In October 2018, I quit my job working in retail. After working for the same company for 5 years, it was time for a change. While I have some incredibly fond memories with the friends I made, part of me feels as though my mental health took quite a hit over the years that I was there. I would like to say for the record, that this absolutely has nothing to do with a specific person, or the people I worked with. A combination of poor management, unfair policies, and an environment that was always overworked and understaffed, is what contributed to the decline of my mental health.
I’ve re-written this post many times, because I don’t want it to be an attack on my previous employer, and I didn’t want to say anything that would upset anyone. I have no regrets when it comes to the people I met, because if I didn’t work there, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends. However, I wanted to talk a little bit more detail about how much the environment affected me.
It goes without saying that the views expressed in this post are my own, but I thought I’d make that clear up front.
Expectations were always so unrealistic, and in the unlikely event that you would actually meet them, the goal post would either be moved, or what you achieved wouldn’t be good enough. No amount of money made would be enough, and no targets met would be enough. If you made a mistake, you’d hear about it more than once – the initial telling off, followed by several reminders throughout the day. Chances are it would also be brought up in the morning meeting for the next week too. Working in retail can be soul destroying at the best of times, but when you’re continuously reminded by management that you’re shit at your job, it makes matters a hell of a lot worse.
Naturally, this was never something I could shake off when I got home. Often, I’d feel so fed up that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed. I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, and I’d instantly resent the fact that I had to get up and go back into that same place again the next morning.
Back when I originally started this job, I had not been diagnosed with OCD. At the time, I suffered with anxiety and emetophobia. It wasn’t until 2016 that I had my diagnosis, but in the run up to that, I noticed a significant increase in things like avoidance behaviours and compulsive hand washing. I strongly believe that this was a result of not only the lack of sick pay, but also the guilting people should you phone in sick.
As with most retail jobs, the lack of sick pay meant that most people would come in sick. This would extend from the basic common cold right up to stomach bugs. I only remember one or two occasions where people were physically sick at work (and I care to forget them to be honest), but it meant that a number of people would come back to work while they were still contagious. Not only did this set me on edge when it came to avoiding anyone who had been off sick, but it meant on extreme occasions, I wouldn’t even use my own mug if it had been in the dishwasher with the sick persons’. It wasn’t just the lack of sick pay either that meant people came to work sick. On numerous occasions, if you called in sick, the response would often be “but we’re really short today,” or “[name] is off sick too, we’re going to struggle now.” Yes being short staffed is inconvenient, but at the end of the day, surely it’s better to be down one or two people for a couple of days than an endless stream of absences over weeks on end?
I could never quite shake the feelings of anxiety, especially towards the end. Part of my personality (that I now realise is probably made worse by my OCD) is that I can’t leave things unfinished. Any task I have to take on needs to be completed. I don’t like to half finish a job and give it to someone else, and having an incomplete task hanging over me causes me to feel very anxious. Yes, probably not the best idea to work in retail. However, this was yet another thing that got worse throughout my time there. Towards the end, you couldn’t complete basic paperwork or completely finish things up with your customer without being pounced on with the next task.
One thing that also caused my anxiety to spike was the lack of work-life balance, and it was done simply through an app that we’re probably all familiar with: WhatsApp. There was an employee WhatsApp group, which I’m sure is very common with a lot of workplaces. That’s something in general that I don’t particularly have a problem with. However, what I did have a problem with, was the fact that you couldn’t go for more than a few hours without that bloody thing going off. The rule was not to post during “unsociable hours,” which I personally think should be between usual working hours. However, it would go off first thing in the morning, late in the evening, weekends, you name it. At 6.30am, I’m sitting in my pyjamas – I don’t want to know about how short staffed we are today.
Of course, there was the option to mute the chat – which I’m sure a lot of you will have instantly thought of. The only problem with that being literally anything that came up in real life the next day, you couldn’t question it without “did you not see it on the WhatsApp group?” Apparently, talking to each other properly was much more inconvenient.
Apologies if this post is a little all over the place. Quite frankly, it was one that I really struggled to write. I didn’t want to name the company I worked for (even though I’m sure any friends or family reading this will probably know), and even at the time of writing this final paragraph, I’m not even sure this makes a good enough post. My main goal was to highlight how much a stressful and unpleasant working environment can impact your mental health. Of course it’s not just retail, it can be any area of employment. My point is that if you are starting to realise that your mental health is struggling as a result of what’s going on at work, it may be time for a change.