David Trinko: Find patience as businesses work short-handed

First Posted: 12/28/2013

The man in front of me started yelling at the cashier last week.

He started screaming at her about how she wasted his time while he was off from work, trying to spend time with his family. He grumbled about how awful the service was and how disappointed he was with the business in general. Everything has gone downhill because of idiots like her, he declared.

The female cashier meekly apologized and said she’d try to fix whatever pricing issue there was. The man demanded to see the manager in charge, when the woman said she was the manager in charge that day.

He just shook his head, mumbling to himself.

I’m sure most readers understand the man’s frustrations. We’ve all wanted better service, unable to get it. I can’t help but sympathize with the woman.

It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, a time many people have off from work to spend time with their families and enjoy the holidays. I don’t begrudge people that, and frankly I’m envious of them.

You see, I have a lot of seniority at The Lima News, but so do all the other people with “editor” in their title. At 13 years and counting, I have less seniority than the rest of them. That means when push comes staffing gets tight, I work my share of days and nights over the holidays, filling in for other people’s necessary tasks while trying to keep up on my own.

For those of us left behind, it’s a difficult, frustrating week. You’re asked to keep things going at full speed, often with less staff than you usually have to accomplish everything. They might as well play the “Mission: Impossible” theme every time you step into the workplace.

For businesses that try to maintain full service over the holidays, particularly those who serve the public, every person off means another person asked to do even more.

It’s great that you took four days of vacation to go with your Christmas holiday. Enjoy that. I ended up working more hours last week than I normally would on a non-holiday week, and I try to do so cheerfully because I’ll get my break soon enough.

In many cases, bosses are filling in for their employees, or middle managers are asked to take on the top boss’s duties over the holidays. In baseball, they call that “playing out of position.” You never know exactly what your boss does until you have to fill his role for a week.

None of this was as difficult back before the Great Recession made efficiency such a buzzword. People learned how to do more work faster with fewer resources. And that’s great, until half the people who work somewhere decide to take vacation time at the same time. There’s no way to accomplish the same amount of work with even fewer people without great strain.

In that same week, those people “enjoying” their time with friends and family seem to get a little more crotchety than usual. These teachers, students and assorted others sitting out a holiday shutdown flood the streets. Maybe a little too much holiday cheer boils over, leaving them eager to snap at the next available target because you can’t tell Grandma to stop slurping her coffee so loudly.

In a time of year marked with “peace on earth and goodwill to men,” sometimes we forget the other people around us are, indeed, our fellow man as well.

They deserve a little bit of that joy to the world we were singing about not so long ago.

When my interaction began, I tried a different tact with the woman at the cash register. I smiled and told her I was glad she was working today. She brightened up a little bit, and she accepted my money and my well-wishes without incident.

I only hope others can do the same and find a way to remain patiently happy in the upcoming new year.