Reminisce of Employment at an Amazon Warehouse

In the Spring of 2016, I began work as a full-time employee with benefits at a brand new Amazon.com warehouse. At Amazon, I was assigned to the Inventory Count Quality Assurance Department (ICQA), standing by myself at a workstation while robots brought pods—which were six and a half feet tall, filled with numerous small, rectangular bins, each containing a variety of  Amazon products. Directed by a computer, I took items from a particular bin, counted them, entered the count into a handheld device and put the items back. Then I repeated the process for an entire day, an endless stream of robots carrying pods travelling past my workstation. It was repetitive and could get dreadfully mind-numbing and physically exhausting. Nonetheless my accuracy in counting the correct numbers in each bin allowed me to obtain metrics substantially above the minimum threshold set by management. Moreover, working by myself at a workstation—with an occasional visit by a manager—was something that suited my loner personality just fine. After a few months, I made the decision to quit the Amazon gig and return full time to a former employer—in hindsight probably not the wisest decision.

In July 2017, I was ready for a change of scenery: I left that employer and returned to the same Amazon warehouse, again as a full-time employee with benefits. I thought—incorrectly it turned out—that I’d obtain the same level of comfort and success as I did during my 2016 tenure. I was assigned to the most difficult department in the warehouse: order picking. In this warehouse, as with ICQA labor, the order picker stands at a workstation while robots stream by with pods containing many small rectangular bins filled with the wonderous array of items sold by Amazon. A computer directs the picker to pick an item in a particular bin on the pod, the picker puts the item in an adjacent tote, and–after appropriate scanning is performed on barcodes on the item and near the tote–the picker punches something on the hand held and the computer moves onto the next pick. Once the tote is filled with an appropriate amount of picked items, the picker sends it down one of roughly five gateways to a conveyor belt system spanning the entire warehouse.

At the outset, we new pickers were informed that we were expected to reach a pick rate of 1 pick per 8.2 seconds over the course of a six-week learning curve. Failure to reach milestones towards the rate over the six weeks would result in a first written warning, a second written warning, a final warning and then termination.

The work was even more physically grueling than during my 2016 tenure. My muscles were dreadfully sore at the end of each day and it was not uncommon for me to find myself dragging during the labor; sometimes I grew slightly delirious, uttering a great deal of profanity under my breath. For a substantial period, my pick rate hovered in the 14.5 to 17 second range. I quickly received my first and second written warnings and in consequence received frequent visits from my manager as well as co-workers who had the job of peer mentor as a result of their own superior order picking skill. These persons would watch me pick, offer tips for improvement and sometimes pick themselves for five minutes at my workstation to demonstrate superior technique while I watched.

Gradually my rate improved to twelve, eleven and ten seconds per pick. Toward the end of my tenure, I even spent parts of days working in the 9.5 to 9.1 second range. Sometimes the computer ordered one to pick multiple of the same item in a bin.  Getting a multiple pick order did wonders for one’s rate. I remember late one morning when my computer kept popping up with an endless stream of orders of six, seven, eight or nine for a highly unusual item: a penis ring! That day was one of the instances where my rate skyrocketed up to 1 pick per 9.1 seconds.

However much my rate improved, the work remained dreadfully hard. Gradually, with repetition, one obtained familiarity with the outward packaging of particular items and thus could grab them on sight without having to waste time rummaging through all the items in a bin while trying to read their labels.  However, it was often tough to maneuver boxes containing heavy items in and out of bins and into totes. Sometimes it was difficult to find the appropriate barcode on the item to scan. Covering each of the bins were two thin straps to keep the items from falling out. Reaching between, above or below the straps and frequently physically exhausted, I did not always possess the level of strength and manual dexterity required to retrieve the items within the bins in a speedy manner. I frequently found it difficult as I attempted to quickly rummage through the over-stuffed bins to not accidently cause one or more items to fall out of the bins onto the “robot floor” in front of my workstation. It was forbidden for us to attempt to pick up anything from the robot floor because of safety concerns—doing so could result in termination. In such situations, we were required to push an alert on our computer screen which summoned a co-worker wearing an orange vest from a department called “Amnesty” These co-workers would then pick up the fallen items on the robot floor. Late in one work shift, a department manager arrived at my workstation as I was picking to inform me that I was “in the top ten” among the warehouse’s associates in terms of the number of items I caused to be dropped onto the robot floor. This manager proceeded to watch me pick for several minutes to see how I removed items from the bins and the best advice he came up with was that I should reach between the straps to pick items within the bins instead of reaching above or below them. The advice was not particularly helpful—attempting to quickly rummage through so many items stuffed into a small bin made it particularly easy—at least in my case—for items to fall out.

We were worked very strenuously. Along with a half hour lunch, we were granted two fifteen minute breaks—but the time for those events always began when we clocked out of our workstation meaning that the frequently lengthy walks to and from the breakroom were included in the break times and lunch times.  We were supposed to remain signed into our workstations even if we needed to leave them to use the restroom or had to stop working because a manager stopped by to chat. That meant that the time you spent walking to the bathroom, doing your business and then returning to the workstation counted against you—your pick rate decreased all time you were away. Similarly your rate plunged when a manager stopped by to offer a critique of your work—or in one case, on my last day in the position,  a manager from another department stopped by to chat about issues among order pickers with which his department might be able to help. While he discoursed for fifteen minutes about his vision for inter-departmental cooperation within the warehouse, my rate plunged and it could not be improved for the rest of the day.

I didn’t finish a full shift that day—about an hour after lunch, my manager—I’ll call him Jackson—arrived at my workstation and said to me: “sign out and lets take a walk to HR.” Having earned a final warning, for several weeks I’d been expecting to be terminated but nonetheless was a little shocked—I’d recently won a prize for showing significant improvement in my pick rate during the last quarter of my shift compared to the last quarter of my shift the same day a week earlier. Seeing me sigh with disappointment, he gave me a stern look and motioned me to follow. I knew what our trip to HR would be about—I would be fired—but not once in our walk to the HR office did he refer to my impending termination. Instead, he tried to sound cheerful and made small talk about what plans I had for the weekend and discoursed about his own plans.

Once we sat at a desk in front of an HR official—who looked very tensely at me as if she expected me to utter abrasive remarks or perhaps do something violent—he announced that I’d been fired for failure to reach the pick rate of 1 per 8.2 seconds. He started to say that I’d be allowed to work again at the warehouse as a temp in a few months but the HR lady interrupted to say that I’d be allowed back as a temp in a year. I was asked if I had any remarks to make and I replied no. Jackson escorted me to a time clock so I could clock out, then through the security gates by the front door. He wished me well and turned around back into the building with the satisfied and relieved look of someone who’d just successfully completed an unpleasant task.

