Most students dread going to work— it intervenes in their social schedule. Who wants to close the store when there’s a pregame going on somewhere? While making money seems great for all the lunches and dinners out with friends, those can get expensive after awhile. Sometimes working that shift with the manager at your job who seems to have it out for you sounds less than appealing. There comes a time for students to realize that their biweekly paycheck is definitely not worth more than their mental health.
After four years of working at a job I once loved, I found that my measly paycheck didn’t matter as much as my emotional and mental wellbeing while on the clock.
For anyone that knows me, they know that I loved my job… at one point. The summer I got hired my junior year of high school at my all time favorite clothing store, I took any shifts I could. I absolutely loved interacting with the customers that came in, exchanging show or movie recommendations, sharing memories of concerts and getting excited when a familiar face returned after great conversations.
The entire summer of 2017 I learned how to handle the cash register, fold clothes, out-stock and back-stock the store, work with my fellow associates and most importantly, how to handle customers that believed they knew everything (spoiler alert, they didn’t).
Most importantly, I felt comfortable. My work environment allowed me to share common interests with my coworkers and customers, developing relationships with both. I expressed myself through my fashion: band tees, anime pins and crazy lipstick colors to match my outfit of the day. The many compliments I received boosted my confidence and encouraged me to return the good vibes with the many stylish customers that found their way into the store.
My coworkers made me feel at home. They shared their life stories with me and helped me handle the male customers that didn’t want to understand that “I have a boyfriend” means “I’m not interested.” Many of them, while older than me by a few years, shared funny stories regarding their high school days and gave me advice on juggling work and school. Despite being the youngest associate in the store, they treated me with respect while also keeping a protective eye out for me.
That comfortable vibe didn’t last for long however, and the full-schedule that once excited me now filled me with dread.
My freshman year of college was filled with unnecessary stress, surprisingly not from the shift from high school to college, but from favorite coworkers quitting. While most coworkers found different opportunities elsewhere, this job was a stepping stone for them while they searched for openings in their desired careers— most left due to new management. The once “found family” vibes shifted into something straight out of Mean Girls. I experienced more unnecessary drama at work than I did in high school… and that’s saying something.
The managers that once laughed with me and engaged in conversation gave me an ice cold shoulder, causing me to scratch my head in confusion. What changed? We still enjoyed the same shows, sang the same songs in the store, so why did I receive the silent treatment? My weekend shifts became something I dreaded, and I made sure my manager didn’t know about the breaks I would receive during the semester so I wouldn’t be scheduled more than necessary.
I noticed that I wasn’t the only one receiving the silent treatment; it seemed that the victim would shift each week. Say or do the wrong thing and you would be that week’s victim before the conversations started again. Many coworkers realized this childish behavior early on and decided to leave. Some had second jobs to fall back on and didn’t necessarily miss the money. But as a college student rushing a sorority, I needed all the money I could get, which meant I was stuck there for the foreseeable future.
This continued for another two years. I saw many coworkers come and go, mainly leaving due to the disrespectful behavior they received. Still, I watched them go with a bittersweet feeling. I would miss them, but I certainly felt glad they didn’t feel emotionally abused.
When would it be my time?
Luckily, my hours got cut due to my own busy schedule. I received a campus job, joined a sorority and had many papers to write as an English major. Out of spite, my manager refused to schedule me on the weekends. That didn’t bother me too much— I definitely preferred writing papers on a Saturday night over the silent treatment while ringing Karens for five hours.
Finally, my time came when I could put in my two weeks notice. I received a coveted Graduate Assistant position at my college, which meant I wouldn’t have the time to work as a retail associate while studying for classes and working in a college office.
If you’re currently working in a toxic environment, here’s your sign to rethink your employment. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have another job lined up—believe me, I know. But sometimes that paycheck isn’t worth the dread of wondering if your coworker will talk to you at all during your shift.