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5 Life Lessons I Learned From Working At Whole Foods

I worked at Whole Foods for almost four years, the majority of which I spent in the bakery as a cake decorator in a fun, busy suburban store. It had some serious ups and downs and a variety of challenges that were unique to the company and their customer demographic. I’m glad I had the experience because it tested my mettle and grew some great friendships. After reading 7 Life Lessons I Learned from Working at Starbucks, I was inspired to write my own list, with an organic, artisan, locally sourced Whole Foods twist. Here are 5 indispensable life lessons I learned while working at one of the most beloved/hated grocery store chains in the country…

1. Ask forgiveness, not permission. This was one of the gems of wisdom my first supervisor imparted to me. We were in the middle of a power outage and had to figure out what to do without bothering the store managers, who had enough on their plates. It holds up in almost all life situations: If you know what needs to be done and you can do it, it’s better to act than to wait around for someone to tell you to do so. If you make mistakes, you can at least say that you did something, and hey, you did your best.

2. Speak up for yourself and for others. My first manager in the bakery at Whole Foods demonstrated this beautifully in a pretty epic “the customer isn’t always right” moment: A customer had come in claiming that a cake a coworker had made was the worst cake she’d ever seen. We, of course, re-made the cake to the customer’s liking, but my manager took the customer aside and told her that her employee had studied pastry and run her own bakery and so while the customer didn’t like it, it certainly wasn’t the worst cake she’d ever seen. That set a serious precedent for me as an employee — any time I felt I or any of my coworkers was being mistreated, I brought it to the attention of someone who was in the position to fix the problem. It’s amazing what a little confidence and great management can do.

3. Some people are just plain weird. I’ve seen other retail employees jump to the defense of those customers who drive you bonkers, and I’ll leave that to other retail employees, because sometimes customers are just bizarre. This is true in any line ofwork, but Whole Foods attracted a breed of customers who were on that next-level weird game, who were convinced that the red lights at check-out lanes were irradiating food (no) or that the Illuminati were conspiring to kill off 95% of the population with soy. Seriously. I had a customer tell me that, and then start to giggle in a supremely creepy fashion. The most useful wisdom I gleaned from these experiences? You can’t fix or justify weird, you just have to roll with it.

4. Asshole customers are the salt that gives kick to the general awesome-customer ooey gooey caramel. I have so many “bad customer” stories that they’re not worth telling. What is worth saying is that we had customers who were consistently kind, thankful, and interested in the employees as human beings. We were told to create relationships with our customers, and it was easy to do because the majority of them were at least personable and at best really wonderful to transact with. It gave me a lot of faith in humanity that customers were happy to wait, happy to be served, happy to have good products available to buy, and happy to talk to us.

5. Have an exit plan. As much as Whole Foods is a good company to work for, unless you really love retail (and some people do!), you should get out before you’re desperate to get out, and trust me, that day will come. I swear there must be a condition called “retail burnout” because I experienced it and saw many other employees experience it, too. You’ll be doing yourself and your work environment a favor to start thinking about what you really want from a career early on, so that you can stay happy and on top of your game while you’re at your retail job.

Rebecca Vipond Brink is a Chicago-based traveling photographer and scribe who now makes cakes exclusively for the people she loves out of her apartment kitchen. Follow her at @rebeccavbrink, at facebook.com/vitat.rex, and on her blog, Flare and Fade.


This Is Why Your Whole Foods Cashier Hates You



In the religion of buying organic and local, Whole Foods is like the big, showy megachurch. There’s two-hundred plus of John Mackey‘s paeans to healthful eating in the U.S. and in each store there’s a throng of cashiers bleating the Whole Foods motto: “Would you like five cents back for bringing your own bag or would you like to make a donation to charity?” The prohibitive price of the groceries (Whole Paycheck, anyone?) coupled with the granola (and we’re not talking merchandise here) the company emanates attracts a certain kind of customer. If you’re one of those customers, know that even though your actions may come from a benevolent place, you might be driving your cashier nuts. Here are some helpful tips (culled from a former store employee!) to help preserve their sanity.

