“Hi, Em. Just starting?”
“Yeah,” I flop down on the sofa beside my colleague. “Not feeling it to be honest.”
“Same. You’re on a turnover too aren’t you?”
I nod. “D’you know what’s depressing? This time tomorrow it’ll be two minutes before the end of that day’s shift.”
“Oh shit, yeah,” she says, pushing herself into a more comfortable position. “Didn’t think of that. It’s like two shifts in twenty four hours.”
“It’s not like two shifts in twenty four hours,” I laugh grimly. “It literally is. Two shifts in one day.”
“Can you imagine if that happened at a normal job?”
“I know, it’d kick off. But the law is dumb and we’re shift workers who don’t enjoy sleep so it’s okay,” I reply, sarcasm dripping from my voice as I open the staff room door.
I work in a casino, and that casino is open 24/7. It only closes at 12am Christmas Eve (technically making it Christmas Day), and then it opens again at 12pm boxing day.
That means that I, and most of the other employees, do shift work. Shift work is when your rota is different every week. No set hours, no set days off. And, inevitably, many of those shifts are at night.
I’m a receptionist, so my shifts are limited. I get a lot of 10pm-6am shifts because that’s when we’re busiest. Closely followed by 2pm-10pm shifts, because my stepdad does the rotas and I told him that’s the shift I prefer. Occasionally I’ll work 8pm-4am on a weekend “split” shift to help out the night receptionist. And very rarely, I work 6am-2pm, and that’s mainly because there are two other receptionists who prefer that shift over any other so I only get it when they don’t.
This is okay. I knew it would be like this when I applied for this job at age 18 (after just having been given 8 weeks – 8 weeks – notice by my previous one). But here are some things I didn’t expect:
- 8 hour turnovers
- skewed body clock
- “can’t tell on each other” culture
- the fact that some customers are the literal rudest people I’ve ever met
- having my break forgotten about
So, in this post, I’m going to complain about all of those things.
8 Hour Turnovers
When someone’s shift ends eight hours before their next one begins, it is colloquially referred to as an 8 hour turnover.
The first one I ever did was a test when I first started as a valet (serving food and drinks). I finished work at 4am, and my next shift started at 12pm that same day. My then-supervisor would always give new starters one to see if they could do it. Not sure if she still does because I don’t work in that department anymore.
I was late. My fiance had agreed to give me a lift. He woke up at 12:15pm. I called work in a panic, and the manager laughed in understanding and said “Overslept?” I got to work at 12:30pm. It was later brought up in my appraisal at the end of my probation by the food and beverage manager, who said “That was a stupid shift anyway so don’t worry about it.”
So that was fine, but here’s my problem.
It’s 8 hours in which you have to (factoring in every eventuality) leave, get home, wind down, sleep, shower, eat, and get back to work. And that is something which the law allowing this doesn’t consider. On and 8 hour turnover, I spend a maximum of four of those hours actually sleeping. And then I have to do another full 8 hour customer service based shift running on less than 4 hours of sleep.
When I moved to reception, this became more frequent because the receptionists agreed to do one 8 hour turnover a week to avoid doing a night shift before their days off. And while I do appreciate not finishing a shift six hours into my day off, I do sometimes wonder if the exhaustion is worth it.
Skewed Body Clock
I was not a night owl before I started shift work. Because I worked in nurseries before, I was always ready for bed at about 9pm and it was rare that I was ever awake past 11pm.
Before that, in school, I suffered very badly from insomnia, and the introduction of shift work to my life brought it right back.
I called this part “skewed body clock” but a more accurate description would be “no body clock”. Because how can you have a body clock when you have no routine? Every time my body settles into a pattern of shifts – for example, on afternoons, ready to sleep at midnight and awake by 11am – my shifts change. Even on my days off, I find myself awake until 6am even though I’m exhausted. But if I was on afternoons before, I struggle to make it through my next night shift.
I hate getting up early, but a 9-5 job would be better than always being tired.
“Can’t Tell On Each Other” Culture
It’s worse than it sounds.
When I first started as I valet, I soon discovered that no matter what an individual’s morals or work ethic was like, every single valet in the building stuck to one rule: we don’t tell on each other.
The idea behind it was that if you have a problem with someone, it was more respectful go to them about it instead of getting them in trouble. This was fine and exactly how it worked for a while.
But, obviously, nobody thought about the level of respect that should be given to colleagues regardless. And this rule started making less and less sense. It was evident that certain people were taking advantage of the rule by doing things they shouldn’t have be, or not doing thing that they should’ve been, knowing that nobody would go to a manager about it.
One particular case always comes to mind. A girl had swapped shifts with someone so that she would be doing the most integral night shift, and then she called in sick to that shift saying that her grandma was ill, and it came to light soon after that she had actually gone on a night out with her boyfriend. There was more to it than that, but that was the long and short of it.
And we discussed whether we should say anything. I had already volunteered to work an extra five hours to share the work load. Another one of my usually upbeat and laid back colleagues was fuming. He told me he was going to tell on her. And then someone else said no, we don’t tell on each other. And she never got into trouble for it. And she eventually left the job having gotten away with so much stuff that a lot of the rest of us would have been punished for doing, all because we don’t tell on each other.
That rule has almost completely disintegrated now due to the atmosphere in that department, and it is honestly a big part of the reason I chose to be a full time receptionist instead of continuing as a valet.
On one of my very last shifts as a valet, I was considering going to my general manager to ask if I could do valeting part time and reception part time. I thought to myself if this shift goes well, I’ll ask tomorrow. This was shortly before I interviewed for the full time receptionist job that I am now doing, but here’s what changed my mind about the part time thing.
I made a lady a cup of tea. I had asked her if she wanted sugar and, as far as I remember, she said no. The lady took a sip of the tea and called me back over.
“This has no sugar in it.”
“You said you didn’t want any.”
“No, I said I wanted two. I’m not drinking this.”
“Okay then. I’m sorry. I’ll just put some sugar in. My mistake, I must’ve got it confused with someone else’s.”
“Don’t just put the sugar in this one, it’s cold now. Make another one.”
I decided not to mention to her than it had been less than two minutes since I served her the red hot cup of tea and that there was no way it could be cold. Also, I had been known to think people had said “one” when asked “any sugar?” instead of “none”, and vice versa. But “no” and “two”, I had never mixed up. Regardless, I remade the tea, apologised again as I placed it next to her, and she didn’t thank or acknowledge me.
It was by no means the worst interaction I’d ever had with a customer. But, on that day, it was the final straw. And it was the first drink I served.
Here are a few other regularly occurring customer situations which made me hate valeting so much that I hope I never have to do it again:
- standing in the valet room, so full of rage that I could cry, unable to say anything about it without looking like I just don’t like that customer
- being asked “it’s not good enough, is it?” after making a minor and easily rectifiable mistake
- a customer threatening to get me fired because I forgot to bring him a glass of ice, despite me getting it for him ten seconds after
- getting pulled off my break early because someone insisted I had forgotten their food order. I had not spoken to that customer all night, much less taken and then forgotten about their food order
- taking a large order of drinks and returning with them only to discover that they had made the same order with another valet seconds after, claiming it had been ten minutes
- being ignored by customers and them having those same customers accuse me of not serving them
- people taking drinks that they had not asked for off my tray because they wanted it
- having my name incessantly repeated because I was in the middle of taking another order and did not immediately pay attention to the guy who addressed me as “you serving, love?”
- inappropriate questions/comments such as “how big is your boyfriend’s dick?” and “I want to take a picture of you so I can frame it and hang it in my bedroom.”
Having My Breaks Forgotten About
The reception desk is out of sight of most of the rest of the casino, not everyone has perfect memory, I could just call up and ask, we don’t always have someone reception trained to cover, sometime’s we’re too busy, and sometimes we’re really not busy at all.
I get that.
But I still want and am entitled to my breaks. I shouldn’t have to ring the manager or pit boss to remind them. No-one else has to.
Sometimes I’m lucky if I get a break.
I don’t want lots of breaks in my last three hours. I don’t want a longer break to make up for it, i don’t want a free meal and an apology.
I just want all the breaks I’m supposed to have, for the correct length of time, when I’m supposed to have them.
Because when we are busy, I need to get away at least once. And when we’re quiet, I need something to do other than stare out the window and run out of games to play.
That concludes my rant for today.
I would never, ever choose shift work again unless I absolutely had to.