I’m not a fan of Amazon.com. Its CEO is the richest man in the world while many of its temp workers are eligible for food stamps and other welfare services. It’s in a prime position to exploit the large number of  low wage, under-employed workforce in this country, which is probably why it was so easy to fire me.  It’s a leader in tax avoidance and threatens withdrawal of its jobs to municipalities which try to make it pay its fair share—for example in Seattle where it successfully terrorized the city council to overturn a recently passed “head tax” to fund homeless services.

In some instances its power to bully local governments may be less potent than it seems: after all the company did announce plans in late 2019 to establish office space for 1500 workers in Queens—albeit with a fraction of the jobs it previously planned–even after state and local government officials had  successfully quashed the massive tax giveaway to the company offered by New York City mayor Bill De Blasio and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. If the company decided to move operations out of Seattle in protest of tax increases, the costs of moving might be prohibitive—after all one reason for the company being in Seattle is that the city and its surrounding municipalities house the knowledge workers upon whom the company crucially depends. The costs would be prohibitive to try to pay for those workers to be moved and rehoused in some other region.

After my involuntary termination at Amazon, I subsequently obtained warehouse jobs that I found to be much worse. I came to miss Amazon: my job had been straightforward, if incredibly difficult; communication with management was relatively easy and plenty of opportunities existed to receive training at aspects of order picking with which I had trouble. Compared to the many chaotic workplaces at which I’ve worked, the efficiency of the Amazon warehouse was admirable. Clearly defined structure in terms of policies and procedures is always something that I cherish in a workplace.

I’m an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome: Here are some Highlights of my Recent Experience in the Job Market

In December 2017–two weeks before my 39th birthday–I was compelled to have double bypass surgery on my heart and had to lay low for several months. In March 2018, seeking a route back into the workforce, I enrolled in an office skills training and job placement program offered to persons’ with disabilities. This program is offered by a non-profit manufacturing company which also offers a much larger course training disabled persons–who are paid minimum wage–in different aspects of manufacturing machine parts for the transportation industry.

For my first several months in the program, I attended an office skills class, which offered training in Microsoft Office and customer service skills. I completed my training in Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook with flying colors; I earned a certificate–not a certification–from the company in each program. Obtaining these certificates was absurdly easy, especially when compared with my own unsuccessful effort to obtain Excel certification from the official Microsoft Office certification program. Employers appeared to regard these certificates as almost worthless when compared to Microsoft’s official certifications.The certificates might have been more valuable in advertising myself to employers if I’d had even a modicum of previous white collar work experience.

The certificates also might have been of more value to me had I been placed in an office job soon after completing the program. I’d have been able to retain the knowledge I’d acquired of Microsoft Office programs by putting them to use in a real life job. However my vocational counselor with the company–lets call him Jonathan–believed that my acquisition of a job requiring the use of Microsoft Office was unlikely given my near total lack of previous white collar work experience and not lengthy work history in general. Jonathan decided that I’d work part time for minimum wage at the company’s front desk under the mentorship of the company’s receptionist–lets call her Nicole. This job would involve no use of Microsoft Office.

On my second day with Nicole, as she discoursed about the various tasks I’d be expected to perform, I was overwhelmed by something like a nervous breakdown. Verbal communication was ( and is) one of my major weaknesses. The prospect of being compelled to learn all the proper protocols for dealing with different types of callers and visitors and then verbally communicating those policies seemed like an unbelievable nightmare. In particular, I thought that my learning disabilities would make acquiring the proper knowledge a very rocky process.

I was called to a meeting with Jonathan while in the midst of this mental suffering. I unsuccessfully tried to maintain my composure and hold back tears. Jonathan, noticing my discomposure, attempted to subtly advise me about it. He knew that I’d been to the emergency room two days earlier complaining of chest pains; he argued that these pains were anxiety and not heart related. “You had heart surgery five months ago ; You’re cured! I suggest you look into getting counseling for the anxiety.” It soon turned out that a nearly total blockage in one of my coronary artery had returned, a highly unusual circumstance so soon after surgery. Later that month, I had a stent placed in the artery.

I was actually very grateful to have the stent placed because it gave me an excuse to take a few days off work. My first weeks with Nicole were a nightmare. Intense anxiety burned inside me, exacerbated by Nicole’s exceedingly stern manner. One of Nicole’s previous trainees wrote in a Google review of employment at the company that working under her was not advisable unless one desired to be treated like a five year old–an apt description of how I felt treated. Nicole’s intent was perhaps well intentioned; it was her belief that her trainees had to be put through a sort of boot camp in preparation for becoming efficient and reliable employees for future employers. Clearly, another part of her mindset was stress; she later apologized to me and indicated she was feeling excessively burdened by the need to train me during the morning in addition to the young autistic man she trained in the afternoon. This stress perhaps contributed to her sometimes abrasive manner.

I received my first review from Nicole a month and a half after I started. She stated that though I was a quiet individual who had little to say my demeanor was calm and pleasant. She also said that I clearly lacked self-confidence and needed to improve my communication skills.

Reading this report, Johnathan, my job counselor, endeavored to advise me about ways to improve my self-confidence. He directed me to work on assuming a persona that was extremely assertive and fully confident in my abilities, regardless of any mistakes I might make. At the time, I felt this was a nearly impossible task but said I would try. Curiously, he then attempted to connect the subject of self-confidence with porn addiction. The latter was apparently on his mind because he’d been counseling gentlemen struggling with that problem as a volunteer counselor at his church. Porn addiction, at least in the way he discussed it, seemed extremely remote from any subject relevant to my struggles. I was full of my usual anxiety but as he solemnly discoursed about this peculiar subject, I couldn’t help but temporarily turn into Beavis & Butthead. I was unable to suppress a smirk and a very slight giggle. It seemed absurd that he was speaking of porn addiction when he was supposed to be addressing my self-confidence issues.

At our next meeting several days later, he said to me “You know sometimes I’m not sure that all my advice registers with you.” I replied that everything he said registered with me; the constant, typically autistic “flat” expression on my face perhaps gave him the incorrect impression that I wasn’t properly understanding his wisdom. He seemed impressed with my use of the word “flat” and in the future would use it in several instances to refer to the unimpressive initial impression I might give job interviewers.

