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Welcome to the first of my four-part series on coping with mental illness at Christmas. In this post, I will be looking specifically at how to cope with working in retail at Christmas. Whether you are a manager trying to juggle the responsibilities of your staff, a staff member trying to cope with the added pressure on your shoulders, or a temporary member of staff for the Christmas period, this could be a bumpy ride!
Christmas can generally become the most stressful time of year. Working full time, trying to find the time, not to mention the money, for presents and Christmas cards. Arranging who will visit who. Wrapping, cooking, arguing maybe a bit too much drinking; and then collapse at the end of the day grateful that you made it through, and wondering why on earth you do it every. single. year.
Why is retail work so stressful at Christmas?
Let’s face it if you work in retail, every day of the year can be stressful with the right combination of stupid questions, impossible demands and overtime. But Christmas takes the cake because EVERYONE is stressed. Customers are out to buy the latest gadgets, fashion items and desirable toys, which you obviously have no stock left of now, and they yell, huff and make you feel like you could easily quit your job.
The manager has extra demand placed on them to make even more money than last year, because of profit, profit, profit. Which means that you have to work harder than ever to make sure every customer gets bled dry before they leave your store.
That’s without making sure the shelves are stocked, the shop is faced up and tidy, and you’re meeting and greeting every customer who crosses your path to make sure they feel valued.
For most retail companies, Christmas makes up more than 75% of their annual profit margin, and that is the main reason everything gets stupid.
You may notice supermarkets showing off their tins of chocolates in September, the adverts on the television will all be showing the latest toys on the market, and the pharmacies will be trying to flog you the sale perfumes and aftershave that your loved one just MUST have.
But the bottom line is; it’s all about the bottom line.
How do you stop it being so stressful for you?
There are a few things you can do to minimise the stress you endure at Christmas. Such as putting in some extra relaxation sessions, meditation and yoga. Making sure you eat healthily, drink plenty of water and remember to breathe!
But there are a few other things that might not seem so obvious that can make a huge difference:
- Change out of your work clothes as soon as you get home – Even if you don’t wear a company uniform, the clothes you have chosen to wear to work are a representation of your work persona. Continuing to wear them when you get home can subconsciously keep you in work mode.
- Put your phone on silent or better yet, turn it off – enabling your workplace to be able to contact you outside of work hours puts you on edge. Even if they don’t call, you will be aware that they could
- Really think about your answer before agreeing to work overtime – if you are the type of person that can always be relied on to pick up extra shifts, you will be the person that always gets called for it. That’s great from a financial point of view. But your health could suffer if you burn yourself out by overworking. Once in a while, say no. You are under no obligation to work more than your contract states, even if they try to make you feel guilty about it. There are other members of staff available.
- Always take your breaks – working through them sets an unhealthy tone for your work life, and it can make others assume you are happy to do it, and it becomes an expectation. You need time to recharge your batteries so make sure you take it.
- Make arrangements for when you are out of work – if you have agreed to meet up with someone, you will be more likely to turn down extra shifts, and it’s healthy to have a social life.
Putting your life before your work
In all honesty, I love being in retail. I have worked for various companies since I was 14, some 20+ years. But in those years, I have seen attitudes change, both from customers and colleagues. Customers started to ‘learn their rights’ and make absurd demands. managers are expected to work 45+ hours as the norm. So much pressure is put on staff to upsell everything under the sun that they go off sick with stress.
When I started in retail, none of this was heard of. I went to work, served customers, and then went home.
But as the years went by, and I worked my way up to management levels, stress became commonplace, as did making staff feel stupid and worthless. (not by me, I hasten to add!) It was while working in retail at Christmas time in one of my management positions that I hit rock bottom.
I was sick of all the demands, accusations from customers, being spoken to like dirt, or worse, all for the sake of Christmas. It’s just one day! Which for us, in the retail environment is over before Xmas day. Once we shut the doors on Christmas Eve, its time to prep the shop for the boxing day sales!
I left that job for another corporate retail job and lasted just 3 and a half years before I felt the same. Working 24 hours over Christmas eve and the day before, I was so exhausted I ended up sleeping most of Xmas day, and then had to go back into work on boxing day. I found myself wondering what the point was to it all.
After listening to Christmas songs from September to December, I just wanted it to end.
That’s when I changed to working for an independent company. The difference between the two was like chalk and cheese.
Now I’m not suggesting you quit your job! My takeaway from this is that even though I left those two other jobs, and the team I worked with were gutted to see me go, the companies themselves didn’t miss me at all. They replaced me in a heartbeat, and so they should, I’m not irreplaceable. But it made me realise. I spent so much of my time, stressed to the point of exhaustion for a company that really didn’t care about me. Why?
Now, I make a point to leave the workday at the door, when I finish. I make plans for my evenings, even if it’s just a long soak in the bath. I’m not on the payroll once I leave the building; it’s not my place to worry about it; so I don’t.
So if you take one thing away from this post, it should be this:
The company you work for can and will replace you if you leave. Your family cannot. Look after yourself first. Look after your company when they are paying you for it.
Do you work in retail? How do you find the Christmas period? Let us know in the comments below!
Catch up with the next post in this series on Sunday 11th October. We’ll be talking about how to reduce stress in general at Christmas.