Don’t joke about your ID being fake.

You’re handing over the limited-edition six-pack of microbrew or a bottle of biodynamic wine and you crack wise about the validity of your ID. Understand that this happens one to two dozen times a day and by the 15th time, it is as fresh as any sitcom tagline. They see the smirk on your face, and it’s almost like they can hearJoey Lawrence exclaiming, “Whoa!”

They don’t run the store.

This may surprise you, but your cashier probably does not run the store. Don’t complain and/or chastise them because the herbal eyedrops have been moved and you can’t find them or the bulk lentil bin is empty. Again. It’s not their fault, and they don’t care that things are done differently at [insert name of your locally owned organic grocery store that you aren’t frequenting anyway].

Don’t talk on your cell phone.

Actually, go ahead an talk on your cell phone. Making small talk is part of the job, and if you’re on the phone they get to forgo the ritual. Just be prepared to answer all the pertinent questions, like, “How are you going to pay for these biodegradable picnic utensils?”

Don’t assume they buy the Whole Foods hype.

Just because someone works at Whole Foods doesn’t mean they buy into your piecemeal spirituality. Don’t tell them Mercury is in retrograde or lecture them about the latest international cause you’ve taken up. They’ve been standing in place for seven hours, trying to pretend they love every minute of it for fear of losing their job. You’re paying too much for your food, and they’re not getting paid enough to pretend they care.

Put your kids on a leash.

Okay, you don’t have to put them on a leash. It’s demeaning, we know. But learn the line between raising kids to be “free” and respecting others. Maybe they let Dakota express herself like that at Montessori school, but keeping her from scattering peanut butter pretzels everywhere won’t stunt her emotional development.

Sourced from sfweekly.com


My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty

My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty
Enlarge(Credit: AP/Steven Senne)

After years of organizing in secret, building bonds over beer and supporting co-workers when issues have arisen with management, team members at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco disrupted the normal workday and demanded a $5 an hour pay increase last month. More than 20 employees beckoned store management to the floor and presented a petition signed by more than 50 of the store’s workers calling for more paid time off, better health and retirement benefits as well as steady, consistent schedules.

 I worked at Whole Foods in the spring of 2012. As is the typical way of getting to know co-workers, I went out for drinks with a tight-knit group of employees. Conversations went quickly from the getting-to-know-you banter to politics, and it was at the time the Occupy Movement was running out of steam. We exchanged battle stories of political engagement and mused about how best to carry the momentum from Occupy in new directions. I asked about organizing at Whole Foods; a few of my co-workers smirked while others played dumb. A week later I was brought into the fold, and found people had been organizing for more than two years. I was feisty for action, but the others knew better; they were in it for the long haul.

Since workers came out after plotting in the shadows for nearly five years, store managers have reportedly attempted to kill them with kindness, while saying nothing of their demands. On the corporate side, Whole Foods Market announced a pay increase in its San Francisco stores effective Jan. 1, shortly after the Whole Foods Union went public.  The $1.25 increase in the starting wage, from $11.50 to $12.75, sits 50 cents above San Francisco increase in minimum wage that will take effect in May of 2015. Outside of that, both the store and corporate management have refused to publicly address the situation. Workers organizing at Whole Foods claim the announced wage increase four months ahead of schedule was likely in response to their demands.

In an attempt to put teeth to their demands workers held pickets at the Whole Foods Northern California Regional distribution center in Richmond, California. The picket fell short of stopping the flow of goods to the Bay Area stores it had envisioned, in the spirit of the Black Friday actions taken in 2013 by retail workers. Although the Teamsters did agree that their drivers would not cross the picket line. To that Ruan, the shipping company contracted by Whole Foods, hired temporary workers — scabs — to cross.

Organizing with the radical-syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, Whole Foods employees are shunning traditional unions that represent the majority of workers at Safeway, Alberson’s and other national grocers. In doing so, they have given up access to the deep pockets of United Grocery Workers and the like, but have the added agility to stealthily maneuver. The IWW is also the only union to have successfully created union shops at Starbucks.

