The Target diaries: Emotional breakdown

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Canada is in the midst of the biggest private-sector closure in recent history, and 17,600 Target workers will soon be out of a job. An employee of Target Canada is documenting the last days of work at the store during its liquidation.

I sit in the break room sipping on a cup of coffee. I turn my phone on to check for messages. A memo from my service provider stirs up negative emotions. "With the closing of Target stores in Canada, we wanted to remind you that your Bell Mobility service will continue without interruption."

I think of my coworkers who used to buzz around in the mobile phone department serving guests to the best of their God-given ability. A great many of us purchased a phone, along with some spectacular features, from the department manager and his hard-working crew. Now, in the middle of March 2015, the satellite drop-in centre is gone and so are the people.

The physical breakdown of Target departments, with workers hauling clothes racks and shelves out of the building on a daily basis, is mirrored in the people who work here. The social fabric of the employees has been torn as well. That, in turn, is impacting our interaction with the guests.

The cashiers, for example, sometimes end up on a collision course with the plodding reaction time of the computers. Apparently, when the liquidators took over the transaction, that brought on a glitch in the reaction time between scanning an item either across the glass plate or with the scanning wand. As I stand waiting for my computer to engage, I am bombarded with negative comments and advice from a guest about how to manipulate the touch screen so that it works faster. Nothing helps. I hear nearby cashiers apologizing over and over again to the guests to avoid conflict.

Today I am frustrated and tap furiously on the screen. It doesn't react to my attack and so I step back off my rubber mat and inhale deeply. I stare at the screen and exhale as I step closer to it. After what seems a quarter of a century, the screen displays the next step. I touch the debit/credit button and wait again for the computer to respond. In the meantime, the face of my guest is growing larger, redder and uneven across his eyebrows. I still don't apologize. I wait. Finally, the receipt prints and I pass along the proof of payment to the guest, reminding him that all sales are final. He marches to the exit door, aggravated. I smile at my next guest and say hello.

The once-friendly nature of conversations between the employees and the guests are fracturing. One of the employees has become so standoffish toward those that approach her cashier station that she asked the leaders if she could be assigned to a different department. There are no transfers, promotions or even demotions taking place during the bankruptcy period and so her assignment, these days, is to prepare food for her fellow workers and keep the break room tidy. Those of us left behind on the department store floor are satisfied with this accommodation because the smell of food wafting down the stairwell keeps our spirits up. A disgruntled employee plays out her anger by talking in sharp tones to her co-workers.

Today, after "zoning" which means tidying up the store, I set to work on an open package stuffed haphazardly with a large bed cover. My intention is to fold the article, place it carefully in its original container and seal it discretely with tape. At that moment, a guest needs my service. As I work on the transaction, my co-worker speaks loudly behind me. "What's this all about?" I ignore her and continue with my guest. I hear her repeat the comment but with a deeper more aggressive tone. Even after my customer has left me, I am hesitant to turn around to face the young woman who is challenging the sloppy work left behind on the Customer Service counter. I inhale, turn and explain that I had meant to finish the job but was fulfilling my first priority -- helping a guest. We stare at one another for several seconds. I can feel the tension. I reach for the package but she tucks it behind her and says she'll look after it. I thank her.

In my experience, before the takeover of the store, our camaraderie was strong. Instead of asking who left what behind, or who didn't finish a task, we picked up what was left behind and finished tasks for one another. Now, we tend to be short with our time and patience. Our nerves are raw. Those of us left behind have a job to do and we are doing our best to perform it from beginning to end. Please be patient.

 

Canada is facing the biggest private-sector closure in recent history, and 17,600 Target workers will soon be out of a job. An employee of Target Canada is documenting the last days of work at the store during its liquidation.

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