Those first three months with Nicole supervising my front desk training were very stressful. I remember one incident about a month into my tenure. One of my tasks at the end of my duty of picking up and dropping off mail throughout the building was to place a set of papers at the bottom of a pile of other papers in a wire basket. Placing the papers at the bottom of the pile ensured that paperwork related to orders for the company’s manufacturing products would be processed in appropriate sequence by order date. In this instance I fumbled with the stack to be put in and the stack already in the basket. Many of the papers were encased in slippery plastic covers and I ended up dropping some on the floor and getting the two different piles mixed up. I greatly worried that I’d messed up the paperwork and that this would cause serious problems for the company. The man responsible for this paperwork sat half a foot way looking benignly in my direction–he was a deaf mute and legally blind. In my anxiety, I didn’t feel I had the emotional strength to try to communicate with him so as to try to address the problem–and I feared getting my head bitten off if I brought it up with Nicole. So I said nothing. In addition, during that day, I made several mistakes in the organizing of different sets of invoices, packing lists and shipping documents. I’d recognized my mistakes earlier but was scared to bring it up–but did so at the very end of my shift. Nicole started to make an exasperated gesture, frowned and then said with the first real glimpse of humanity I’d seen in her: “It’s ok. You’re still learning. Don’t worry; tomorrow will be better.” I still worried that I’d be caught for my mistake in messing up the piles of papers–I worried about getting fired and, subsequent to that, being subjected to sensory overload from the fallout of such a termination.That evening I experienced the most serious mental health strain of my tenure at the company.

At the end, my mess-up of the papers proved to be no issue; I later learned that it didn’t matter if the papers were placed out of order. The following day, Nicole endeavored for the first time to make small talk with me; she asked about my favorite TV shows and discoursed a great deal about her own. Through the strain of my nerves, I did my best to converse with her.

From this point on, Nicole seemed to become less unapproachable though she still maintained a somewhat gruff disposition. There were instances where she indicated dissatisfaction with the speed in with which I learned my job tasks. I remember one incident where she called down to me from a second floor halfway which opened upon the first floor lobby and reception desk (where I was). I looked up and scanned the railing of the hallway but did not spot her for about four seconds. During those four seconds, she continued to guide my wandering eyes to the spot where she was leaning over the railing; as my eyes finally spotted her, she was rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

Things began to get better when I reached the end of my 11 week training period in the position. Surprisingly, the company allowed me to continue working in the position–at part time for minimum wage–while one of the company’s “job developers” worked to help find me a full time, permanent job. The work environment may have gotten better because of an increase in my anti-depressant dosage: over the course of a month I went from 75mg of Effexor to 150 mg and finally to 225mg (where I’m today). My symptoms of depression and psychomotor retardation declined significantly while I started to acquire more energy and self-confidence. I started to get the tasks and procedures of the job down to the point where Nicole told me she trusted me to perform the front desk duties by myself for as long as two hours. My performance was particularly impressive when I was tasked with assisting Nicole on the registration and provision of paperwork to a group of about 60 persons participating in registration for the company’s training programs for disabled persons. I believe the latter incident encouraged Nicole to nominate me for the company’s “Worker of the Month’ award given to participants in the company’s training programs. I was nominated along with two other persons–and I won!!!!!

My gaining of this award took place in mid-October 2018; this was in the midst of a golden era of my employment at the company. Nicole no longer bit my head off, I was full of confidence and no longer afflicted by terrible anxiety. My overall employment situation seemed stable, although I knew that the company would eventually replace me when another office skills training program “participant” was determined by Jonathan and the company’s other vocational counselor to be a suitable prospect for front desk training. But the likelihood of another such participant being found was unlikely.

Meanwhile, the company was supposed to help me find a full time, permanent job. To this end, I was assigned a “job developer.” Lets call her Janice. Janice would help me look for jobs in the front desk field. When introducing her to me, Jonathan, my vocational counselor, asked her if she could use her connections with local employers to grease the wheels a little for me to get jobs in that field. Jonathan explained that I was a personable and pleasant person–however these qualities did not necessarily come out in job interviews where my facial expression might seem flat and I might seem less charming than I really am. Thus, if I were to acquire a front desk job, I’d need to acquire it through processes outside the normal job application procedure. Janice replied that she had connections among employers in the community with whom she could grease wheels and that we would get started.

I continued to work part time as a front desk worker for the company while receiving job development services from Janice. These services were not much. The contract the company signed with my state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) called for my job developer (Janice) to find me a full time job with benefits. Initially, Janice instead offered to arrange an interview for several positions that were part time and lacking in benefits. As there was no guarantee that these jobs would evolve into full time, permanent work, I rejected them. It become clear that she wanted me to accept the job that was easiest for her to procure, so her company could be rewarded with a payment from the state DVR. In one case I remember her indulging in a burst of high pressure salesmanship as she urged me to take a part time “on call” job with a federal government contractor–this job had the possibility of turning into a full time job with benefits when one of my prospective co-workers left the company, whenever that might be. As there was no guarantee the opportunity would evolve into full time work, I rejected it.

Janice did construct a resume for me as well as a cover letter sample to use in job applications–unfortunately she appeared not to be a believer in proof-reading as the resume and cover letter had many noticeable grammar errors–as did an online job application she prepared for me. Perhaps she thought I’d proof-read them myself before I submitted them to employers. In her e-mails, she also showed a hostility to punctuation with many of her messages consisting of a single run-on sentence.

In any case, I submitted 60 or 70 applications for front desk work over the next five months. I spent endless hours pouring over job listings on Indeed.com. I was granted six interviews during this time period. Only one of these interviews was secured through string pulling by Janice–the rest were obtained by me submitting applications on my own, independent of her–though the resume and cover letter always contained her handiwork. Janice clearly had no special trick to obtain employment for me. I was unable to a obtain a job offer after any of these interviews for no doubt a combination of reasons, including inadequate experience and poor responses to the interview questions.

There was a lengthy period where Janice seemed to lose interest in me and concentrated instead on her other clients– those for whom she was more likely to land a job and thus allow her employer to be paid by the state DVR. Doubtless she was also overwhelmed with work in general for her many clients. In several instances, my step-mother–with my reluctant acquiescence–intervened to request that Janice focus greater attention on me. I eventually received helpful advice from Janice on answering interview questions and even more helpful advice in that same realm from one of her supervisors.

Eventually, my one year anniversary with the company approached and company policy was that disabled clients should not receive training or employment for more than a year. I received an inkling that I was to be let go late one Friday. Over the subsequent week-end, I coincidentally ran empty on my last refill of Effexor; the pharmacy experienced a delay in obtaining a new prescription. Thus that week-end, I went through the awful process of anti-depressant withdrawals: jittery, shivering with cold, wracked by brain zaps and emotional anguish alternating with feelings of euphoria. That Monday morning, after virtually no sleep, I received confirmation that I was indeed no longer employed by the company; still experiencing dreadful withdrawal symptoms, I stammered out the news to Nicole. It appeared she had no forewarning that my time at the company had come to an end. In a highly agitated state, I briefly said the appropriate words (e.g. “I enjoyed working for you”); she answered “ok” to all my statements and then I was off into the next chapter of my life–I received a bottle from my new Effexor prescription that afternoon and the withdrawal symptoms ended.