“Organizing through the IWW gives us a lot of autonomy,” said Nick Theodosis, an organizer and beer and wine specialist at Whole Food SoMa. “All the decisions are made on the shop floor.”

It’s no secret that Whole Foods Market is hostile to unions. Its co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey has compared unions to herpes, and has insisted that his company is “beyond unions.” Whole Foods is the second-largest union-free retailer behind Wal-Mart, a company that does not hide its hostility to labor behind progressive rhetoric.

Nonetheless, Whole Foods Market has been listed on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 17 years in a row. For 2014 the green giant was listed at 44, just beating out Goldman Sachs. While it’s no surprise, Fortune does not consider organized labor as a significant factor in its metrics.

My first day working at Whole Foods, Mackey and co-CEO Walter Robb were walking around the store shaking hands with employees. Mackey — to his credit — has turned the ratio between executive and worker pay upside-down, earning a token salary of $1 a year; unfortunately those executive savings don’t seem to be passed down. He was goofy, yet sociable, and after some chitchat about backpacking he let it slip to me that on the trail he goes by the name Strider, a confession that brought an embarrassed look to Robb’s face. The trail name is likely a “Lord of the Rings” reference to the humbly disguised Aragorn.

Having worked on fishing boats for a few years prior, I ended up on the seafood team with a starting wage $2 an hour more than the minimum. To my dismay, I realized I was making significantly more than my friend from Mexico who helped me get the job. He had been a consistent worker at Whole Foods for more than five years and hadn’t seen anything more than meager raises.

At Whole Foods various departments are called teams — for example, grocery, seafood, produce, and employees in those teams are called team members. Bosses and management? You won’t see those words; there are only team leaders. If these words had authenticity the “us versus them” dichotomy of normal labor discourse would be irrelevant. In fact, the company’s employee handbook specifically states “Us versus them thinking has no place in our company.” To counter this thinking Whole Foods states it attempts to cultivate an atmosphere of “happiness, joy and love,” and encourages “participation and involvement” in company policy.

While working at Whole Foods, the company actively sought out team member participation on how the company would restructure its benefits package. All team members attended a mandatory meeting on benefits. At the meeting the in-store human resources manager made it clear that Obamacare had resulted in higher health costs that had to be passed down to workers — ahem, team members. So the vote — non-binding, of course — was a vote on how workers would like their benefits cut.

During the meeting I pulled up a chart on the performance of Whole Foods’ stock on my iPhone and found it steadily climbing. The company’s stock price had increased more than 30 percent in the previous year and has continued to grow since — even though the company’s stock got pummeled earlier this year after it failed to meet growth expectations. I flashed the graph to an organizer sitting beside me who chuckled, then to the rest of the room, but there was no humor seen in it. They knew they were about to pay more so Whole Foods could tout its cost reductions to Wall Street.

This was, and still is, a clear sign of the times. At one of the country’s highest preforming companies, benefits continue to be eroded and wages stagnant at a time when the cost of living was steadily on the rise.

In fact, a public housing project a few blocks away from the SoMa store is known as the “Whole Foods Hotel,” in that more than a few team members live there. Even working full-time at one of the 100 best companies to work for, employees often rely on public housing and other forms of public assistance, shifting the burden to municipal coffers.

My time at Whole Foods was short. After three months of being a part-time team member while working full-time hours, with a schedule that made it very difficult to see my daughter regularly, I quit. As is often the case I didn’t have any grudges with the store management, I never felt abused or threatened. But I did suffer a very common indignity in the U.S. workforce: working 40 hours a week while still being chronically broke.

Many of the workers who now fear their jobs by standing up and making demands had been at Whole Foods for years. They support children and raise families with their unlivable wages. While retail is an industry with high turnover — for example, myself — it’s the livelihood of many. For a company that prides itself on promoting participation and involvement, it should respect and encourage the most direct form of participation a “team member” can engage in: organizing and demanding more from their highly profitable employer.


Sourced from salon.com