Too many people like shooting the messenger

The LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) is the provincially-owned company that, until relatively recently, was the only place in the province you could legally get wine and booze. And it remains the only place to get the latter.

The company has always supplied paper bags of various sizes for your various sizes of purchases.

But that’s ending now. Several weeks back, broadcasters started airing ads explaining that the paper bag supply at the LCBO is being ended and people are being encouraged to bring their own. And we’ve been telling all of our customers (who ask for paper bags) that, Just a reminder, we’re stopping paper bags soon. Most people knew but keep forgetting to bring their own. Some hadn’t heard about it and are thankful for being informed.

Most are polite about it. They may not like that it’s happening, but they grin and bear it.

Then there are those who maybe knew or maybe didn’t, but who feel like they should be complaining about it, and do so right then and there. I’ve already long lost count of the number of people who feel like I — me, the guy barely scraping by earning what I do, doing a physically demanding job serving the public — am the one who should be answerable for something a multi-billion dollar company has decided.

Listen, I just relay the information. I’m just informing you what’s happening. You have detailed questions about it, or want to have a discussion about why it’s a bad idea, you’re entirely welcome to. But call the company. There’s a whole staff trained in answering questions the public has, and can tell you everything you want to know about it, and will take your feedback and hand it up the food chain.

You know who isn’t trained to do that? Whose job isn’t to send your feedback up the corporate ladder? The person unloading carts in the aisles or serving you on cash.

It’s reminiscent of about a year and a half back (pre-my LCBO employment), my posting a polite request on Next Door — what’s intended to be a social media hub for people to interact with other people in their immediate area — to be kind and understanding to people who are working on the floor of grocery stores that still had masking requirements in place. This was when more and more places lifted those requirements, but companies still had the choice to keep the mandate in place for being on their property. I’d said in the post that you absolutely have the right to disagree with that policy, but if you want to complain to someone about it, get in touch with the company itself, not some person making probably near minimum wage who’s stocking shelves or at the cash register.

Most people were great with the idea.
But there was one guy (isn’t there always?) who balked at the very notion and said that Hell no, he would absolutely be complaining to people working there about such policies.
He went on to explain that if he complains to people working in the store, then THEY can pass along his message to their superiors. Who (I guess the theory went) will pass the message upward. And so on. Until… I guess?… the top dog in the company hears this one complaint from one guy in the produce department of a store on a Tuesday last month and thinks, “By golly, he’s right! We have to change this policy immediately!”

I politely explained to him that yeah, that’s not how it works.
Like… at all. (I wasn’t even in retail at that time and still knew that… not sure how others don’t grasp it.)

Here’s the thing, folks: All complaining to the on-site staff of a store will do is maybe get you to talk to a manager, or whoever’s shift lead at that point, and what that person will do is politely listen to what you have to say and then thank you for sharing your thoughts and ease toward ending the conversation.

They may — MAY — actually pass that complaint up to their superiors. I can’t say either way because I’ve never been a manager or known one well enough to get into that kind of detail with them. But I know for sure that part of their job, just like part of the job of people on the floor of the store, is to assess what’s happening and weigh whether or not it merits being passed on.

Meaning, if you complain about something to someone working in a store, they MAY pass it on to their superiors. If it gets to their superiors (who may not even be as high as actual management), it’s going to be considered again, and it MAY get passed up to the next person in command. And so on.
At each level of acting seniority, the same complaint will have to pass that person’s verification that it’s an issue worthy of passing upward to their own superiors.
The chances of that same complaint making it all the way up the company departments to actually get heard by someone who makes these decisions is, suffice to say, slim to none.

Added: If you get up in the face of someone working in the store, other employees and the shift lead or manager will get involved. And if you get up in their face about it, you’ll not only be making a spectacle of yourself but you’re going to find yourself a persona non grata there, not being served by anyone again in response to the way you behaved — good luck getting your clothing or food or booze cashed out from that location when no one will serve you because you tore into one of their own — and if you keep going on in the moment anyway in the face of other employees or the manager and it gets taken to an extreme, police will be called in, you may be charged, and they may officially ban you from shopping at that specific branch.

So… mission accomplished on the whole “Complaining to the staff is the way to go” thing?

Or… OR… you could instead contact the company feedback department, whose very raison d’ĂȘtre is to get feedback from the public. It’s almost like it’s in their very name!
I haven’t worked in such a department, but I can promise you with 100% certainty that that approach is more likely to get a reply from people a) with more complete answers than anyone stocking shelves or working on cash has, and b) with a way shorter number of steps up to people who can actually affect change.

This changeover of the LCBO to not carrying paper bags any more is going to absolutely suck for employees. It’s already doing so more often than it really should, thanks to people who just want to give you a piece of their mind on that change. Once we fully switch to simply not having any more paper bags period, there’s for sure going to be an uptick in people who claim to not have known, and/or who will be mad about it, and we on cash will be front and centre in their field of fire.

I’ve already had people inform me that it’s going to hurt the Canadian logging industry (don’t know enough about that to have a discussion, but isn’t saving trees good?). I’ve had people tell me it’s a dumb change because why would you stop using paper, which has less impact on the ecosystem than the plastic bags we’re selling in their stead? (I don’t disagree, but again, not my call.) I’ve had numerous people blame Prime Minister Trudeau for forcing this change (conveniently ignoring that this is a provincially owned company, thus the provincial government is the one making these changes and should be held accountable, not the federal government… Trudeau has bigger fish to fry than what one company in one province does for their bagging policy), and I had one guy inform me that it’s our union — the one LCBO employees are automatically rolled into when they’re hired — who are to blame for the paper bags going away (I can’t even begin to make sense of that one).

