I had a flashback tonight on my way home from the mall, where I was doing some Christmas shopping.
I kept thinking about the sales clerk that rang up the multitude of hostess gifts I had to buy for all of the socials and parties that we attend this time of year. Her name was Hirou, and she had just finished a conversation with her manager about how much longer she had to work this evening. When she was told that she had to close at 10:00 p.m., her face fell and her shoulders slumped. It was going to be a twelve-hour day.
“Long day?” I asked sheepishly.
“Yes,” she replied softly. “And I’m so tired already. I’m just working for the Christmas season and it’s just so much for so little, you know?”
Seasonal employees tend to work for minimum wage, and after all of the deductions, not much is left in the paycheck. On top of that, they are working at the busiest time of the year. The stores are full of stressed-out shoppers who are not always on their best behavior. Delivery drivers don’t have a moment to catch their breath. Actors, actresses, and singers, are performing day and night.
So, is it really “the most wonderful time of year?” I don’t know if it is for the seasonal employees. For them, it may be one step removed from torture.
I know that first hand because here is where my story starts. In a little corner of my mind, I always had this romantic dream of ditching the world of finance and becoming a sales girl at a high-end clothing store. I thought it would be fun to learn the designer retail business and help stylish ladies with their decisions. And of course, the 30 percent discount the salespeople receive is a real bonus.
Thanks to the last financial crisis, I got to play out the fantasy. I was between jobs right before the holidays and picked up a seasonal position at Saks. The timing was perfect. I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to start! My excitement didn’t last long. By the end of the first day, I couldn’t walk. My feet hurt so much that I had to come home and soak them for an hour. I never realized that salespeople cannot sit down–ever. I also learned that some stylish ladies, like many other woman, are not very nice, think they are 20 pounds lighter than they really are, and leave dressing rooms a mess. Also, since I was the “new girl” that would be leaving after Christmas, nobody wanted to be friends. It was a lonely job.
On top of it all, after all the deductions, my paycheck was pathetic. I also admit to being a self-described shopaholic, so after 8 weeks of grueling work, I ended up in the red (but with some very nice clothes, shame on me). I also learned that seasonal work was not a walk in the park because, well, it’s hard to walk after being on your feet and running around for what seems like eternity. Its exhausting!
So when Hirou wondered out loud whether it was worth it, I got it. There may be many reasons why someone would take seasonal employment. They can’t get a full-time job; they need the money; they have spare time, and it’s a way to keep busy and out of the house. Or they may have some weird notion like I did that it may be fun. Whatever it is, I can say from experience that these Seasonals are working their tails off.
That’s why I ask that at this time of year when you go shopping, have a package delivered, or see someone dressed like an elf, give them a big smile, be polite, and wish them strength. They are going to need it.
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