and how I ended up in the job I have (my first NSFW post). Retail offers lots of opportunities for people like me who enjoy talking to a lot of people every day but don't necessarily want to be friends with a lot of people. Some customers are regulars. One I call the "purse lady" (yes, even to her face) because she comes every Wednesday on our Senior Discount day and buys two purses, then brings one back a day or so later. The Purse Lady sweetly asks my opinion and then goes in a totally different direction each time. Another regular has a distinctive South Florida accent and has made it clear she loves the Kardashians and all their fragrances. Of course, plenty of other people flow through the store weekly, and I only ever know their names if I handle their credit cards or their checks. Some of them spend hundreds of dollars at a time.

I like my customers. In fact, I like retail. The pay sucks. The hours are long and unpredictable. Sometimes my coworkers behave like children (not always the youngest ones, either) and it drives me crazy. But I like the opportunity to be a friendly face and voice to people, and to help them find things they want or need. And mostly...well, I like working around pretty things.

Today I started to worry that my job is making me too materialistic.

I'm surrounded by diamonds and gemstones at work. The deep jewel tones and hearty patterns of our fall and winter merchandise catches my eye no matter which path I take through the store. Every shift, I see at least five new things I would love to bring home (if only I didn't work as a cashier in a department store!). Sweaters, scarves, blouses, earrings, slippers. I pass through the children's department and see clothes I know my girls would love.

Remember those old Toys R Us shopping sprees you used to be able to win if you were a contestant on a Nickelodeon game show? They'd show the kid running through the store, tossing toys into the cart while others cheered her on. That's me. I imagine myself, except I am at my store and I am tossing beautiful clothing and accessories and bed sheets and towels into a cart, my spouse who LOVES TO SHOP (this cannot be emphasized enough) by my side, kids and other customers cheering me on to the finish line.

Our work affects our personalities and daily life routines. Friends who are nurses and teachers approach parenting differently than those who aren't. Those with really stressful jobs may never wind down or may overcompensate on the recreational end. I feel like my job makes me want to buy things much more than I would if I didn't know they existed. New jobs are few and far between, as I have learned, so I will stick with it and just try to adjust my attitude.

But when I clock out and walk down that aisle after each shift, I'll still imagine myself blissfully grabbing clothes from the racks like they were stuffed animals and Star Wars action figures.