“It won’t be long, and things will change.”

I remember some of the senior produce clerks saying that about this time of year. During the holidays, it seemed like a part-timer could practically write his or her own schedule, and work as many hours as possible. 

However, retail being retail, things do change. 

There’s a reason that about 70% of grocery store clerks are classified as part-time workers. It’s so that when a store needs to flex its labor muscle, clerks get summoned to meet increased business. 

“All hands on deck,” as one store manager liked to put it.

Later, when the festivities wind down, and the post-holiday lull sets in, so too dips the amount of hours scheduled. I heard it all the time while visiting stores: “My hours are cut to the quick. What can I do?”

I had no easy answer. Other than to advise the part-time clerk to make themselves valuable.

As in, are you capable of working every produce shift? If a clerk can be counted on to not only close up shop, but to open up the produce stand as well, it makes a difference. 

I’d advise them to learn how to set up the wet rack, handling other opening duties while the hours are plentiful, so when things get tight, then they have the skills to fill in, should the opportunity arise.

Also, I’d ask: Can you write an order? Can you cover price changes? How are your display-building abilities? Each of these tasks are less common for the average produce clerk. So again, if they’re capable of handling a bit more, then they’ll likely be scheduled for additional hours.

I can’t help but recall clerks that I tried to call to fill a shift on short notice because of a sick call — only to hear every excuse in the book why they couldn’t help out. 

“I’m getting snow tires today.” “I have tickets to the big game.” “This is the day I change the odor-eaters in my sneakers.” 

OK, so I made that last one up. But suffice it to say, I encourage clerks to be flexible, and when work calls — go in! When they don’t, those hours go to the next clerk, who the boss will likely call first the next time there’s a need.

Above all, I advise produce clerks to hustle and do a good job at all times — whether in their own store or if called upon to fill in at a sister location. 

Keep a good attitude, and always try to do a little more than asked.

If so, you’ll rarely have trouble filling in any gaps in the schedule.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

 

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