A reader writes:
I’m writing about a past situation that I still think about.
I used to work in retail as a high school junior from August to March. I live in the midwest, where geese are pretty common in the spring. What was weird about this one though was that it decided to nest in a huge empty flowerpot (no idea why there were no flowers) right in front of the entrance to the store.
I have an extreme phobia of most animals. It’s manageable when they’re on leashes, but wild animals always make me really anxious. I had not told my boss this when he hired me because I did not think it was relevant to being a cashier. (I also just did not really know how interviews were supposed to go and got hired on the spot without much of a conversation.)
I was scared to go inside the store because of the goose, but I managed to have my mom walk me in a couple times, with some shaking and crying, but I got inside without much discussion with management. I was usually the only employee on my shift (it was not a very busy store and management would help if it did get busy) so I didn’t have to explain myself to any coworkers.
Then, one day when we were outside, another goose came out of seemingly nowhere and swooped at our heads. Neither of us were injured, but I was now even more afraid than before. I decided to (with the help of my mom) get advice from local animal control services. They recommended getting a large beach umbrella and using it to hide.
This method proved extremely unhelpful, and, in fact, made the problem worse. This time, multiple geese actually chased me around the parking lot while I was thrown into a complete panic attack until I finally managed to run inside. I should also note that another goose (or possibly two) was battling my mom with the umbrella!
We contacted animal control again, but they could not provide any further advice. We also contacted a couple of wildlife organizations, which directed me a man who might be able to do something about the removal of the goose (it is illegal to disturb nesting geese in any way, without a whole complicated process), although they also could not provide other advice on anything I could do.
My mom and I spoke to the man, who said he could not do anything about the matter without the consent of my boss. My boss, when the prior incident had occurred, had essentially said that since none of the customers had complained, there was nothing he could do other than let me in through a side door (despite another one of my managers also being afraid of the geese!) so I didn’t bother telling him. (He was only a store manager so he didn’t have the authority to do authorize the goose removal without much higher management getting involved, and I didn’t want to burden him or cause a strain in our relationship.)
My uncle had passed away this same week, so the next few times I was scheduled to work, we would drive by the store, I would see if there were geese by the side door, and, if there were, I would cite grief over my uncle as the reason why I could not come in to work.
Eventually, there was a day where I saw around 5-8 geese on top of the buildings in this parking lot and tried to call in again. My manager (not the main boss — the one also afraid of the geese, ironically) demanded I come in to work since she was going to be alone. I told her that she could not force me to come in to work but she could fire me, and my mom and I drove away.
Later, my boss contacted me and asked if there was something we could do to keep me on, but I explained that as long as the geese were there, I could not guarantee that I would be able to make my shift, and he wished me luck in the future. I do not believe we ended on bad terms, but they certainly were not good either.
I’m wondering if there was anything else I could have done in this situation or if there’s anything to be gained from this for the future. And it’s also just an intriguing cautionary tale!
I will always print letters about bears and geese, but please don’t spend any more thought on this! You have a goose phobia, there were wild geese nesting around the store who were not going to be relocated, you left the job accordingly, and that can be that. You were in high school; you handled it the best you could.
But since you’re asking: If we had a time machine, the thing I’d recommend doing differently is being more up-front about the situation with your boss at the beginning. Something like: “I have a phobia of geese that’s making it impossible for me to enter the store some days. Assuming the store isn’t willing to have the geese relocated, I won’t be able to continue in the job because I can’t reliably know when I’ll be able to walk through the door, if geese are there. I’m sorry about this!” (The apology isn’t for having a phobia — you don’t need to apologize for that — but rather more of an “I regret we didn’t both realize this earlier.”)
The strategy of driving around the store right before your shift to see if geese were there and then calling out if they were wasn’t a great plan because it (a) meant you were calling out just minutes before you were supposed to be there and (b) avoided dealing with the issue head-on, which dragged things out on both sides (and undoubtedly kept your anxiety in a state of high alert for a longer period of time).
But you were a teenager, presumably without a nuanced knowledge of employment stuff, and you did the best you could at the time.
You asked about lessons for the future. I’d say it’s just that when you can see something is going to be a big problem for you — problematic to the point that it’s basically prohibitive — speak up early. Lay your cards on the table (“I can do X but I can’t do Y” / “X is not possible for me; would Y be an option?” / “I hadn’t anticipated X when I came on board; it’s a problem because Y”) and have an open discussion. (Of course, inherent in that advice is that you need to be prepared for the answer to be “X isn’t something we can change, so it sounds like we should part ways,” so that framing is for situations where you’re okay with that outcome.)