I have worked for a single employer for as long as eight years and my shortest stint was one week to equal a total of thirty employers. I realized this fact while ruminating about the separation from my most recent employer. Many readers will conclude that I sparked the Millennial mindset of “I’d rather compromise than sell out.”(1)
Early in my work-life, I was called a brown noser (2) in an off-hand comment by a co-worker. In my mind, I meant to be amicable and supportive. The remark stung me to my core; I subconsciously, and later consciously, decided that I could never and would never be a brown noser or a kiss-up in the workplace.
My decision morphed into a kind of stoicism whereby I refused offers of help to get jobs based on the perception of nepotism. I am unable to respect co-workers whom I perceive as brown nosers and am miffed when these co-workers get promoted over the producers and the doers in a department.
When I feel I can take no more, I look for greener pastures with another employer. Combining the poetic tenets of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost and Invictus by William Ernest Henley has resulted in a mixed bag of chaos with generous periods of calm.
The following is a brief description of some of my early employment situations, the good and the bad.
“Uh-oh,” I thought when I was introduced to the electric meat-slicer. I knew that the small, local Spanish bakery in Tampa, Florida sold Cuban sandwiches to a lunchtime crowd. My first employer failed to let me know that I would be expected to show up in the wee hours to slice the meat and assemble scores of sandwiches. I was too shy to tell the employer that I am a vegetarian. The staff was all young girls, and they were not welcoming. I swept and cleaned while they regarded me with disdain. I quit after two weeks and nursed my self-esteem.
My next stop was a five and dime chain that is now defunct. The manager was middle-aged and lecherous. “Let me show you,” he said as he cornered me at the cash register to rub up against me. I remember he seemed very proud of his manager status and the store keys that he jangled as he walked.
On to the adjacent ice cream parlor that also served soup and sandwiches. The new owner was a sketchy, grifter woman who operated the establishment with a revolving door of seven adult children. Equally sketchy and equally grifter, the kids manufactured personal problems daily. In the mix was usually an element of theft or a hustle. “Junior’s getting out of prison in Maine!” I remember the sense of euphoria from the Grapes of Wrath gone very wrong version of the Joad family who lived by their own code and scruples.
"Thanks for making me work all your hours," said a co-worker after I showed up to work with my arm in a sling following a car accident. I'm cunning and my strategy to avoid work was a trip to the hospital with a fractured shoulder. The employer was also a five and dime that has become a major retail brand.
A favorite assistant manager was caught up in a low-tech sting operation. The company hired security staff posing as customers to troll the store. They also sat in cars at the front of the store to try to catch employees engaging in theft, etc. The assistant manager was seen giving a co-worker a free soda from the machine. This was a sad goodbye to one of the main reasons I remained with this low-wage employer.
“It’s an honor to work there,” my mother said as I told her about the position as domestic travel counselor at the auto club. Travel school at the local vo-tech after college made me a favored candidate. By this time, I was twenty-two and very perky with a lot of witty phrases that were ready for quick delivery. Working there was based on a strict code that included a dress code where women could wear skirts or dresses with a hem just above the knee. Slacks could be worn combined with a casual jacket that covered the bum. The annual compensation was slightly higher than the threshold for poverty.
“The maid beat us up!” claimed the adult daughter and her mother. I suspected they were homeless and living in their car, so I got them something that I believed would be safe and cheap for a one-night stay. I have had plastic spiders thrown at me, dodged Frisbees, received an obscene phone call from the general manager, and was bullied by a supervisor. Seven years later, I took a week off to work with a headhunter and got a new job because honor does not pay the bills.
“Our Baltimore agent died of lead poisoning, ya' know what I mean?” delivered in a thick New York City accent by my boss. I maintained a poker face. I needed time to consider the implications. I thought of a time several years earlier when I blurted out at work "I'm moving to Iceland. They have only one murder there each year." A co-worker responded, "Yeah, but what happens if they don't make the quota?"
“That’s his mistress,” said a co-worker nonchalantly after I mentioned the numerous phone messages I had taken from a woman for the company owner. Other casually delivered remarks included “We had another vessel but I think it was sunk for the insurance money”, and regarding the company controller "She had an affair with the German ship captain but it's o.k. she has an open marriage"
Working for an Italian Don who owns a shipping company is interesting. I learned a lot about the real world. I felt powerful; it was a confidence booster. I am thankful for the time I spent with the company. I quit there to follow my boss to a new venture with a competitor. I applied what I had learned from the former employer about business. In six months that employer was defunct because we had taken their market share. I saw the Italian Don some months later. He was polite and seemed happy to see me. I think he respected me. No lead poisoning for me, eh?
(1)“The 4 Millennial Mindsets That Will Change the Way We Work.” LinkedIn Talent Blog. Accessed November 26, 2020. https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/hiring-millennials/2016/the-4-millennial-mindsets-that-will-change-the-way-we-work.
(2) “Brown-Noser.” Urban Dictionary. Accessed November 26, 2020. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=brown-noser.
© 2020 Sharon R Hill