When I was promoted to District Manager (not by my choice), my district seemed to constantly change, our DSO would call and say “<insert store here> is struggling, no one has seemed to make them work in <#> years, I’m going to just move them over to you.” I will say it required much traveling to be able to make an appearance at least once a month to these 13 suffering stores across five states. A fellow DM, began to call my DSO questioning my methods and my odd hours. I didn’t believe in improving the store for the managers I believed in coaching them individually. I did not go into the store until they had a second employee come in around lunch or in the early afternoon. My method:
- Make my first store appearance on an afternoon/night the manager was off. Observe the staff before introducing myself, observe the store, remain in the store until 10 o’ clock at night making a few minor aesthetic tweaks. Asking the staff questions about their training, asking them to sell me certain products around the store and testing their product knowledge.
- I came in the next morning around 11, when another employee was present with the store manager so I could review my typically three to four page store analysis with the manager, and we could work out an plan of action to remedy situations. This night I would stay until about 11 o’clock at night replacing displays with the manager and getting prepared for the staff meeting the next morning.
- The next morning we would hold a staff meeting at 8 in the morning, requiring me to be there around 7 a.m. for set up and training tweaks. My flight was normally to leave around 2 in the afternoon bringing me home just in time for it to hit 5 o clock, but despite I would fill out a store report to submit to my supervisors, only to set off to do it again somewhere else in a day or two.
Despite only on paper reporting to one supervisor my phone rang constantly by board members of the company questioning my methods and my priorities. The VP of Merchandising called while I was at “Store A” to chew me out of the condition that he found “Store B” last week. As soon as landing from Store A, I would head to Store B, being met with a phone call from our CFO for not finding “Store C” a higher priority. Heading to Store C, I would be met with a phone call again from my DSO on my neglect of “Store A, D, & E”. And then later that day form the CEO for “Store F, G, H”. They were not in sync with one another, it was not until a fellow busy body district manager called about my strange hours I kept to my DSO when visiting “Store H”, that it really all came crashing down.
With my mother’s insane work ethic I felt there were no excuses for not meeting all the demands as a 6 month pregnant woman, don’t consider that I had spent the two days before performing a full store inventory for two stores across two states, counting from 4 until 3 in the morning, driving until 7 in the morning, to count until late that afternoon before, so hormones and exhaustion were not my friend. That particular morning I ended up sleeping in and my phone had died through the night, so I did not hear the phone calls missed to contact my stores immediately. I finally woke up to puke my guts out since that entire pregnancy was spent in a round of morning sickness, no matter what time of the day (I relate it to the stress more so than the pregnancy itself).
This was my breaking point. With suspicion on my strange hours, due to a foursquare check in I utilized at my lunch hour a couple of weeks before, and a Facebook post I posted at 10 am just before leaving my hotel for work a week previous, I knew there was no way to defend myself. My work load was my word against social media. In this phone call my priorities were questioned, my work ethic was dismissed, my disappointment in myself took over, I was finally found out. I knew nothing of retail management, I was only a sixth grade teacher.
Less than a month later my doctor got onto me for the stress levels, Aislyn, my daughter, had stopped growing in my belly. The travel made her concerned, as did the workload. The inventory day was my doctors last straw of working with my employer and she refused to allow me to travel at 7 months pregnant. I asked for an official document, but instead was offered a scratch pad with a note and her eyes rolled saying, “Employers know it is illegal to punish you for medical reasons, it shouldn’t have to be so official.”
But upon receiving my travel restriction the DSO, CFO, and CEO decided to let me decide, (1) I could step down the month of christmas and work a store front as a store manager. (2) I could take an unpaid leave of absence until my maternity leave is up in four or five months. The DSO went onto explain, “It’s just not fair to the other DM’s that you take on less stores, or not have to travel during Christmas.” The closest store for me to step down to was an hour and a half drive from my house, making 2 my only true option. Yes, it was illegal, but with what money was I to fight it? With what effort?
I revealed my decision at the DM conference I was still required to attend, despite it being four hours away. At the conference they asked for everyone to share how they conducted in store visits and I was surprised to find that “I just go from 10 am-3pm and coach the staff on this one dynamic then go home” was the most common answer. When it came my turn I went into the alternating late nights and early mornings, I went into the extensive strategies of teaching, I mean training. I continued to explain how I diagnosed the key problems before even presenting myself to an employee, and then worked not only with my managers but each and every associate. I was met with a room full of “wows”, and my confidence rose back up a bit after being trampled on for the past several months.
In February I received the email inviting me back to the company, and after a week of truly considering it I turned it down. Not because of the drama but because if we were financially stable enough for me to stay home and soak up each precious moment with my daughter, I knew that was the right thing to do.
Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine