2 Cheers for Reluctant Managers

Pictured here: Political hyperbole.

One of the “best” things at my job is that it’s clear that by and large the managers there don’t want to be managers. One reason for that may have to do with the splintering of different managers. There’s shift leads, assistant managers and then the store manager. The shift lead that I usually work with couldn’t care less about the job, I usually have to ask her what I need to o if it isn’t totally obvious what I should be doing. She’s very nonchalant about the work she does or giving other people work and generally she tries to actively get rid of any work if it won’t get noticed by the higher ups.

The assistant managers I work with can be mixed. One of them doesn’t mind a little goofing off and still wants to get out of there as soon as possible. She might not like the job but she’s older and perhaps accept a little more that the job is legitimate and its duties (while regrettable) are necessary and good to some extent.

But the other assistant manager couldn’t care less about the store. He’s maybe 10 or 15 years younger than the previous assistant manager I just mentioned whose in her 50s. He listens to punk and emo music in his car (hell yeah) and he tries to minimize the work for himself and anyone else as much as possible. He’s seen me reading many times and even once when we were near the shift said something like, “I guess I should care, but I don’t.”

That second assistant manager has been with the company for 16 years so…yikes. But all of that times hasn’t taught him any more respect for the position or the duties he assigns, which, thank goodness! It makes working with him a lot more pleasant as he’s much more likely to make idle chitchat, tell me to not vacuum even if I “should” and so on.

To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a great thing that all of these people decided to become managers. I’m not trying to celebrate the role of managers or say we need more people like this, necessarily. Instead, I’d advocate (among other things) for the building of better alternatives that don’t need bosses (nice or not) to begin with.

It does frustrate me how class analysis can sometimes forget that managers (especially those low on the totem pole) can still harbor a lot of sympathies with the people on the bottom. Usually that’s because they were just there or because they’ve been there for a while and know what it’s like and how much it sucks. Sometimes they understand how the whole thing sucks and they’d rather not (being the good-ish person they are) try not to make it worse.

Unfortunately it’s similar (though in a markedly different way) to when cops want to be good people. The institutional roles don’t allow for as much justice as I think a just person would want. Not many anarchists would be found trying to reform the police from the inside and the same goes for hierarchical systems, to a point.

But secluded off hierarchical corporations or businesses are a bit less entrenched in an overall culture of dominance, hierarchy and authority than the police in the US. That’s not always the case (especially in bigger corporations) but it’s also pretty hard to top just how entrenched those ideas are in the institution of policing vs. literally anything else.

So relatively speaking then you’ve probably got some kind of chance of at least making the workers “below” you feel better and have better work days. Heck, there have been days where (despite the job itself) I’ve had an OK day because my co-worker and my shift lead or assistant manager were working in tandem to be more fun than work.

Still, there are other days where it goes the other way or things don’t quite work out for me. It’s almost never a full on disaster but it can certainly be unpleasant. This is particularly true when the store manager is around given that he’s one of the few people in the store who seems to take things “seriously”.

But when I say “seriously” I’m using the word loosely.

Even the store manager seems to have some sort of authority by proxy that I don’t think he really wants to have. He told me at one point that he’d be just as happy further up in NH near the woods and further away from people. He didn’t want to be reassigned to a big city when he moved and that’s exactly where he ended up. So even he has some reluctance in pushing the law in any meaningful way. Still, he’s definitely my bigger concern and someone I look out for when slacking.

He can be pretty strict about slacking off (especially when I’m reading my book) and in general I think he feels pressured from his bosses to shape up or ship out with regards to the store. Part of that kind of pressure comes from the fact that there’s another one of our stores much more central to the city I live in. So it’s much easier to just go there if you’re in the center of town then to come to the side of town that I work at.

As a result of that (and there are other factors) the store I work at tends to (I imagine) get less business than the other one. On the whole this is a good thing for me because it means less people but it’s also a stressor on the mangers who perhaps might be a bit more relaxed otherwise. It’s hard to say for sure given my own position and incentives, but it sounds plausible enough anyhow.

I don’t exactly want to praise these reluctant managers and I’m not going to be one of those people who says stuff like, “Well as long as we have X we might as well…” because that kind of thinking smacks me of reformism and defeatism. As long as we draw breath we should oppose a system that denigrates us and wastes our time.

But it’s not such a bad thing to count your blessings where they happen, is it?

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