Target diaries: Bowling for motivation and endurance

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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.

One of the cashiers leans on a shopping cart with her eyes downcast and swollen. I approach her softly. My young colleague looks up at me and grimaces. I put my hand on her shoulder and whisper, "I know how you feel."

All the employees who walk past us dressed in their uniform of red top and khaki pants likely understand her feelings as well.

I listen to many of the workers at this department store and admire their staying power. They express being tired these days, talk about not getting a good night's sleep. They question what will be next for them and what has happened to make their lives seem like they have just fallen over the edge of a cliff. One worried single mom reveals to the group sitting in the break room that she has no idea what to do next. She shares that she loves her job and enjoys the camaraderie among the workers. I get the message  --  she doesn't want her time at Target Canada to end. 

Each worker here knows our days are numbered. There is a general sense of abandonment throughout the working population but it is tempered by extraordinary patience and fortitude. My colleagues take their jobs seriously, at least for the moment. The 'fast, fun and friendly' motto is the personality of this collective of dedicated workers. You can tell that most of the employees respect one another by how they interact. It's common to hear a gentle request by a leader or another colleague to do a task and a thank you at the end of it.

Up and down the aisles there are exchanges of friendly smiles and the odd high-five hand slap. The guests are witness to our getting the job done in the most efficient possible way and often compliment us on our fun approach to our jobs. The most spectacular element of our group personality is our friendliness. We offer our guests a helping hand, offer to listen, and let our personalities shine through. It is the workers who make Target an enjoyable, quick and welcoming place to work. How much longer we can survive like this is not clear.

When a guest needs my attention, my first step is to smile at him or her and offer assistance. "I can help you here," I say. I feel confident and enthusiastic. I slide one item at a time across my scanner and place the collection of articles into a plastic bag. At the same time, I read the computer screen and tell the guest the final calculation. "Your total is sixty-two dollars and fifty-five cents." As the guest searches through her pocket book, I place all her bags in a convenient pick up location. The transaction is finalized and the receipt is handed to her, then "I can help the next guest here."

In between guests, I give some thought to our collective reaction to being laid off. The transition from doldrums to cooperative and energized worker is a noteworthy quality emerging in most of these Target workers. I have witnessed many colleagues looking worried, concerned and anxious while off the store floor, but when that same worker pushes open the red doors to the main floor, a transformation takes place. It's almost magical. A deep breath is inhaled to maximize his or her intake of oxygen, two hands tug on their red top to adjust its position and a finger sweeps over their nametag. With a quick step they make their way to their assigned position in the store. They are a proud troop of workers. 

With the support and action of our in-store leaders, the store has become a big family. One of the members is our Executive Team Lead, who says hello to everyone, and uses our names, or takes on a cashier station when the guest line-up becomes a priority. Another fun workmate is the cart attendant, who is responsible for retrieving carts from the parking lot and checking the restrooms, among other things. We all seem to get along.

With a guest at my station, I plunge into cashier mode – helpful and supportive with a smile.

To liven up the atmosphere in the store one day, a Leader On Duty set up some paper cups and retrieves two large inflated balls from the back of the store. She sets up the pins and rolls one of the balls for a strike. A small grouping of cups collapses as the ball hits it. A little girl stands by the "pins" and volunteers to take a turn. Soon, many of the guests and workers join in the game. The guest in front of me smiles and says, "You seem to be having a lot of fun under the circumstances."

I feel her empathy for all of us with lost jobs.

"If you bring this same joy and enthusiasm to your next job, you'll do famously."

I thanked her for her hopeful sentiments.

"I can help who's next," I said, and gestured to the man next in line.

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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