Stormy Seas Again

images-1I thought it was only a matter of time before the relative calm in Rochelle’s life would end; I had been fairly certain it would be either her mother’s health or the breakdown of her car that would cause the stormy seas to break out again; it was the car.

“My safety sticker has expired and I can’t get a new one because my engine light is on,” Rochelle told me. Her engine light had been on for many months and her car had not been working well during this time. She had tried to have her sister’s ex-husband fix the problem; parts had been replaced but the problem had remained. Deshawn, the ex-brother-in-law, had run a computer check when the light had first come on. He manages a quick- oil- change location and has always offered to help. He has also, on occasion, put safety stickers on Rochelle’s cars even though the cars had safety problems. This time, however, Deshawn could not do this for her; people had recently been fired at his shop for doing exactly that; He didn’t want to lose his job.

“I have to get my sticker because Mama drives the car. If the police stop her because of no sticker, she’ll go to jail; she has outstanding warrants,” Rochelle reminded me. Her mother was on parole for welfare fraud and had stopped going to her parole officer long ago. She had also not paid back the money she had gained by this fraud as required by the court. It is somewhat common for people to procrastinate when getting new safety stickers, but Rochelle couldn’t take the risk.

Money, of course, is the real problem. Legitimate repair shops want $100 to run the computer check plus the repair cost, which had been estimated at between $200-$400. Last week Rochelle thought she had circumvented the problem and had paid a man $75 for what turned out to be a fake sticker. She knew it was illegal but thought it would be a real sticker. It wasn’t. Now she is trying to sell this sticker to her uncle.

Rochelle’s life is precarious at best. Currently she has a job and has been promoted twice, but keeping the job requires her children to be cared for and her car to be working. When something goes wrong with her mother or her car, Rochelle is in choppy waters again. A higher income could buy her childcare and car repairs. She is now earning more than she ever has, but it is still not enough. Children are very expensive Rochelle has discovered. She wasn’t able to learn that growing up in generational poverty.

A Corner Turned?

images“I have no stress and the holidays were good,” Rochelle told me on January 2nd.  “This year I’m going to focus on my health and on my career with the grocery store.”

I had never heard her use the word “career” when talking about any job.  The store knows she wants to advance, and she has already been trained in various areas of its operation.  When this training was first offered to her she didn’t want to do it.  Initially they wanted her to learn how to demonstrate food; she felt this was a lower position than she currently held.  It was, however, higher pay.  I told her the more she learned about the company, the more valuable she would be to them.  Later they wanted to teach her how to run their gas station operation.  Now she does both in addition to acting as cashier, and she enjoys it.  She also attended, on her own time, a class on the various methods for advancement within the company.   She has now worked at the store for 8 months.  “I want to learn all I can about the company before I try for advancement,” she told me.  They only take 10 people a year into their management school and Rochelle knows she isn’t ready.  The company does, however, offer classes to learn about its organization and operations, and that is how Rochelle wants to proceed.  Rochelle is thinking ahead and thinking things through for the first time since I have been interviewing her.  Of course, this is the first time she has ever had a job with any kind of future.

Rochelle is not even close to being out of poverty, but she is on a better course.  Her car will still be causing problems, but things are definitely better than they were a year ago.  I asked her what she thought.  “I think I’m on the right track finally,” she told me.

I have not posted for the last month or so, though I did interview Rochelle weekly.  I guess I was taking a needed break as well.  I will continue to interview Rochelle for the next 6 months and then we shall see where this blog goes.  I’m going to leave this post short because there is no need to elaborate.  All is not going to be smooth sailing, but Rochelle just may have turned a corner.  Again my fingers are crossed.

Creating Job Loyalty

images-2“You are always so bonded to your workplace,” said my sister, Jessie, in about 1982 or so.  I had started working for Foley’s Department Store at their Houston headquarters after receiving my M.B.A from The University of Texas that prior December.  I thought that was an odd comment.  I loved my job, had a great manager and mentor, plus it was fun and challenging .  My previous job had been managing two pet stores that were owned by men who were also supportive of me.  I only left that position because I had been there ten years, there was no longer a future for learning, and so it was time to move on.   I went to graduate school and was hired by Foley’s.

In those years, though owned by the old Federated Department Stores, Foley’s was still a local chain.  “The” state wide chain of department stores that oozed a Texas ambiance.  Macy’s tried to enter the market but fairly soon closed most of their stores.  A Texas store understood the market, and Macy’s buyers and other executives didn’t.  The C.E.O.s during my tenure at Foley’s were all Texans.  Well-versed Texans with lots of retail background:  Laskery Meyer and then John Utsey.  I remember looking forward to the “Christmas Visit” that John Utsey always made.  Sure, we in the stores freaked out a bit, but Mr. Utsey walked through the stores and said “Merry Christmas” to the salespeople and managers.  I’m sure he may have talked a bit of shop with the store manager, but we had all worked very hard and “Good job and Merry Christmas” being said by the C.E.O. made it all seem worthwhile.  The last time I may have heard that was in 1987.  I left the company in 1988 when it changed into The May Company, and everything I had loved seemed to change.  I no longer felt my skills counted, nor did I seem valued.  I went back in 2001 and stayed until retirement in 2010, but I was just putting in time.  I was no longer bonded to my company.

