The Smell of Bullshit, part 23: stories from a former Lush employee

This email appeared in my inbox yesterday.

Hey there, I stumbled across your blog whilst putting off writing my dissertation earlier this week and I’d like to chip in with some of my experiences. I’m happy for you to share some of these issues on your blog as I think a few of them are new things you haven’t yet touched on. I’m really aware that the things that happened to my colleagues and me might happen to others, and I’d like to mitigate those horrible experiences. Anything you do share, please do ensure I am anonymous. I have a friend who still works in the same shop I did and I wouldn’t want her to be affected by what I’ve said (she hates it and wants out, but is struggling to find something else, Lush is very much a place where you can be guilty of negativity by association).
Okay – I worked for Lush in 2008/09 in very busy, very successful store. At first I loved it. I’d moved to the town for university a few months previously and struggled to meet friends and I found that the people at Lush were infinitely more engaging than anyone I’d met on campus. In my first few weeks 2 of my customers rang customer services to say how great I’d been and another left a gift for me in the shop because she felt I’d cheered her day so much. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when my probation period was extended because I wouldn’t take on extra shifts. I’d never been late, never missed a shift, never had a complaint or made an epic mistake with money, so I explained that I was working really hard at university, I didn’t need the ££ from extra shifts, so didn’t feel the need to take them on. They don’t really like that kind of thing, having things that you think are more important than Lush, you have to love the company above everything else.
We were also expected to work for free, for the love of the job. If you were working a close, the shop would close at 6pm (unless you customers in, you weren’t allowed to tell them that you were closing) and your shift would end at 6.30pm, you wouldn’t be paid after that. But the standard to which they expected the shop to be cleaned, the volume of work involved in re-potting fresh and restocking shelves, divided between just 2 SAs (or 3 at the weekend), meant that you’d be lucky to finish before 7 and usually work until 7.30. That’s an hour of unpaid work we were expected to do. Our managers insisted that the work could be done in half an hour and we weren’t working hard enough. All of us weren’t working hard enough. We were also expected to learn about the products in our own time and we were tested on them in training. If you didn’t pass your test you lost your job.
Finishing times were something of a problem. We had to ask permission from the manager to leave when we’d finished our shift. If you were with a customer you were expected to finish the sale without pay or time in lieu. If the shop was busy, you were expected to read the mind of your supervisor and make an assessment about whether you should stay (you did get paid for that though). We were told not to make plans for a few hours after any given shift, in case they needed us. Lush above everything else!
Our shop was closed for something like 8 weeks one summer while it was refitted. During this time we were told we would not be paid. Many staff were on zero-hour contracts but some of us were on 4 or 8 hour contracts (if you’d managed to get your hands on your contract in your first year there, but that’s another thing!), some people working full time hours. And none of us were getting paid, for 8 weeks. I’m not sure if the management got paid. But I’m sure that this was illegal. In order to mitigate the impact of this and so some people could afford to eat they said they’d pay us our remaining holiday pay for the period we were off. Some people had accrued quite a lot through working extra hours. When we got back to work a few days before the shop reopened we were told that company policy had changed and we would no longer get our holidays as an average of our hours but based on our contract hours. Which for some people was nothing, and for others was considerably less than what they were expecting and had planned for. For some people this was too much and a few people left.
When the new store opened it was a nightmare. The stone floors were dangerously slippery when wet and the wooden units weren’t supposed to get wet. The new set up made keeping the shop clean and safe considerably harder. Management conceded that to keep the store looking its best we could take an hour after closing to clean up. But mostly we still worked an hour unpaid. The floors were a real issue, rain and mopping alike made them deadly. When we complained we were told that we were being ungrateful for our lovely new shop.

I enjoyed working at Lush for the a lot of the time and I’m still close friends with the people I met there (all but one of the friends I invited to my wedding were friends from Lush, and all but one of those doesn’t work there anymore), and the discount was amazing. However, my memories are tainted by how exploited I know I was. For anyone working there – JOIN A UNION.

I’m not sure if Lush has finished refitting all of its UK shops, but there might still be staff out there expected to go 8 weeks without work.
All I can say to this is to echo this person’s advice. If you are being treated in a similar way, by any employer, please join the appropriate union and get help. For very basic advice, see this post about zero hours contracts, and this post about your undeniable legal rights to join a union.

7 thoughts on “The Smell of Bullshit, part 23: stories from a former Lush employee

  1. This so called “story” is legit bullshit! You get paid when you are clocked in no matter what! I work for Lush. And I LOVE IT! Sure at times it sucks, but its a retail job. Lush pays over the minimum wage based off of state regulations.

    • April, you’re talking about state regulations so I assume you are in the USA or another country which has states. This is a post referring to the UK. Please remember that no matter what the rules are, badly trained or malicious managers don’t always do things right, and your good experience doesn’t mean nobody has a bad experience. Please think about that before you accuse people of lying.

      • hey, i’m working in a lush store in the UK, my store is extremely understanding- you get paid after close if you’re shutting and cleaning away facemasks and putting lids on testers and such. EVERYONE gets a contract no matter what. although our floor gets so slippery because of so many people with wet boots and such and because our store is so small we do have to be extremely careful, usually wt floor signs are around and we’ve never had an accident so far!
        i’m not accusing of anyone of lying but at least my UK store is absoloutley lovely and relaxed.

  2. April is just and young idiot that is brained washed by a corporation, whom she thinks is doing here a fucking favor, i have heard and seen this shit happen over an over to people.

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