That night, I wrote Nicole an e-mail of thanks for her training of me and elaborated a bit on skills I’d learned from her. I also requested from her a letter of reference. I received no response to this letter as I also did not about ten days later when I sent one requesting that she merely agree to be an employment reference for me. It is perhaps understandable why she didn’t respond; my performance during my last two months on the job slackened as I felt the strain of Janice’s inability to help me procure employment as well as the general uncertainty of my employment situation.

Janice did come through several months later while I was unemployed and a client of another DVR employment vendor. She e-mailed me about a temp-to-hire position with a leading religious organization in my area. I accepted this job, which ended up being perhaps the most pleasant employment experience of my life–not that it didn’t present me with the usual autism related challenges. My co-workers were fervently religious but pleasant people. At the beginning, my supervisor stated that I’d be hired full time and permanently after 90 days if everything went well. However I was eventually informed that due to unforeseen circumstances, my labor would not be needed long-term. At the end of my tenure, my supervisor offered me some polite baloney to the effect that, at the beginning of the next fiscal year in one month’s time, his department would fight for full time funding for the position which I was vacating. He said he hoped I might return to the position if funding was procured; that I fit in well with the company; that everyone liked me, and that I should regularly check the company’s employment listings for future opportunities.

In any case, the company’s job listings have been scant with opportunities since I left and I’ve received no invite to come back and take my old position. Also, permanent employment with the company requires the presentation of evidence that one is a practicing Christian. A baptized Catholic, I’ve never truly been possessed of religious faith in my entire life, though I’ve sometimes resorted to prayer during stressful times. I’m no member of any church because I simply don’t have the faith.

As I’ve detailed in other posts on my blog, my employment history since I left this religious employer at the end of August 2019 has been full of little but stress and at times pure hell. It has been a god-send to have been on a paid furlough from my current employer since March 10th because of the Coronavirus. As the furlough becomes longer however, the chances of being laid off increase…..

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Reminisce of a Past Job Experience/Office Skills Training (Part 2)

Those first three months with Nicole supervising my front desk training were very stressful. I was in a constant state of anxiety, which increased my proneness to mistakes.

I remember one incident about a month into my tenure. One of my tasks at the end of my duty of picking up and dropping off mail throughout the building was to place a set of papers at the bottom of a pile of other papers in a wire basket. Placing the papers at the bottom of the pile ensured that paperwork related to orders for the company’s manufacturing products would be processed in appropriate sequence by order date. In this instance I fumbled with the stack to be put in and the stack already in the basket. Many of the papers were encased in slippery plastic covers and I ended up dropping some on the floor and getting the two different piles mixed up. I greatly worried that I’d messed up the paperwork and that this would cause serious problems for the company. The man responsible for this paperwork sat half a foot way looking benignly in my direction–he was (and is) a deaf mute and legally blind. In my anxiety, I didn’t feel I had the emotional strength to try to communicate with him so as to try to address the problem–and I feared getting my head bitten off if I brought up the problem with Nicole. So I said nothing. In addition, during that day, I made several mistakes in the organizing of different sets of invoices, packing lists and shipping documents. I’d recognized my mistake earlier but was scared to bring it up–but I did so at the very end of my shift. Nicole start to make an exasperated gesture, frowned and then said with the first real glimpse of humanity I’d seen in her: “It’s ok. You’re still learning. Don’t worry; tomorrow will be better.” I still worried that I’d be caught for my mistake in messing up the piles of papers of the deaf mute blind co-worker. I worried about getting fired and, subsequent to that, being subjected to sensory overload by angry, rambling lectures about my indiscretions from my step-mother. That evening I experienced the most serious mental health strain of my tenure at the company. At the end, my mess-up of the papers proved to be no issue; I later learned that it did not matter if the papers were placed out of order. The following day, Nicole endeavored for the first time to make small talk with me; she asked about my favorite TV shows and discoursed a great deal about her own. Through the strain of my nerves, I did my best to converse with her.

From this point on, Nicole seemed to become less unapproachable though she still maintained a somewhat gruff disposition. There were instances where she indicated dissatisfaction with the speed in with which I learned my job tasks. I remember one incident where she called down to me from a second floor halfway which opened upon the first floor lobby and reception desk (where I was). I looked up and scanned the railing of the hallway but did not spot her for about four seconds. During those four seconds, she continued to guide my wandering eyes to the spot where she was leaning over the railing; as my eyes finally spotted her, I saw her rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

Things began to get better when I reached the end of my 11 week training period in the position. Surprisingly, they allowed me to continue working in the position–at part time for minimum wage–while one of the company’s “job developers” worked to help find me a full time, permanent job. The work environment may have gotten better because of an increase in my anti-depressant dosage: over the course of a month I went from 75mg of Effexor to 150 mg and finally to 225mg (where I’m today). My symptoms of depression and psychomotor retardation declined significantly while I started to acquire more energy and self-confidence. My performance improved significantly; I started to get the tasks and procedures of the job down to the point where Nicole told me that she trusted me to perform the front desk duties by myself for as long as two hours. My performance was particularly impressive when I was tasked with assisting Nicole on the registration and provision of paperwork to a group of about 60 persons participating in registration for the company’s training program for disabled persons–of which I was then a client. I believe the latter incident encouraged Nicole to nominate me for the company’s “Worker of the Month’ award given to participants in the company’s training program. I was nominated along with two other person–and I won!!!!! My gaining of this award took place in mid-October 2018; this was in the middle of a golden era of my employment at the company. Nicole no longer bit my head off, I was full of confidence and no longer afflicted by terrible anxiety. My overall employment situation seemed stable, although I knew that the company would eventually replace me when another office skill training program “participant” was thought to be a suitable prospect for front desk training. But the likelihood of another such trainee being found was unlikely.

Meanwhile, the company was supposed to help me find a full time, permanent job. To this end, I was assigned a “job developer.” Lets call her Janice. Janice would help me look for jobs in the front desk field. When introducing her to me, Jonathan, my vocational counselor, asked her if she could use her connections to grease the wheels a little for me to get jobs in that field. Jonathan explained that I was a personable and pleasant person–however these qualities did not necessarily come out in job interviews where my facial expression might seem flat and I might seem less charming than I really am. Thus, if I were to acquire a front desk job, I’d need to acquire it through processes outside the normal job application procedure. Janice said that she had connections among employers in the community with whom she could grease wheels and that we would get started.

