Diary of an IKEA co-worker



Not many people know this but once upon a time I was an IKEA co-worker. About 8 years ago right after I dropped out of college, I started to look for a job, any job to support my family. I've always been a fan of IKEA home furnishing so I thought I'd like try to look for a job there. Although there's a few vacancy at the store, there's not much to choose from that suit my zero-qualification except for showroom assistant, kitchen helper or a cashier. So I applied for a cashier there and a week later started my first job after college.

When my manager first called me to offer the job, I was delighted. I was jobless for a few months and I had a baby on the way so I was understandably happy that I finally got a job, at a place that I like. Although it was just a lowly cashier, I can't really complain because it's definitely better than no job at all. First day on the job, I was given 3 pairs of uniform and 2 IKEA-branded jeans. I thought it was cool to actually wear jeans to work instead of the usual t-shirt and slacks uniforms like other jobs. Then I went straight to the cash office to start my work.

Working as a cashier wasn't really awe-inspiring or glamorous. I'm sure when your teacher asked you what you'd like to be when you grow, nobody said 'a cashier at a furniture store'. But it's a job and at that time, IKEA paid slightly above market rates for cashiers at that time at RM900 per month. Only today they started to pay RM900 as minimum wage. My job as you might guess is to attend the cash register and check out the goods that people buy. It was a repetitive and boring job. One must check every item at the checkout line carefully as not to miss anything. If you didn't scan an item and got away with that, that's okay. But if your superior finds out then that would spell trouble for you. During my time, we had to pay RM10 for every item that we missed. I don't know how they deal with that now.

Then there's the case of shortages. Yes nobody's perfect, including cashiers but that count for little at work. If your cash amount didn't add up you'll be the one paying for it, literally. It'll come from your meager salary. That's why sometimes you'll see teary-eyed cashiers coming out of the cash office. As a cashier, you are expected to be good with counting and handling money. It's part of your job description. I've had my fair share of shortages although not numerous but it still sucks.

Other than that, I find the work environment and culture at IKEA extremely pleasant. You start your shift early in the morning around 8:00 AM. The store doesn't open until 10:00 AM but you got to come early to count your float money and prepare for stuff. They have a cafe especially for the staffs or co-workers as they like to call us. If you frequent the IKEA restaurant on the first floor, there's actually another dining area especially for co-workers on the opposite side of the kitchen. The entrance for this co-worker restaurant is next to the women's prayer room. There you'll see an exact copy of the regular IKEA restaurant but on a smaller scale. IKEA co-workers get to buy everything on the menu including the day's special at half price. That means, 10 pieces of meatball will cost us 5 ringgit instead of the usual 10. The co-worker restaurant is nice and clean just like the regular restaurant. There's also a smoking room inside the co-worker restaurant where smoking staffs can puff away without harming anybody else. I guess the food at the restaurant is so good that even during fasting months you might find healthy-looking male Malay Muslim co-workers eating there during lunch. Shameful, I know. Although they had no official halal certification I can assure you the food there is quite halal. Most of the cooks are Muslim, including a few managers and they check all their suppliers carefully and only order from halal-certified ones. There was a time when the meatballs that they sell was rumored to be not-halal. The management quickly close down the restaurant to investigate and clean the entire kitchen in the proper Islamic way. About two weeks later, they found out their meatballs is actually halal and the rumors and reports were just rumors. That's how seriously they take their customer's satisfaction and confidence.

There are basically 3 shifts working at IKEA Malaysia, the morning, middle and closing shift. You work five days a week and have two days off where one of them can be on weekends. Apart from full time co-workers, there's also part timers who came in to work from time to time. Part timers are paid by the hour instead of a fixed monthly wages. At IKEA they don''t pay you for overtime, instead every hour that you worked outside your normal shift would be accumulated into leaves. I thought that was pretty cool at first but when I think about it now, it's a pretty clever and cheapskate way to squeeze every seconds of your employee's labor and avoid extra for overtime.

We get pretty much basic industry standard benefits like panel clinics and hospitalization. There's 13th month pay or bonus as you normally call it. Apart from that, there's a little incentive for co-workers every month depending on how much profit the company makes.Co-workers also get to buy everything in the store for 11% off (I think) including AS-IS items and sales item. But since entry-level co-workers make little money in the first place and the products on sale are not exactly cheap, most of us can only afford to buy stuff like once or twice a year.

Holidays are celebrated with decorations and promotions around the store. Christmas is extra special at IKEA and they have special programs and events for this particular holiday. On Christmas day, every staff will be given a present from the company, usually something cheap, under 50 bucks each. When I was there, everybody got a little inexpensive mp3 player each. Since it's free, I can't really complain but somehow I wished they were something more memorable. Leaves are limited (I forgot how many) and you'll have to plan them far in advance. Hari Raya is especially contentious because every Malays staff would like to have a day or two off for that occasion. Usually our manager would rotate who will be granted the day off for Hari Raya. Somehow I was lucky to have 4 days off for Hari Raya that year.

