I was 19 in 2017 when I first got hired at Cotton On.
My manager at the time was young and my sister’s age. She was a bit quiet and sometimes, we worked in silence because I just didn’t know what to say to her but she was “cool” in a lot of ways. She wasn’t very authoritarian and was chill with her staff because she knew their abilities and rarely had to work us down.
She had a lot of nice things to say to me. One of those was that she was easily impressed by how meticulous I was with working and cleaning the store. She was the one who hired me based on my merit and experience working in a bigger-chain retail store during my time in Singapore so she did what she thought best and hired me.
She left a little while later to move interstate and there, we were unmanaged for a long time. My regional manager who was living in Cairns at the time frequently flew interstate to visit our store and he placed a wonderful Portuguese lady in our charge for a few months. I worked often because I was in university and had more time off but in April 2018, I flew back home to Singapore in lieu of my father’s death.
I stayed off work for a month and proceeded to come back later on working full-time hours for another month. The Portuguese lady resigned after getting a full-time job and I worked 35 hours then, managing most of the things in the store and the only things that I didn’t do were the rosters and visual merchandising. They were handled by another proper manager from a neighbouring store.
My regional manager was extremely supportive of me, viewing me as strong-willed for working as hard as I did just a month after my father died. He had high expectations from me and often told me, “You are a winner and I know how amazing you do your job.”
The month after, my mother told me to go back to university.
So I settled for working a good bunch of hours as I did before my father died while I went to university at the same time. They had a stand-in manager from the neighbouring store to work at ours and she frequently told me that she hated the store because of how anxious it made her and I agreed. We were small, cluttered and messy.
A few months later, she moved interstate and we were yet again, unmanaged.
In September 2018, they finally hired a manager for us.
She had zero experience in retail and was the security guard at the same shopping centre. She had no sense of urgency, extremely lazy and incompetent, played favourites and was the worst choice for a manager. She rarely unpacked any new stock and was always doing something that was not necessary or important, later blaming the staff for not doing their jobs when our regional manager came to visit and was shocked by the number of stock boxes still not unpacked.
I had a stellar amount of respect at first when she tried to tell me how to do my job properly and I was like sure, it was my fault. But I soon came to realise that this lady did not deserve my respect when she did not take her job seriously. She always screwed up the rosters by missing breaks and was generally bad at everything. She laughed her mistakes off while being extremely irritated by the mistakes of the rest of the staff.
The last straw for me came when I had done two full days on Sunday and Monday. Our regional manager was visiting the coming week and my manager had given me a list of things to do, including unpacking new visual merchandising stock on a Sunday which we generally never did because it was a short working day and we usually focused on cleaning up the store. I came in the following Monday and found that there were 7 visual merchandising stock boxes on the trolley to unpack so I did what I could and cleaned the rest of the store at the end of the day.
The next day, my store manager came in and told another staff that she had stuffed another four boxes of VM stock boxes under the table for me to do but “apparently Sophie had other plans.”
Eventually, I picked a fight with her but we made up and after a while, she quit the next month.
Following that month in November, we had a new area manager who was going to stay in our city permanently and look after all 5 stores under her. Our regional manager was going to stay where he was based and wouldn’t have to fly in every five weeks to check on us.
She was the worst area manager I had ever seen. She was rude, played favourites and was bad at her job.
I didn’t have much chance to work with her in the first few weeks as it was Christmas and I had gone home to Singapore for a holiday. When I came back, she had significantly reduced my hours per week from an average of 18 hours to 3-6 hours. Instead, she rostered other staff from other stores on in my store as though they worked there.
She frequently berated a lot of staff, telling them in their faces that she didn’t like them and they did not deserve to work in the store while telling other staff that “I think you’re an amazing team member and should work in my favourite store.”
She made another store manager of our neighbouring store burst into tears and resign. She made uncalled for comments and demanded that she did the rosters for all the stores, only rostering staff that she had favourites and giving other staff like myself from zero hours to the minimum of three hours a week. She could hardly do visual merchandising and messed up the store while doing so and when HR received a complaint from a customer with regards to the unsightly store, she placed the blame on the staff.
Not long after, everyone had enough of her and sent in a complaint to HR who eventually sent her to another state or fired her.
However, we were unmanaged without a store manager again and manager of our neighbouring store was sent to us to manage us.
She was nice to me.
Or at least, in front of me.
For the next six months, I was put on the rosters for three hours a week, every Friday night for closing. It was the one day in the week where we would be open until 9pm and all the stores know that late-night Friday shifts are to be alternated between the staff but I was made to do late night Friday shifts every week for the next six months with no explanation.
My manager was in many ways, lazy, incompetent and a liar.