I continued to work part time as a front desk worker at the company while receiving job development services from Janice. These services were not much. The contract the company signed with my state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) called for my job developer (Janice) to find me a full time job with benefits. Initially, Janice instead offered to arrange an interview for several positions that were part time but lacking in benefits. As there was no guarantee that these jobs would evolve into full time, permanent work. I rejected them.It become clear that she wanted me to accept the job that was easiest for her to procure, so her company could be rewarded with a payment from the state DVR. In one case I remember her indulging in a burst of high pressure salesmanship as she urged me to take a part time “on call” job with a federal government contractor–this job had the possibility of turning into a full time job with benefits when one of my prospective co-workers left the company, whenever that might be. As there was no guarantee the opportunity would evolve into full time work, I rejected it.

Janice did construct a resume for me as well as a cover letter sample to use in job applications–unfortunately she appeared not to a believer in proof-reading as the resume and cover letter had many noticeable grammar errors–as did an online application she prepared for me. Perhaps she thought I would proof-read them myself before I submitted them to employers. In her e-mails, she also showed a hostility to punctuation with many of her messages being simply a single run-on sentence.

In any case, I submitted 60 or 70 applications for front desk work over the next five months. I spent endless hours pouring over job listings on Indeed.com. I was granted six interviews during this time period. Only one of these interviews was secured through any string pulling by Janice–the rest were obtained by me submitting applications on my own, independent of her–though the resume and cover letter contained much of her handiwork. Janice clearly had no special trick to obtain employment for me. I was unable to a obtain a job offer after any of these interviews for no doubt a combination of many reasons, including inadequate experience and poor responses to the interview questions.

There was a lengthy period where Janice seemed to lose interest in me and concentrated instead on her other clients– those for whom she was more likely to land a job and thus allow her employer to be paid by the state DVR. Doubtless she was also overwhelmed with work in general for her many clients–her behavior fits into other unhappy experiences I’ve had with DVR employment vendors, detailed in my first blog post. In several instances, my step-mother–with my reluctant acquiescence–intervened to request Janice focus greater attention on me. I eventually received helpful interview instruction from Janice and even more helpful advice in that same realm from one of her supervisors.

Eventually, my one year anniversary with the company approached–my tenure had featured two months in an office skills class and ten months as a part time employee at the front desk–and company policy was that disabled clients should not receive training or employment for more than a year. I received an inkling that I was to be let go late one Friday. Over the subsequent week-end, I coincidentally ran empty on my last refill of Effexor; the pharmacy experienced a delay in obtaining a new prescription. Thus that week-end, I went through the awful process of anti-depressant withdrawals. I was shivering with cold, and wracked by brain zaps and emotional anguish alternating with feelings of euphoria. That Monday morning, after virtually no sleep, I received confirmation that I was indeed no longer employed by the company; still experiencing dreadful withdrawal symptoms I must have seemed even odder than usual as I stammered out the news to Nicole that same day that I was no longer working for the company. It appeared she had no idea that my time had ended. In my highly agitated state, I said briefly the appropriate words (e.g. “I enjoyed working for you”); she answered “ok” to all my statements and then I was off into the next chapter in my life–I received a bottle for my new Effexor prescription that afternoon and the withdrawal symptoms ended.

That night, I wrote Nicole an e-mail of thanks for her training of me and elaborated a bit on skills I’d learned from her. I also requested from her a letter of reference. I received no response to this letter as I also did not about ten days later when I sent one requesting that she merely agree to be an employment reference for me. It is perhaps understandable why she didn’t respond; my performance during my last two months on the job slackened as I felt the strain of Janice’s inability to help me procure employment as well as the general uncertainty of my employment situation.

Janice did come through several months later when I was a client of another DVR employment vendor. She e-mailed me about a temp-to-hire position with a leading religious organization in my area. I accepted this job, which ended up being perhaps the most pleasant employment experience of my life–not that it did not present me with the usual autism related challenges. My co-workers were fervently religious but pleasant people. At the beginning, my supervisor stated that I would be hired full time and permanently after 90 days if everything went well. However I was eventually informed that due to unforeseen circumstances, my labor would not be needed long-term. At the end of my tenure, my supervisor offered me some polite baloney to the effect that, at the beginning of the next fiscal year in one month’s time, his department would fight for full time funding for the position which I was vacating. He said that he hoped I might return to the position if funding was procured; that I fit in well with the company; that everyone liked me, and that I should regularly check the company’s employment listings for future opportunities.

In any case, the company’s job listings have been scant with opportunities since I left and I’ve received no invite to come back and take my old position. Also, permanent employment with the company requires the presentation of evidence that one is a practicing Christian. A baptized Catholic, I’ve never truly been possessed of religious faith my entire life, though I’ve sometimes resorted to prayer during stressful times. I’m no member of any church because I simply don’t have the faith.

My employment history since I left this religious employer at the end of August 2019 has been full of little but stress and at times pure hell.

Some Thoughts on my Stims

As an Autistic person and one with ADHD, I stim in some of the following ways: hand flapping (in my case more of a fierce hand shaking), eating and smelling the tips of my fingers. I never find myself doing these except when I’m by myself.

Another stim relates to what would seem to be my ADHD. It is often hard for me to sit still when I’m writing on a computer and it is not uncommon for the writing process to be interrupted innumerable times by me getting up from my chair and pacing around. I remember doing so constantly when I composed papers during my grad school years.

Eating has probably been my most harmful stim. I don’t particularly remember it being much of a stim until after I began taking anti-depressants in February 2001 (at age 22). I’ve been on anti-depressants since then and have never been able to shake insane cravings for cheap carbohydrates (particularly bread), sodium, products with artificial sweeteners and so on. This in spite of the fact that the anti-depressants, at least in the high doses which I’ve been prescribed, are supposed to supply one with serotonin levels adequate enough to calm the appetite. I particularly like to eat in front of my computer while I scan various articles on politics, history and other subjects which interest me. When I read on the computer, sometimes I feel it impossible not to eat. My overeating caused me to balloon to 260 pounds in the Spring of 2017. In December of that year (when I was down to 228 pounds) and two weeks before my 39th birthday, I was compelled to have double bypass surgery on my heart. I’m around 200 pounds at this point; I reached as low as 177 pounds in September 2018. It’s not impossible that the anti-depressants have some link to my over-eating but sleep apnea is also probably also a factor.

