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Relatively recently I started a new job in a specialty retail store. I've noticed a lot of people are telling me what to do and sometimes get conflicting or wrong information. It's been a long time since I've worked in a retail, but in past jobs I found it's regular that lots of people who aren't necessarily management will be telling a new person what to do, and it's a good idea to follow their instructions. Is this mentality correct?

Every employee in the store is part of a chat group. The security guard told us that we shouldn't let customers use the phone because he had the experience in another job that someone used it to call a drug dealer. I'm not sure if I should be following the instructions given by a security guard because he's not management. The assistant manager replied and said he "thinks that with COVID only people who work at the store should be touching the phone" which I find to be a bit of a weak statement (I guess I'm overthinking but give how he used the word "think" it sounds like the decision hasn't been made yet).

An incomplete list of examples are:

  1. Another time the security guard told me to help a customer reach something. I'm not sure if I should listen to him tell me to do this because it means I'm not doing something the supervisor told me to do. Also this was preemptive as the customer hadn't even asked for help and her friend was about to get it for her.

  2. One day I was stocking shelves and 4 different people (3 of which were supervisors) told me a different way to do it. What should I do in these situations?

  3. One coworker told me to use a pen to press the buttons on a POS while another one told me not to do it because it breaks it further (neither were supervisors).

  4. I get conflicting (or partial information) about where things are kept in storage.

  5. One supervisor said if I don't take my break I can leave early and said it in a way that I made it sound like that it's a rule for everybody, but I later found out other supervisors weren't ok with this. Also one supervisor said I have to stay in the store during my break while another said there is no such rule.

About 20 people work at the store, 4 of them are management, 6 of them are supervisors, and often times on a given shift there are more supervisors than non-supervisors. Is it fair to state that certain things you would rather hear straight from management, for example regarding when breaks can be taken or when it's ok to leave work? I'm a bit surprised with how many supervisors there are but they wanted to do this because one is needed in the store at all times and some only work part time. Why is it again that most workplaces try not to have more supervisors than the people they are supervising?

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    I don't see how the phone thing is a contradiction. Both the security guy and the assistant manager gave reasons for not letting customers using the phone. The fact that they gave different reasons strengthens the argument rather than weaken it. – Llewellyn Sep 6 '20 at 16:32
  • @Llewellyn I guess in that situation that's true. But I don't want to be in the situation where I do something told by non-management and management comes back saying "why would you do x when y told you!?" – Yuftre111 Sep 6 '20 at 21:28
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There may be a need to use your own judgement in each circumstance. Slavishly following the rules is considered a form of industrial action, because bosses are rarely able to state comprehensively how every possible situation should be properly handled.

Also, some of the contradictions between what supervisors say, may be less an expression of "the rules", but merely of their individual opinions or recommendations, or of their own policies when they are on shift (which doesn't apply when others are on shift).

As your "top manager" says, people may simply be trying to be helpful with advice, when there isn't a specific rule but rather latitude for you to develop your own policy and apply your own judgement. If you've worked in retail before, then you ought to have a degree of common sense about things.

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  • This. Different supervisors often bend the rules to suit how they think it should be run and while following the rules to a T is preferred by management. If your supervisor isn't going to report it or management won't care either (I've experienced both in multiple places) then it's not really an issue. – IT Alex Sep 9 '20 at 14:05
  • What is meant by " industrial action"? When I looked it up it said it means the same as going on strike... – Yuftre111 Sep 11 '20 at 2:33
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    @Yuftre111 "industrial action" is action taken by the workers (as a protest) that makes life more difficult for the managers. There are a range of options short of a strike (a strike is one of the more extreme). "Work to rule" is one of them (e.g. no more unpaid overtime, no more staying at work for an extra 3 minutes until a task is done - you leave in the middle of it because that's the rule! So you complete fewer tasks per day...). – Pam Sep 16 '20 at 13:15
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    @Pam, thanks for fielding that question. It was indeed "work to rule" to which I was alluding, or what the bosses alternatively call "malicious compliance", where everything is done exactly as they say (and nothing is done unless they say). This is rather than using normal human judgment and common sense to work in a way that is efficient, flexible to a wide variety of circumstances, and privileges the meeting of the organisation's overall goals rather than compliance with specific management instructions (which are often absurd as a set, or too simply formulated to handle all eventualities). – Steve Sep 16 '20 at 19:58
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Your example 1 is nothing about conflicting information: it's about doing your job. The customer wants that item, you get it for them. It doesn't matter if the security guard asked/told you to do it, what they're expressing is the need of the customer.

For the rest of the examples, ask for clarification from your manager at an appropriate time. Explain you're been giving conflicting information from your supervisors and ask what the official policy is. Then the next time you're given the incorrect information, you can refer to that.

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  • It never hurts to ask if they need help. Until they get offended for no reason and then rant about it. You shrug it off and ask the next person that might need it regardless. People are jerks to retail workers. – IT Alex Sep 9 '20 at 14:08

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