Rochelle, a person I have been interviewing for the last year, and whom I posted about last week on the Macy’s Alumni site, has worked for a large, privately held grocery store for only three months, and at her newly opened store for only three weeks.  “I have more good news,” she told me last week.  “My manager gave me a letter and it was from the head of the company.  He told me what a great job I was doing.”  I told her that was wonderful and immediately assumed it was a form letter.  “I’ll bring it to the next interview,” she said.  “I think I want to frame it.  This is special.”  I told her to bring it and I would get it framed properly for her.

“Here it is,” she said when she came for her weekly interview.  This was not a form letter.  This was a personal letter from the C.E.O of the grocery store, and it said,  “Attached is a photograph of you with one of my favorite friends.  Thanks for taking such good care of him when he was in your store recently.  Although I have not yet visited your store, I hear great things about it.  Thank you for taking such special care of our customers.  All the best.”  It was signed by the head of this major Texas grocery store chain.  Enclosed was a photograph of Rochelle and the customer.  He is a 95-year-old man who was with his son and buying beer “for the first time in twenty years,” Rochelle was told.  The son took the photograph and sent it and a note to the C.E.O.  When Rochelle checked out the 95 year old man at her register, she made sure to ask for his driver’s license. “ He absolutely loved that,” she said while laughing.

This is what builds company loyalty more than anything.  A personal touch and the recognition of a job well done.  It seems to have vanished as companies have merged   into the behemoths they are today.  John Utsey and Lasker Meyer, the C.E.O.s I knew at Foley’s, are now long gone.  Foley’s became Macy’s.  It is rare that hard work is recognized by such a letter except, occasionally, by a customer.  I know I stopped being loyal and bonded to my company when the mergers and buyouts started happening in the late 1980s.  As the companies grew larger, the commitment to the employees left as well.  Rochelle is lucky to be working for a company that seems to understand good management practices.  She is still new in the job.  Her life is difficult, but I know that right now she is filled with pride in her work and good feelings toward the grocery store she works for.   Building loyalty should be a huge company goal, and it is really so simple.  As simple as “thank you,” “good job,” “Merry Christmas,” or a personal letter from high up the chain of command.

I do a weekly blog about my interviews with Rochelle called “Rochelle’s World:  the life of a single Black mother in the culture of poverty.”  She is paid for the interviews by my sister, Jessie, an anthropology professor.  Last week’s and this week’s topic, however, relate directly to my experience working for Foley’s/Macy’s as well as to Rochelle’s experience in retail.  I thought it relevant so have posted it directly to the Macy’s Alumni site as well as to the blog.


Praise and a Raise

images-1“I’ve got good news this time,” said Rochelle when I answered the phone.  She usually calls me on Friday, when she gets her work schedule, to set up our interview time for the following week.  Her days off change, so the interview days sometimes change as well.  She sounded happy and bursting to tell me her good news.  “I got a raise, and I’ve only been working at the grocery store for a couple of months,” she told me.  She was very excited.

Rochelle has been working two jobs since she was hired part-time at the grocery store about three months ago.  Recently, however, she has been working full-time hours at the grocery store because the new store she was hired for finally had their grand opening.  Rochelle has been thinking of quitting at the home for the disabled, where she has worked for the past year.  She did give them a two week notice when she was hired by the grocery store, but she stayed on as a substitute employee.  The job at the home is very stressful and pays very little.  There is little professionalism shown by the management, and employee problems are seldom addressed.  “I”m not going back,”  she told me in this week’s interview, after describing some problems she had working there this week.  I suggested she not burn her bridges yet.

“I got rated an excellent on everything,” Rochelle said.  She was talking about the 90 day review her grocery store manager had just given her.  Many companies give their employees a review after 90 days in order to encourage positive performance and to show where some improvement can occur.  “Well, I do need to scan the merchandise a little faster, but everything else was rated excellent.  And she (the manager) asked me what my goals with the company were.  I told her I would like to move up.  I told her I had worked eight years at the department store, and though I had great reviews, there was no way to move up,” said Rochelle.  “I told her I didn’t want to be in that position again.”

“My manager said she liked me and liked my answers.  She told me she wanted me to do well and knew I could.  I was almost crying,”  Rochelle told me, and now she was crying on the phone.  “I was almost crying, and my manager’s eyes were glistening, and then she hugged me,” Rochelle continued.  It had been a long time since she had experienced such positive and supportive response in a job.  In fact she has rarely experienced it in any aspect of her life.  “Then my manager gave me a raise!!  I’ve only worked in my store for two weeks,” she said.  She was emotionally overwhelmed.  “I knew you would want to know,” she said.  I told her I was very proud of her.  “I’ll see you next Wednesday,” said Rochelle, “and I’ll bring the review with me so you can see it.”

Praise and a raise can do a lot for a person.  Rochelle was a very happy person when she phoned me, and she was glad she was working at her new job.  Compared to her old job, the pay is better, the atmosphere is better, and most of all, the prospects are better.  You don’t get rich as a supermarket cashier, but this store pays a living wage and treats its employees well.