Another of my quirks that may be a stim or might better be classified as something else is that anxiety sometimes compels me to blurt out words which relate to my anxious thoughts or simply emit groans or howls of stress. Since this habit dramatically increased its intensity four or five years ago,I’ve managed to prevent myself from performing this verbalization in the presence of others. That this intensity has increased in recent years is perhaps rooted in the traumatic changes my life has undergone, my continuing inability to achieve any substantial financial independence, frustration with the control that certain family members exercise over my life and the increasing evidence as time goes on of how deep my impairments are for functioning in this world. My nervous habits seemed to become particularly acute with the dreadful depression that overtook me in February 2016. This depression centered around my history of lack of intimate involvement with the opposite sex but soon morphed into a general feeling that my life had been wasted. For much of the time, my mind was a reel playing back to me on a never ending loop and in extraordinarily vivid detail seemingly every regrettable thing I’d ever done in my life. This depression eventually moderated; fish oil seemingly did trick. But the episode seemed to be the launch of a heightened state of mental anxiety, which persists till this day. Often, I still get painful flashes of memory featuring any embarrassing social situation that has ever occurred over the course of my life as well as current issues I face which cause me frustration and anger. These memories come on like a sharp bolt of psychological pain and when I’m with others–as at work–I sometimes cannot resist twitching my face in anguish or shaking my head in disgust. When I’m by myself it is not uncommon for me to blurt out words or emit intense howls of anxiety .

Status Update on My Coronavirus Social Distancing

Since March 10th, I’ve been on paid leave from my place of employment because of the Coronavirus. This leave was originally scheduled to end on March 26th but yesterday was extended to April 7th.

Meanwhile, the stress level of my life has temporarily been greatly reduced. My father and stepmother are in Arizona. I’m all alone with peace and quiet. As readers of my previous posts know, the social stress and difficulties in performing the labor at my job present an enormous source of stress in my life. I’ve greatly appreciated the time available for me to get caught up on reading and simply spend stretches of time doing nothing except engaging in calm contemplation, free from sensory overload at the hands of hustling and bustling neurotypicals. The last 6 to 8 months have provided me little time for calm contemplation. This vacation has been so marvelous that I’m fearful that the impact on my psychological state when it ends will be very harsh.

I Hate Working with other People

I hate working with other people, especially in matters of physical labor. In activities involving manual dexterity, I learn slower, sometimes much slower, than other people. It is difficult to embed the process involved within my muscle memory. My preferred learning style in such situations is a solitary trial and error process. I prefer to learn on my own because it is frequently not easy for me to comprehend verbal instruction from other people. Even when I understand verbal instruction regarding the performance of a physical task, my ability to translate the understanding into performance is sometimes difficult. 

When carrying heavy objects, I’m frequently clumsy. For me, there is nothing much worse than trying to maneuver a heavy, bulky object through a narrow passage or trying to place that object in a small space filled with other objects that obstruct its full placement in the space. It is especially bad when other people are viewing my efforts and attempt to offer me instruction in the proper physical techniques of placing the object or even offer physical assistance in the placement. Allistic persons in the same circumstances also might be offered physical assistance or even instructed in the proper carrying techniques. But I’m very touchy about my slow learning ability, clumsiness and poor muscle tone; I feel defensive when other people try to help me although my response on the surface is never hostile. Moreover, I know that their instruction is frequently unlikely to cause me to begin performing the manual dexterity task at a solid level. 

The object I’m attempting to maneuver does not have to be particularly heavy to cause me difficulty. Today, at work, a co-worker twice discerned a need to instruct me in the placing of a tablecloth on a round table. In placing the linen, he demonstrated a technique that was smooth and flawless: I felt no capacity to imitate it. At one point, the shift manager caught sight of my work and declared “looking good, he’s looking good.” Perhaps, the manager believed this co-worker was nit-picking or that, knowing my disabilities, the work that I’d done was good enough–such are the sort of thoughts that bother me at work. 

A very short time later, the same co-worker offered more corrective instruction as I completed the placement of ten chairs around a round table. He stated that I’d placed the chairs a little too far under the table-cloth covered table but that otherwise the presentation of the chairs around the table was close to perfect. My nerves were heightened by this incident because standing nearby was a co-worker I’ve referred to in other posts as Marcus. Aware of my disability, this young man went through a period several weeks ago of addressing me in passive aggressive and patronizing tones in reference to the slowness and clumsiness of my work. Marcus looked at me and said “You doing ok?”–he has been relatively friendly in our recent brief encounters. I responded “yes” and he said nothing else. Was Marcus thinking that this co-worker was unduly nitpicking my work? More likely, he believed that I was displaying yet more of the deep struggles with learning my job’s tasks that has bothered him in the past. After this incident, I was overcome with the dread I’ve felt since childhood of being viewed as slow and  a weakling. I felt very faintly the welling of tears within my eyes but I managed to contain them. Luckily these incidents occurred at the very end of my workday.

My Mother and My Asperger’s

In March 2008, my mother passed away from Ovarian cancer. She was 55.

She was an outstanding mother. My well-being was always her number one priority and her judgement in determining that well-being was usually excellent. She was warm, loving and patient.

Though she never received the Autism Spectrum diagnosis that I did (four years after he death), we shared many characteristics. Like me but perhaps more so, she was ultra-sensitive and easily moved to tears when someone hurt her feelings or when stirred by a sad movie. Like me, she was prone to intense displays of emotion, especially in workplaces. It was easy for her to melt-down under intense pressure, as it is for me. I engage in numerous stimming activities; she did not do so with one notable exception: she bit down on her tongue continuously and sometimes rapidly and loudly for extended periods of time. Curiously, one of her four sisters also performs this stim, albeit with much less intensity.

In the last ten or fifteen years of her life, she was frequently a victim of bullying from her bosses. All too often she came home from work in tears, full of tension and hysterical. Her last boss before she died was a particularly evil creature. About sixteen or seventeen months before she died, the boss began my mother’s annual review by brushing aside some papers my mother had in front of her and declaring with a viscous sneer: “If you think your cancer isn’t affecting your work, you’re wrong!”

My mother’s emotional upheavals disturbed me as a child and young adult, perhaps because they caused me sensory overload and also because, as a child, one instinctively looks to one’s parents as rocks of emotional stability. I thought that I would be handle such situations much better than she. However I was wrong. My own emotional breakdowns in recent years dealing with troubles at work indicate to me that she was tougher than I in dealing with similar experiences.

In some ways, I was not a particularly easy child to raise; during my junior high years I was prone to outbursts of profane rage, frequently directed at her. I clearly displayed symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome at the time; however testing undertaken in the fourth grade ruled it out. This testing was undertaken in response to substantial academic and social difficulties I experienced during the second grade, my first year at a new elementary school. My teacher was insistent that I be held back a grade but my mother ferociously fought back against this proposal. To school staff, she stressed evidence of my intelligence, including my constant reading of a children’s book about the Revolutionary War.