She frequently stood behind the counter doing nothing and was always on her phone. She never went to get change for the tills and the money tills were always left with $50s, $100s and at one point, it was completely void of coins and this frequently happened during weekends when banks would be closed to get change and she wouldn’t be working and be affected by her own laziness. She never threw the rubbish out from over the week and would let it accumulate to the point that the weekend staff or Friday night staff like myself had to make two to three trips to the bin outside. She never cleared up the small bin behind the counter and it was always filled with her food containers which she ate over the week. She never cleaned the store. She was lazy and tried several ways to avoid coming to work and to leave work earlier, giving excuses that she had gastro or that she had to leave two hours early due to a house inspection that she had to attend. She would wait for staff to come to cover her breaks and leave for two hours instead of the one-hour break that she was supposed to have. Many times, if someone fell sick, she wouldn’t bother finding them a cover and would force a staff to work by themselves on a weekend even though it was her job as a manager to come in even if she was not rostered on.
I was told by her many times that “I can see you’re a good worker” but I later found out from another staff that she had told the latter that “Sophie is always on her phone and that’s why I’ve put her on for three hours and she doesn’t do her job.”
I was made to work three hours closing shifts on a Friday night with barely any customers for six months and was frequently told by her that I was a “good worker” but yet, she was talking about me behind my back. I felt that I was never always on my phone and would complete my tasks when I had any and I would have preferred for her to come straight to me and address my excessive phone usage during work hours but she had instead lied to me and blamed our original regional manager who had not been our regional manager since the year before about being made to roster me on for only three hours a week.
During stocktake, she had asked everyone if we were good to work from 4pm to 8pm that day and I agreed as I had classes from 9am to 12pm and stocktake would not clash.
When she posted the roster for that week, I was made to do opening despite her knowing that I had class that day. She claimed to not have known that I had class but I had told her multiple times that I had class and I was the only staff in the whole store who went to school.
She later admitted to another staff that she purposely put me on for the opening shift that day because “Sophie scans slow and shouldn’t be on for stocktake.”
I’ve never done stocktake with her before and didn’t know where she would have known that I was “slow” at scanning for stocktake.
The store manager of our sister store in the city was often also angry with her work ethics but he also had favouritsm and I was not one of his favourites.
In Cotton On, as staff, almost everyone uses their own staff discount codes or their friends’ staff discount codes to buy something for themselves. They are not allowed to do so but because many of the staff are always rostered by themselves for the whole day with the exception of a three-hour cover that is split with a one-hour break for the full-day staff and another two hours of hard work for the store, they tend to do what they do.
I was one of the staff who did so.
I had the permission of another staff who told me that it was fine for me to use her staff discount if I was alone to buy something for myself as I remembered her code by heart and I bought something for myself one day.
The store manager for the sister store came to visit and did a “random” bag check on me just as I was leaving the store to go to the bank and deposit our money claiming that he was going to start doing bag checks on every staff leaving the store and found the item in my bag with a receipt, demanding to know who had completed the transaction for me and I told him that I did so myself.
He never checked the bags of other staff ever again and reported the incident to HR for using another staff’s discount code.
A representative of HR called me three weeks later and interrogated me on the incident.
Claiming that “this is just part of my investigation”, she demanded to know why I completed my own transaction and I told her that I had bought a shirt because the item that I had worn to work was see-through that morning and I had also bought a bottle of water and a pack of tissues to increase our KPI sales.
She then tried to coerce me into admitting that I had bought a fourth item because “that’s what it shows on the receipt.”
I told her I didn’t buy a fourth item and she repeated herself, “That’s not what I’m seeing and I’m going to ask you again what else did you buy because this is all part of my investigation of this incident.”
I repeated myself that I didn’t buy a fourth item.
She “looked” at the receipt she had on her computer again and later admitted that it was a void item and that I didn’t buy it.
I will not forget how a HR representative tried to coerce me into admitting a crime that I didn’t do. If I had bought more items, my punishment would have been heavier.
For someone who continuously repeated that it was all “part of her investigation”, she had a lot of trouble distinguishing a void item and a sale item and I had no respect for someone who wanted to tell me how to do my job while being incompetent in her own.
And in this case, I quit as I had enough of what was happening in the store and how I was continuously disrespected.
I found that I hated those in managing positions who liked to flaunt their positions and tell others what to do while being unable to do their own jobs. The only ones that I thoroughly respected in their respective managing positions was my original store manager who hired me and my original regional manager who was based in Cairns as they were both amazing at their jobs while being humble with their position in the workplace.
This was the worst workplace that I had ever worked in with a fascist employer who spoke highly of their own authority but refused to correct their own behaviour and a toxic group of management team. In their desperation to find staff in managing positions, they had hired the most incompetent, laziest people to work and had caused the downfall of the workplace environment.
And this is the truth of working for a fascist, toxic employer and never again will I stoop so low to allow myself to be treated like this by people who were quick to spew orders while being unable to do their own jobs.