Thursday, October 6, 2011

Striving for Uselessness

I could have drawn my gun, thought Ender, as the enemy approached the door. I could have drawn my gun and shot just one of them... The game would have been a draw. ...

"You're going down in the standings, boy," said Rose.
"I expect to. I was only leading the list because of the stupid way Salamander Army was using me."
"Stupid? Bonzo's strategy won a couple of key games."
"Bonzo's strategy wouldn't win a salad fight. I was violating orders every time I fired my gun."

-Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I'm sure anybody who has worked in customer service has had a Bonzo (Bone-so, not Bahn-zo) or two in their life: supervisors that insist you work below your capabilities, give less than 100% just so you can fit into their own incompetent view of the world. I myself had one during my 3-day stint at Verizon Wireless.

It was over Thanksgiving weekend, I was brought in as a greeter and the sum of my training was not much more extensive than Ender's under Bonzo: here's the door, customers will walk in, needing help. Greet them, find someone to help them. If we're all busy, make them sign in, one of us will help them when we're free. Nobody actually told me not to help anybody, but it was implied when they didn't give me any further training. In between customers I was told to familiarize myself with the store (aka, walk around and play with the demos). (Yes, they did actually verbalize that "aka.")

They didn't ask what kind of phone I had (except for the coincidence that I had purchased it from this very same store about a month prior), or what knowledge I had of their products. At the time, I had developed a slightly passable knowledge of using my Droid 2 (and by passable, I mean I was using it without a problem and troubleshooting issues without taking my manual out of the shrink wrap).

On the third day of working there, I had a customer enter the store and ask for assistance (since I was the closest person to the door and everybody else was busy, and I was clearly not). I greeted her, asked how we could help, and the customer explained the problem. Normally at this point, I would take a glance around the room, apologize that no one was available to help her, and have her enter her name in the kiosk by the door so she would be helped when someone was free. However, this time, she asked a question I knew the answer to. It was a thirty-second question, and there looked to be a several-minute waiting time. With an eye on the door, I answered her question (which was involving her coincidental Droid 2). She thanked me and left the store.

That was the last shift they gave me. I called in several times, asking when I would get another shift, since it was literally in my job description that I would be working 40-hour weeks. I got in touch with the temp agency I was hired through, and it took them two weeks to find out where all my hours went.

They had fired me. Apparently, Illinois is an at-will state (which I knew, but I didn't realize how much that truly meant), which apparently means companies can fire you not only without giving a reason, but they can do it without even letting you know that you've been fired.

The reason for firing me? helping a customer and failing to greet someone who walked in the store while helping said customer. Yes, those were the actual reasons they gave.

First off, I was standing in the doorway. If someone had walked in the store, they either needed to be invisible, or come in an alternate door. The only alternate door was the loading dock which is supposedly employee-only.

Secondly, I was able to help the customer, something above and beyond my job requirements. In my experience, performing "above and beyond" is grounds for a raise, bonus, or promotion, a fact I'd learned through over three years of working retail in two bookstores and a luggage/umbrella/sunglass store, for all of which, I had been properly trained to help everybody who had walked through the door. If there was any failing to be found, it should be in the idiot of a manager of the store whose entire training lasted less than five minutes (and didn't even include introducing his staff to me, though he did introduce me to his staff).

Thirdly, I helped her quickly, whereas, if I'd been doing my job like I was supposed to, she would have either stood around for several minutes, or left to take her business elsewhere.

Fortunately, my work there provided me with fairly decent compensation for my time (twenty hours in three days), my previous job accepted me back happily (though they only allocate fourteen hours a week per employee), and the duration of actually being employed with Verizon was so short, I don't have to include it on my resume (so no worries of awkward questions).