My mother, though very shy as a child, developed a very talkative and outgoing personality as an adult. I never developed anything close to such a personality. My extreme reluctance as a young adult to enter the workplace greatly frustrated her and was one of the sources of conflict between us. Perhaps if I’d been diagnosed as a child instead of after her death, our relationship would have gone smoother.

An Autistic man in a job designed for Allistics

I start work at 6 AM. After I clock in, I ‘check in” with my supervisor by poking my head behind the wall of his cubicle and say “good morning.” This greeting alerts him to my presence and readiness to be assigned a partner to provide me with special mentoring–in light of my learning disabilities–for the job tasks. For the most part, my mentor has been a company lead–lets call him David. Of all my co-workers and supervisors, I’ m least uncomfortable with him. Sometimes my partner has been another lead–a gentleman who is not American born and whose accent is very thick. Comprehending his verbal direction to me is sometimes hard; he understands this and compensates for it by saying as little to me as possible. This makes for awkward vibes, at least on my part.

Actually, every interaction with co-workers or supervisors presents me with awkward vibes, often in very high doses. Constant negative experiences in social interaction over my lifetime have ingrained in me the assumption that most people I meet find me unpleasant or weird. My experience in this workplace has not deviated far from this pattern. My interaction with David and other co-workers and supervisors always has an element of strain to it. On the surface, there are obvious reasons for it. For one I speak in a low, monotone voice featuring almost no inflection and whose resonance is often distorted by throat congestion (and anxiety). Another reason is the flat expression on my face, which does not exude warmth and which I find difficult to alter, especially when I’m tense (which is almost all the time I’m at work). Yet another reason is my difficulty in small talk, especially with people (e.g. my co-workers) whom I share very little in common. It is not uncommon for the awkwardness to cause me sensory overload and, after such episodes occur, I have trouble keeping my face from twitching in various poses of anguish and shaking my head in exasperation.

I’m a bookish, studious individual whereas most of my co-workers are uneducated gentlemen, several of them noticeably coarse in their language and lackadaisical in their work habits. Almost all of these brethren have been polite to me in spite of the strain caused by my shyness. One exception to the politeness has been a co-worker I’ll call Marcus, a vulgar and loud young man. Lately he has addressed me in passive aggressive bullying tones, supposedly attempting to correct my clumsy or incorrect techniques for performing work tasks. Recently Marcus was transferred to a work shift completely different from my own, with the exception of Mondays and Fridays when he begins his shift two and a half hours before I end my own. I always dread encountering him on those days.

Marcus is not my biggest problem at this job; that honor belongs to my slow visual and auditory perceptual processing along with my dreadful manual dexterity. My job’s requirements of moving sometimes very heavy furniture and placing tables and chairs in precise patterns in company meeting rooms is frequently clumsy, sometimes modestly successful and inconsistent in general. I have great trouble in keeping up with my mentor David, who barks instructions to me in an extremely rapid voice and whose physical dexterity and strength is much superior to my own.

David, though he can be gruff as he directs me in the performance of job tasks and is sometimes clearly disappointed in my performance, is also capable of showing friendliness toward me. I try my damndest to engage him in small talk though my instinct and preference is to be silent and alone with my thoughts. For the most part I ask him questions about certain aspects of his personal life that he mentions in our conversations or aspects of our mutual job duties. During these conversations the strain between us is reduced but never completely disappears.

I overheard David today speaking with an employee of an other company department; he revealed that he planned to begin planning his departure from the company if he did not receive a raise by the end of March. He expressed contempt for the paucity of wage increases granted by the company in recent years as well for the work ethic of many of our co-workers. One of the latter, he stated, had come to work high on marijuana three times but had not been fired–this possibly referred to my enemy Marcus. I greatly fear what will happen if David leaves the company and I’m still employed by it, given that I find him to be my least worst option as a coworker and supervisor/mentor.

Meanwhile, I’ve started the process of petitioning my state government’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide funding for services on my behalf with a vendor specializing in placing persons with disabilities in jobs. I’ve had unhappy experiences with those vendors in the past but I’m hoping the latest one from whom I’m seeking services will be able to place me in a job where I’ll be far less miserable. I greatly hope these services will start as soon as possible.

Reminisce of a Past Job Experience/Office Skills Training (Part 1)

In December 2017, I was compelled to have double bypass surgery on my heart and had to lay low for several months. In March 2018, seeking a route back into the workforce, I enrolled in an office skills training and job placement program offered to persons’ with disabilities. This program is offered by a non-profit manufacturing company whose primary focus is training disabled persons–who are paid at minimum wage–in the manufacturing of machine parts in the transportation industry.

For my first several months in the program, I attended an office skills class, which offered training in Microsoft Office and customer service skills. I completed my training in Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook with flying colors; I earned a certificate–not a certification–from the company in each program. Obtaining these certificates was absurdly easy, especially when compared with my own unsuccessful effort to obtain Excel certification from the official Microsoft certification program. Employers appeared to regard these certificates as almost worthless when compared to the official certifications offered by Microsoft. The certificates might have been more valuable in advertising myself to employers if I’d had even a modicum of previous white collar work experience.

The certificates also might have been of more value to me had I been placed in an office job soon after completing the program. I would have been able to retain the knowledge I’d acquired of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook by putting them to use in a real life job.However my job counselor with the company–let us call him Jonathan–believed that my acquisition of a job requiring the use of Microsoft Office programs was unlikely given my near total lack of previous white collar work experience and not lengthy work history in general. Jonathan decided that I would work part time for minimum wage at the company’s front desk under the mentorship of the company’s receptionist–let us call her Nicole. This job would involve no use of Microsoft Office programs.

On my second day with Nicole, as she discoursed about the various tasks I’d be expected to perform, I was overwhelmed by something like a nervous breakdown. Verbal communication was ( and is) one of my major weaknesses. The prospect of being compelled to learn all the proper protocols for dealing with different types of callers and visitors and then verbally communicating those policies seemed like an unbelievable nightmare. In particular, I thought that my learning disabilities would make acquiring the proper knowledge a very rocky process.

I was called to a meeting with Jonathan while in the midst of this mental suffering. I unsuccessfully tried to maintain my composure and hold back tears. Jonathan, obviously noticing my discomposure, attempted to subtly advise me about it. He knew that I’d been to the emergency room two days earlier complaining of chest pains; he argued that these pains were anxiety and not heart related. “You had heart surgery five months ago ; You’re cured! I suggest you look into getting some counseling for the anxiety.” It soon turned out that a nearly total blockage in one of my coronary artery had returned, a highly unusual circumstance so soon after surgery. Later that month, I had a stent placed in the artery.