With each of these people I ended the conversation politely but quickly and moved onto the next customer in line. I’m not at work to defend or opine on the merits or drawbacks of corporate policy with customers. I’m there to do my job the best I can and get back home ASAP, and I think most other people I’ve ever worked with are in the same boat.

Complaining to people on the front line of a company about that company’s policies does nothing good, so please stop doing it.

And I do practice what I preach.

I’ve had countless occasions to call a company because something went wrong. The cable went out yet again, or a new policy was made that affected me badly, or whatever it was. I’ve called companies with problems about issues with their service certainly at least dozens of times over my life. And no matter how irate I may have gotten in discussing it — that’s rare, but it’s happened — I have made sure to inform the person I’m talking to that I know it’s not them… it’s not their fault the situation is what it is, they’re not to blame, and I’m not holding them responsible, but that I’m just venting right now because of X, Y and Z that their company has done.

I recall only one time ever that I badly leaned into a guy who was working at the counter of a store where I went to return some cable box equipment from a company I was finally totally done with over their shoddy service. I’d already had a bad day with whatever else was happening, then was told by him that no, that he couldn’t take back what I was returning because it wasn’t a return depot, and that I’d have to go to another designated place farther away to do it. And that was the proverbial last straw. I was, embarrassingly, pretty crappy toward him about it. No swearing or personal offense — even that mad, I held back — but yeah, I was totally done with the crappy company and was really letting him know it.

And you know what? Once I was done what I had to do with returning the equipment and had calmed down and gotten some perspective, I went back there — maybe an hour later — and very humbly, very sincerely apologized for acting that way. He waved it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but I felt really bad for doing it. Apologized again, offered a hand for him to shake, and he shook it and assured me it was all good. That apology was maybe over the top for me to have done, but I’ve always tried to ensure that people who have no ability to change things aren’t the ones getting an earful from me about as being the source of those problems. The very rare times I’ve failed to do that and laid into front like workers about it, I’ve owned up to it and made amends when I could.

An added bonus to being polite as much as possible: My wife and I have, together and individually, gotten way more appreciation and praise, and frankly hard work, from people with whom we were just naturally kind and considerate. There’s a nice guy at a local pizza place I just started to make small talk with after my closing shift at the liquor store a few weeks back, while my slice warmed up in the oven. As I got the slice from him he said I could take a drink or dipping sauce if I wanted one. For free. I didn’t accept, but it was a nice gesture.
Do you think I would’ve gotten that if I’d just stood there, tapping my foot and looking at my watch and telling him to make it snappy with the slice?

We had weeping tile installed around the house a few years after we bought it. Super hard, super dirty work that was done by the guys from company we hired in high summer here in Toronto, where it gets brutally hot and humid. We made lemonade for them — they went above and beyond with their time and attention to the work just for that little thing –and we did up a barbecue meal for them with burgers and watermelon and I think beer served as the work was finally close to finished. Just to thank them for all their hard work.
They were super appreciative and shared that it was stark contrast to a job they’d done a bit earlier where the owner of the house they were working around wouldn’t even let them drink from the hose. Which of those two jobs made them feel like their hard work and they as humans were appreciated?

We had a temporary power pole installed in our front yard during our reno. Because of the tightness of the area they had work in with their utility truck, and our two trees in the yard, they said it was a really, really tricky job to manage. That was approaching winter (bitter cold in these parts), and they were outside for the better part of a couple of hours. My wife was making up lattes and espressos for them with the home coffee machine, and we gave them some banana bread muffins we’d just made. Offered more than they took us up on.
And the lead guy admitted that if we hadn’t been so nice and agreeable with them — not giving them free stuff, it was clear, but just if we hadn’t been polite and patient with them — he would’ve called the job off as impossible to do and left us high and dry. Which would’ve set back our reno (and so, added to our costs) in a huge way.

Understand, we didn’t do the above, or any other such gestures we’ve always tried to make, in order to get anything more from these people. We were just being polite and considerate of their work and positions they were in and their limitations they needed to work around.

Evidently news to some: People generally react better and feel better when you’re nice to them.

Or you can, of course, be a total jerk to them. It may feel good in the moment to vent. But hopefully you’ll soon realize that the person you just railed at has zero ability to alleviate what is frustrating you. And by the way, even if they did have the means to do so (and Psst! Some do, even if to just a tiny degree), good luck getting them to do that after you just tore a strip off them.

If you need to put people down to make yourself feel higher, or feel like that’s the best way to accomplish anything, you’re living life the wrong way.

I’d dearly love for more of the public to understand the fundamental truths of that and act accordingly.

There’s too much stress and negativity going around for everyone, everywhere. The solution isn’t to add to it. It’s to be understanding and empathetic and work with people instead of against them. That goes for everyone you meet in life, from coworkers to neighbours to bus drivers to cashiers to garbage collectors. They all deserve as much respect from you as you think you deserve.

In the words of comedian Patton Oswalt’s late wife, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

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