Many working students now trapped by holiday retail jobs

Students are stuck working retail for the holidays.

Rob Stothard

Students are stuck working retail for the holidays.

Natalie Hanson

The decorations are out, the lines are packed and the Christmas music is already playing. You know what that means. The two most mind-numbing months of the year for students who work in retail are here.

After experiencing two holiday seasons as a full-time student, I have nothing but awe for those who have gone longer while trying to pay for everything and finish their homework.

Many students have to go home to visit family, but can’t because of their job. Many students in retail wonder how much they’ll see immediate family, if at all. Working retail during the holidays means that you are lucky if you have Thanksgiving Day off, and more than likely can’t go anywhere more than an hour’s drive away if you know you have a brutal Black Friday weekend ahead.

From Thanksgiving break on, you spend the weeks up to Christmas trying to keep up with endless stock, expiring coupons and long lines. Around the time when school starts really crunching without cease just happens to also be the time when working in retail is the most exhausting. People stocking up for Christmas grow more irritable by the day, managers demand more goals to be met, all you can think about is how after your eight-hour shift you have to go home and study for a final project for as long as possible, before getting up in the morning to come back and do it all again.

Yet you can’t leave it, many retail managers know this. Students often have no choice but to be stuck with the demands of a retail job to try to keep up with ever-rising costs of living. Paying for college, on top of a cell phone, monthly rent, utilities, food, maybe a car and for life in general often requires students to be tied to at least one job. That job, in Chico, seems to nearly always land students in retail.

In addition, schedules change every week, and may not be flexible with classes. While my employer claimed that they always work with students’ schedules, I worked through one holiday season in which I had to switch a shift seven times in one month because my manager continually scheduled me during a class time. To them, you are just another number, not an already exhausted student. I’m sure it frustrates many supervisors that students have the nerve to keep attending class when there’s credit app goals to make.

Through December, you try to keep the lines moving and keep on the retail smile, while being well aware that you may not even see family since you have to work Christmas Eve, and the day after Christmas too. It is very common for those who I worked with in retail to become resigned to not going home to see their families during Christmas, because they were required to work shifts nearly every day through New Year’s Eve. Finals may be over, but you can’t take off. You would think that’s what seasonal hires are for, but we all have to pay the bills, sadly corporations are preoccupied with sales goals, not the last time you saw your siblings.

This holiday season, if you have never worked in retail, please be kind to other students you see at the checkout counters, or up to their chins in joggers and trainers that shoppers left in piles. They probably have finals to prepare for, on top of cleaning the fitting rooms, remembering the coupons you forgot to bring and adding up all of your gift receipts, and they could probably use some coffee. Give them some grace- they are just trying to do their job as well as pass their classes. And for crying out loud, quit leaving your piles of jeans and bras in the fitting room for them to clean up. I’m not sure why you think they welcome the chance to sort out your mess.

If you do work in retail while getting through school, you have my respect. You’re doing great. It’ll be OK- try to get at least six hours of sleep. Remember that it won’t always be like this- you will find something better, don’t be afraid to lean on someone for help, even a co-worker. The one good thing about working during the holidays is that we all understand the pain, and hopefully your team will all want to keep each other going long into the night.

Soon January will hit, the seasonals will go, and hours will get cut. But you’ll be able to say you got through it all, even with the help of breakroom coffee, ramen, and only occasional dressing room naps. Here’s hoping that next year, you’ll spend the holidays as far away from the mall as possible.

Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @theorion_news.