I started out at Walmart as a lowly cashier in 1999. It was just an after-school job, something to pay for going to the movies with my friends and to fuel my video game addiction.
Apparently, I was good at what I did, because I got promoted to customer service manager, and then to a job in the accounting office, and finally to the "coveted" position of assistant store manager. As may be obvious, I stayed until 2006.
The trademark vest
There wasn't anything particularly special about the people I worked with, but there wasn't anything un-special about them either. Everybody was fairly nice, a little disgruntled and dissatisfied with the low pay, maybe, but nice.
I worked at two different stores. The first was the social center of a small town and the second was much more urban and poor. The employees and customers at the second store seemed a little more ragged and worn down around the edges, but I could usually coax a smile or a laugh from everybody.
The dress code wasn't anything too strict. You had to wear the trademark Walmart vest (I still have it) and name badge, and couldn't wear shorts or flip-flops. There were many times, as a teenager, that I rolled out of bed in last night's T-shirt and jeans and made a mad dash to work. Nobody said a word. Later, as an accounting-office employee, I got to ditch the Walmart vest. This small victory was overshadowed when I went to work as a manager and was forced to dress in business attire.
No special treatment
Nothing about the jobs I had at Walmart was awful, exactly. It's just that it wasn't great. I thought everything ran fairly smoothly, until I became an assistant store manager. That's when I started to see how the so-called "higher ups" were treated. As a salaried employee, it didn't matter how many hours you worked, you were paid the same. To the big Walmart machine, that meant forcing salaried employees to work as much as possible. I would work anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week for the same measly paycheck. I began to get frustrated with the fact that such a rich organization could treat me so badly and pay me so little.
Nice perks, like a game room or free meals, might have made up for some of this, but nothing like that was granted to the employees. Most people worked out on the sales floor, but those "lucky" enough to have an office shared a crowded space with a bunch of other employees. All the personnel people shared an office; all the store managers shared an office -- that went on and on in every department behind the scenes. Nobody had their own space.
The only "perk" was a break room. Everybody shared the break room. There was a McDonald's in both stores where I worked, but nobody could really afford to eat from there every day on the salaries we made, so most people scarfed down Walmart brand (of course) sandwiches and chips brought from home.
A corporate slave
All of the people I worked with seemed to share my general attitude. We felt we had good job security working with such a large and important company, but we really wanted out. We all wanted to work somewhere better, more impressive, and of course, with higher pay.
Cashiers quit all the time to move on to bigger and brighter things like college or real careers, and I would watch them go, feeling a strange mix of envy and pride. Those of us who were routinely promoted, however, usually just stayed put. We knew we weren't making big money, but we also knew we had a decent job in a rough economy. At least it seemed decent at the time. Looking back, I realize I was pretty much a slave to the corporation.
In 2006, I finally made my break. I got a call from another company that wanted to recruit me. When I heard how much they were offering me, I couldn't turn it down. I worked fewer hours, and I made more money. I'm still working retail, but I'm doing well. I guess, in some ways, I'm grateful for the experience I gained at Walmart -- but I probably would have been a lot happier and a lot richer if I'd gained it elsewhere.