I was actually very grateful to have the stent placed because it gave me an excuse to take a few days off work. My first weeks with Nicole were a nightmare. Intense anxiety burned inside me, exacerbated by Nicole’s exceedingly stern manner. One of Nicole’s previous trainees wrote in a Google review of employment at the company that working under Nicole was not advisable unless one desired to be treated like a five year old. Subjected to treatment that was best suitable for a five year old was a far from unfair description of my own treatment under Nicole during those first weeks. Nicole’s intent was perhaps well intentioned; it was her belief that her trainees had to be put through a sort of boot camp in preparation for becoming efficient and reliable employees for future employers. Clearly, another part of her mindset was stress; she later apologized to me and indicated that she was feeling excessively burdened by the need to train me during the morning in addition to the young autistic man she trained in the afternoon. This stress perhaps contributed to her sometimes abrasive manner.

But those first weeks with Nicole only exacerbated my anxiety. The anxiety led to mistakes in my work which I was frequently reluctant to disclose to Nicole because I feared she’d bite my head off.

Gradually Nicole started to lighten up though I still remained fearful of her. I received my first review from Nicole a month and a half after I started. She stated that though I was a quiet individual who had little to say my demeanor was calm and pleasant. She also said that I clearly lacked self-confidence and needed to improve my communication skills.

Reading this report, Johnathan, my job counselor, endeavored to advise me about ways to improve my self-confidence. He directed me to work on assuming a persona that was extremely assertive and fully confident in my abilities, regardless of any mistakes I might make. Curiously, he then attempted to connect the subject of self-confidence with porn addiction. The latter was apparently on his mind because he’d been counseling gentlemen struggling with that problem as a counselor at his church. Porn addiction, at least in the way he discussed it, seemed extremely remote from any subject relevant to my struggles. I was full of my usual anxiety but as he solemnly discoursed about porn addiction, I couldn’t help but temporarily turn into Beavis & Butthead. I was unable to suppress a smirk and a very slight giggle. It seemed absurd that he was speaking of porn addiction when he was supposed to be addressing my self-confidence issues.

At our next meeting several days later, he said to me “You know sometimes I’m not sure if all my advice registers with you.” I replied that everything he said registered with me; the constant, typically autistic “flat” expression on my face perhaps gave him the incorrect impression that I wasn’t properly understanding his wisdom. He seemed impressed with my use of the word “flat” and in the future would use it in several instances to refer to the unimpressive initial impression I might give job interviewers.

(To be continued…..perhaps next weekend or some other time when I’m not too worn down from the horror of my current job).

An Autistic Man’s Reminisce of Walmart Employment

From November of last year until last month I worked as a personal shopper in the Online Grocery Pickup (OGP) department of my local Walmart. About half the job involved picking items from the sales floor–mostly groceries–that had been ordered online by customers for in-store pickup. The other half of the job involved preparing orders for delivery to customers waiting outside our department’s small operations room in one of fourteen parking spaces.

I was in tears after my first day on the job, which was on a Saturday–weekends are always busy at Walmart and this busyness overwhelmed my highly sensitive senses. I was convinced that my slow, deliberate mental processes were highly incompatible with the job’s task of pushing a big cart through crowded aisles and–directed by a hand held device–locating grocery items, all the while trying to get out of the way of customers pushing their carts, receiving innumerable inquiries along the way from customers as to the locations of particular items and being required to do all this within a limited amount of time. Toward the end of my first day, my supervisor joined my order picking journey amongst the aisles and eventually took over the picking from me. At one point he asked me to create a double bag; with my poor manual dexterity I struggled to add the second bag to the bagged first item which he held. He gave a slightly gruff response to my slowness in putting on the second bag–by this point I was extremely tired and always sensitive about my poor hand-eye coordination, I started to get emotional. That first day was the only day in my Walmart employment in which I was moved to tears.

I subsequently got better at the tasks though I was slower than others to learn all the procedures for aspects of the job–probably through a combination of inadequate training, being afraid at times to ask for help , anxiety and my slow mental processing of information. My fear of asking for help too many times was amplified by the extremely hectic nature of the workplace. I was sometimes afraid to ask persons for help who were obviously so overwhelmed with other duties.

My department was as hectic as it was probably in part because of Walmart’s notoriously ardent emphasis on keeping labor costs down–in this cases putting as much labor on as few workers as possible. There were all too many days during my tenure when customers waited in the parking lot for as long as an hour or hour and a half for their groceries to be delivered. The customers waited that length of time in spite of having previously received an e-mail informing them that their order was “ready for pickup.” This e-mail was (and is) misleading–it meant that all items in the order had been picked from the sales floor but not that the items had been gathered together to be delivered to the customer. Sometimes, in the highly rushed atmosphere of this work environment, it was not difficult to misplace items after they had been picked. Our operating room was too small and cramped to properly store and organize in tidy fashion the large volume of orders on busy days–this caused disorganization and an occasional misplacement of orders which in turn caused delays in delivery to those customers as we searched for missing orders. The problem of inadequate space in the department was rectified to a large extent toward the end of my tenure.

Perhaps the worst day of understaffing during my tenure occurred on December 23rd. I arrived to work at 4PM and learned that well over 500 items were “overdue”–meaning that the time was a half hour or less before the customer was scheduled to come pick them up but they still had not even been picked from the sales floor. This was yet another situation where customers would be waiting an hour to an hour and a half to receive their order. Around 6PM, my supervisor ordered all of us to go pick items on the sales floor while he would stay in the operations room alone, dispense orders to the irate customers and answer their angry telephone calls all by himself. He very manfully put this extremely unpleasant task on his own shoulders in spite of his general aversion to answering the department phone lest he have to interact with unpleasant customers.

There were several instances when my nerves were greatly shaken by being spoken to in abrasive fashion by customers. One lady in particular shouted at me over the phone in an extremely belligerent manner. However I was impressed by how pleasant the vast majority of customers could be, in spite of substantial delays in the delivery of their order and other abysmal displays of customer service. It was not uncommon for a customer to politely say to me, even through gritted teeth, that they recognized they had had to wait a long time for their order because our department was very busy. Occasionally, feeling the need to protect my own dignity as the “face” of the store that was delivering them such abysmal customer service due to circumstances which were not my fault, I told customers about the understaffing problems in our department.

Many of my co-workers were pleasant and hard-working people. I certainly would wish for them in the future to be provided with better resources to deliver quality customer service. Of course, as long as customers continue to provide Walmart with its huge profits, the company will face little incentive to invest in customer service improvements.

My experience as a Walmart worker was sometimes far from enjoyable but it was a better experience than at many places I’ve worked.

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