What do your staff really get up to when you’re not on the shop floor? Rostered On, an Australian comedy show set in an electronics retail store, satirises the negative aspects of low-level retail jobs. We asked its creator how true to life it was intended to be.
Rostered On is the creation of Ryan Chamley, an ex-retail worker himself. The show includes many negative stereotypes commonly associated with retail- unfairly entitled bosses, cut-throat workmates, and irate customers – and Chamley says he’s come across all of them in spades.
Asked why retail tends to fall into these traps and what can be done about them, Chamley says he thinks hierarchy is poison for a lot of people.
“When people know there is a chain of command they automatically want to be higher on it than the people they are working with,” he says.
This can manifest in staff members spreading rumours or talking down to their coworkers to make themselves feel more powerful.
“It feels like it all comes from trying to be higher up the food chain.”
He feels that without proper training and support, the pressure of providing constant customer services can push staff members into toxic behaviour towards one another.
“[Retailers] tell their staff to act a certain way based around keeping the store’s reputation squeaky clean,” says Chamley. “It’s not about any individual’s feelings or how valued they feel, so in most altercations, the floor staff are expected to ‘deal with it’ because it’s ‘part of the job.’”
Chamley does, however, think that the “smiley la la land” of ideal customer service is an unrealistic expectation, and partly to blame for the pressure retail staff face.
“Somewhere along the line we got it into our heads that when we go shopping we are to be treated like royalty, overly smiled at, told how good we look and given the very best deal available – that whenever we walk into a store the staff need to drop everything and give us their full attention straight away.”
Chamley offers some constructive suggestions based on his own experiences as a retail worker, consumer, and writer of Rostered On. “I’d love to see a system in place that is based around staff being able to vent after an interaction with a bad customer – that no, they didn’t deserve to be treated badly and it’s not ‘just part of the job.’”
He feels that the priority needs to be shifted from the retailer’s reputation to staff wellbeing. It’s a logical move as staff who feel valued are naturally going to represent the store better.
Asked for his best and worst experiences from working in retail, Chamley says the best was remembering working with good people, day in day out who become like family: “I’ve had a lot of good times with co-workers in retail.”
And the worst? “Working my arse off for a promotion that was sabotaged by a co-worker and management that were too blind to se what was happening.”
Retail workers are the ultimate face of a retail based business, so it pays to invest in them to create a positive working atmosphere that values everyone equally while offering opportunities and incentives.