career

'I was offered a casual job and the experience left me feeling gaslighted.'

In January this year I was made redundant when the small boutique I worked at closed its doors.

The struggle to find a job in the last few months has been difficult and full of ups and downs. I was offered a casual position this past week but I made no big Facebook announcement this time and only told a select few people. See, I was offered a casual position a few months ago and the experience left me feeling, for lack of a better word, gaslighted by the management team.

When I was told I was going to lose my job, I reached out to a contact I had made while working within the boutique. She was a brand representative/regional manager who often came into the boutique to train us  in the jewellery product and a personal friend of the boutique owners. She had previously remarked positively on my brand knowledge and the way I had organised and merchandised her brands area. The boutique owners were also positive I’d be able to secure a position within the brand.

Gaslighting in the workplace
(Image: TV Land)

The brand was new to Australia and only a few years old world wide, but a fast growing company with ethics that seemed like they lined up with mine. The product was manufactured locally to the designers home town out of recycled materials and many thousands of dollars were donated to various charities. I was confident the brand would continue to gain fans in Australia as it had in other countries.

Initially the brand rep said she had no positions available, which I understood because it was January - the quietest month for retailers. I launched into finding a job applying for everything from management to casual positions. A month later, however, I received a text from her at around 7pm asking if I had found a job and that there was a casual position available at the brands only store in the state. I was excited to go for the interview.

When I turned up to the concession store in a major shopping centre I realised that they had already decided to hire me. I was optimistic. As the manager, brand representative and I talked about the job over coffee, I mentioned clearly that I had been interviewing for an assistant management position with a fast fashion brand, but that I’d choose two to three shifts a week with a brand I believed in over a brand I didn’t. I also was assured by the brand representative that the brand was growing in Australia, and that there was a lot of room for growth within the company, and they would look to hire from within.

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Before I left the interview, I filled in the employment form and stuck around to fill in the tax file form and my superannuation details. The manager gave me a quick run through of the concession, and complained about the casuals working for her and her assistant manager, something I should have taken as a sign of what was to come. I would start on Tuesday and more shifts will come once my details were on the computer system.

I turned up for my three hour shift with the assistant manager who treated me to less-than-ten-minutes point of sale training. With my training out of the way the assistant manager ran off for her lunch break leaving me alone with the concession. Everyone in retail knows that Tuesdays are one of the quietest days in retail and during the three hours I worked, neither the assistant manager or I made any sales despite approaching anyone who so much as glanced in our direction. When I got home I expressed concern to my partner that they might take my lack of sales on my first day as poor performance, but he reminded me that that’s not how I would manage a store so I shouldn’t worry.

When I messaged in the next few weeks to ask when my next shift would be, the manager told me she’d be in touch which I took as a ‘stop texting me’ statement, but as more time passed I got worried. After a month I gave the concession a phone call and spoke to the manager asking why I hadn’t received any more shifts. She told me that she had made it clear at the interview that some weeks there would only be one shift, and some there would be none. She also pointed out that in my last shift (my first and only shift) I hadn’t made any sales and shifts are allocated based on performance. While I was seething on my end of the phone I stayed polite and calm and didn’t contradict her. I wanted to work after all.

After another few weeks with no word, I decided to turn up in person and remind them I was more than a name on a screen. I also had gifts to buy and wanted to at least make use of the staff discount. I did not count on the brand rep being there, as she and I had a more personal relationship from the boutique I had previously worked at. I was aiming to be cool and calm but the rep asked me more intimate questions and caught me off-guard. My frustration at my position and the company came out of me the only way it knows how: tears. I made my purchases and was astounded to find my employee profile was still not on the computer system. The rep mentioned she’s get me working an upcoming charity event run by the brand, and I ran away wishing I could time travel and erase the last 30 minutes.

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When I messaged the rep later to ask about the charity event I received no reply, the date came and went and I was still shiftless. In the next month I received two phone calls from the concession. The first was the manager telling me I needed to fill out a tax file form and a superannuation form for their employee details. When I pointed out that I had already done so, she admitted the paperwork had been lost and I would have to go to the post office to get the forms.

My time as a manager of my own store and other businesses means that I instantly know post offices don’t carry those forms, they used to be carried at news agencies but are now online only. How could she not know that?  I hung up shaking my head at their incompetence.

By this time I had given up on the job - it had been two months after all, and so I was searching for other work while helping in my friends bistro every Thursday night. One Thursday, preparing for an eight hour shift at the bistro, I received a call from the assistant manager - she was short for the late night shift. Could I come in for 3 hours? I declined. I was not going to turn down a regular ongoing waitressing gig for a company that had screwed me over at every turn. I knew they’d hold my inability to work that last minute shift against me and use it as another excuse if I ever confronted them about my lack of shifts.

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What annoys me most about this experience is the fact that I was never given a chance. It baffles me that a concession in the middle of a shopping centre corridor needs eight casuals and two managers.

I remember back to the interview, when the manager was bad mouthing her casuals, telling me they weren’t up to scratch and it’s clear that the casuals aren’t at fault. It’s her and the stupid store policies in place. How can an employer expect a casual who receives less than one shift a week to perform to target? Retail is dynamic; merchandising and stock levels change daily and while I have a good retention for these things it won’t be everyone else’s strength.

How is a casual supposed to build a relationship and report with regular customers if they don’t know if they will even work next week? I imagine many other casuals like myself moved on to other positions to make rent and put food on their table meaning that we weren’t available or even inclined to drop everything for the last minute shift covers. What disappoints me most is that I had really liked the brand and everything they claimed to stand for, and now I have told everyone I know that they treat their staff so poorly.

So please excuse me if part of my brain tells me not to celebrate a new casual job until after the second month. I’ve been burnt before.

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