GETTING MORE TALE #602: Nepotism
Small businesses without oversight can sometimes suffer from nepotism. At the Record Store, the senior supervisor who I refer to as “the Bully” seemed to favour her friends over the rest of us. I say this with complete certainty. This was not only my observation, but that of others who were questioning what they were seeing at work. I still have emails from old co-workers about it.
The personal goal for every store manager was to eventually get out from behind the counter. Nobody wants to be there forever. It wears you down. We had all been told that hard work would get us out. But it only happened for the select chosen few. One of the first was the Bully’s fiancé. He was promoted to an office job running our website. No one questioned that he was good and qualified. He certainly was. But would he have gotten that promotion if he was me?
Other store managers that were close personal friends with the Bully got off easy when it came to inspections. She would come in to my store and point out every fingerprint or coffee stain that hadn’t been cleaned up yet, throwing down words like “disgusting” and “gross” to make me feel extra bad. Meanwhile, when I was visiting the store in Cambridge managed by one of her close friends, I found a pile of crumbled drywall bits on a window sill that had obviously been there a long time. It looked like a drywall anthill. Others also noticed that the Cambridge location was not held to the high cleanliness standards as the rest of us. We would talk and wonder how they got away with this stuff, when we’d been raked over the coals for less. The Bully would even spend every Friday afternoon working with her friend in Cambridge. It was like clockwork. Every Friday afternoon, she was gone from her desk and working in Cambridge with her friend. Cambridge was “really busy” on Fridays and they needed the extra help, it was claimed. It became a joke around the store. “It’s Friday, she must be in Cambridge working with her friend again.” The owner didn’t question this activity, if he was even aware of it. It seemed strange to the rest of us that this one powerful regional manager would have to work every single Friday in the store where her friend worked. What are the odds?
The bright side to this was actually that the Bully would be out of my hair on Fridays. Normally she worked at her desk, right in the back office of my store. She couldn’t harass me so much from Cambridge. I didn’t mind that every Friday was spent with her friend. It worked out well for me, but it smelled fishy.
Nepotism reared its ugly head again in 2003. All the store managers showed up for another late night staff meeting. This time, a bombshell was dropped that didn’t sit right with a couple of us. Yet another closer personal friend of the Bully was getting a promotion. A new position was created for her.
“She’s a helper,” said the store owner. “She is not your boss! She’s not in charge of you. She’s just here to help. If you need someone to cover shifts, she’ll be there. She will be in charge of store displays. If you need help with signage, she can do that.”
The accountant Jonathan told me the next day that he advised against this change. “In retail, you never create a new position that doesn’t make money,” he told me. Others were confused. “How did she get that job and not you?” a few people asked me. I’d been there almost a decade and was stuck behind the counter every day. In fact, in my time at the Record Store, the only people who got away from the counter permanently were friends with the Bully. Nepotism at its finest.
One day the Helper was in St. Catharines working on a display of CD wallets. She made the display, tore it down, started over. She spent an entire shift working on that display and signage. Money well spent?
Something strange happened in the months afterwards. Even though we were all assured “she’s not your boss”, the Helper quickly became another boss. Before too long we were answering to her, as if she was a surrogate of the Bully. Some used to refer to her as the Bully’s “Handmaiden”. It stank to high heaven. We’d all been lied to, right to our faces. And not one of us said anything about it.
It was very clear that the Bully and the Helper didn’t give a shit about me. Jonathan caught them having a laugh at my expense. They thought it was hilarious that I was going to have to work all summer without any full-time backup employees. One day the Helper was in my store, doing a store inspection. I think she purposely did it before I got in that day. I had been hearing that they liked to stack the deck against certain managers that they didn’t favour. One manager had “garbage was piled to the ceiling” written on an official store inspection document. If that had been written on mine, I wouldn’t have signed off on it. Garbage “piled to the ceiling”? Horse shit! That wasn’t even physically possible. Pictures or it didn’t happen!
I came in for my shift, not knowing a surprise inspection had been done. I started as I often did, by cleaning glass surfaces and counters. The place was spic and span. Then the Helper came out to talk to me about the store inspection. “Fingerprints on glass and counters” was a complaint she wrote down.
“I cleaned that as soon as I got here,” I said. “Have a look yourself. Nothing’s dirty.”
She responded, “It was when I wrote it down.”
“Yeah but as soon as I got here, I cleaned it, without even knowing you’d inspected the store. It’s a non-issue,” I protested.
“Well, it’s too late, I already wrote it down” she said. And so it went on my official report. That seemed very unfair. If they inspected stores before I even got there for the day, of course they would find issues. There was only one person on duty before I got in for the day. If he was busy with customers, he would not be able to do a really solid cleaning. When I got in, there were now two people on duty. One is free to clean. They knew this.
It was patently obvious that the one who was “not our boss” was in fact another boss we had to answer to. She even got me to run and do bank deposits, which was her responsibility, not mine. But I did it because I wanted to be “helpful” and maybe one day prove that I deserved a promotion too. What was I supposed to do, say “no”? If I had, she’d be on the phone with Bully next. If I refused, they would have made sure I paid for it.
Lessons learned from this: When you do something once to be “helpful” or as a “favour”, by the second time it becomes expected. The harder lesson to learn was that I was never going to get anywhere. I wasn’t a member of the inner circle. I never was going to be. I had dug my own grave. I didn’t want to hang out at bars with her crew like some of the inner circle did. I’ve always been the kind of person who looks forward to coming home after work, and enjoy a movie or a couple albums. Even going out to a bar once a week is too much for me. It’s not something I enjoy. Whether Bully took this as a snub, or whether it just meant I wasn’t going to work my way into the inner circle, I do not know. All I know is that some were lucky enough to escape the wrath, and enjoy an easier work life. Others were not and quit in frustration, and in some cases, tears. It was pure favouritism and the owner was oblivious. He was too busy out wheeling and dealing, opening new stores and making contacts.
I still have friends who work there. Bully is long gone from that place now; I hope that means the nepotism is too.