I worked for one and a half year at IKEA in Mutiara Damansara. Like most jobs I've had my fair share of ups and downs, good and bad memories. In my early days, I was pretty pissed when I had to leave the check out counter late in the evening and only got home near midnight. One time after a particularly busy and tiring day at work, I slammed the cash office door on my way out. I'm pretty sure my supervisors remembered that day well because I didn't get any kind of promotion until a year later. I was young and stupid and not very patient back then. Eventually after showing much effort and improvement in my work, I got my much awaited promotion. Although I didn't become a supervisor straight away, my boss gave me the job of assigning and scheduling people for breaks and dinner. That was kind of a promotion because you don't have to open your counter for much of your shift and do supervisory stuff instead. Pretty sad, I know.

The company had an annual dinner event usually at some posh hotel where everybody dress up in their best for the occasion. During my time there the theme was Hollywood Glamor or something and they held the dinner at Le Meriden hotel in Bangsar. The women showed up in their most beautiful dresses while the guys in their best suits and coats. I remember I had to borrow my uncle's coat for the dinner because I'm to poor to buy or rent one. Still I had to say people said I looked different (dashing) in a suit instead of the usual t-shirt and jeans (ahem). We had a proper 5 course meal and performances by artists and some of the co-workers. There was also free flowing beer at the dinner and I can still remember vividly some first time drinkers (read: Malay staff) getting tipsy from the beer. I didn't touch any of course. It was a truly memorable event.

A year and a half into my job though, I started to get disillusioned with my job. During my interview, my boss promised me gradual promotion at work if I did well. I think I did pretty well at work, doing everything that was assigned to me, good attendance and stuff. But when one by one co-workers who are much junior than me started to get promoted while I'm still stuck at my lowly position and wages, I talked to my boss face to face and she coolly said she doesn't remember making such promises. That when I thought it was time to get a new job. Normally one would find and get a new job before quitting their current one. I was so unmotivated to work, I just gave 2 weeks notice to quit my job to my employer even without securing another job. Fortunately I didn't have to wait for long (is 2 months long?) to get my next job which is an IT assistant job in Seri Kembangan.

Working at IKEA Malaysia sure taught me a lot of things. Like how to kiss your boss' ass to get that promotion or win her affection (I didn't do any of that of course). And never to slam the door of your office when you're pissed off at something. Even when you are unsatisfied with something, you've got to be professional and calm in your actions. Losing your cool won't achieve anything and would only harm your reputation and affect your chance for development. I also learn some office politics and how to steer my way through it. I learned how IKEA furniture are made, it's history and company secrets. Well it's not exactly top secret or anything. The key is with their designers who design stuff from the least expensive materials while maintaining quality. They also buy raw materials and product things in huge volume to lower price. And of course everybody knows IKEA infamous flat-packaging and DIY furniture assembly which saves a lot of cost. I also learned how to do the best in everything I do. It has always been my mantra. Do the best in everything you do. Be it a fast-food restaurant crew, a cashier, anything. I was a damn good McDonald's crew and I tried my best to be a good cashier and IKEA co-worker in general and towards the end of my employment there, I think people started to notice too.Be the best in what you do and the recognition and rewards will come sooner or later. And you don't even have to kiss other people's behind in the process. But most of all, the one important lesson that I learned working at IKEA is that I can complain and sulk about my work and life or I can do something about it. That's what I did, something to overcome my unhappiness and look for another job.

Even after 8 years, I still remember fondly at my time at IKEA Malaysia especially since I still frequent that store at least once a month. A few people there would still remember me and say hi while most of my former co-workers that I used to work with had left the company. In fact soon after I left the store, there was a little exodus of co-workers leaving that place. I guess a high turnover rate for a company that size is perfectly normal. The showroom manager during my time there is the Store Manager now which is quite an achievement since they usually hire foreigners for that position. I like the spirit, the energy and the friendliness of the co-workers. There people would say hi every time they meet in the hall or corridor. I love the smell of wood and furniture whenever I enter the building. I like how I can keep my hair for as long as I like. I love the cheap food beautiful showroom. IKEA Malaysia would be a nice place to work if you start from executive level onward. If you start from the bottom, the work is hard, the hours are long and the pay is dirt cheap just like any other entry level positions in the market. That was my experience as an IKEA co-worker

7 comments:

  1. thanks for sharing your great experience =D

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  2. This is very well written, very engaging - I appreciate the depth of this piece. I was googling Ikea kitchen and came across this article. Well done. I hope you continue writing.

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  3. looking up to the environment was pretty cool.

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  4. that was such a a nice sharing...
    I am going for the IKEA job fair in cheras today...
    and hopefully, the "Ong" is with me

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  5. thanks for sharing such wonderful experience! i'm going to have interview with them, wish me luck :D

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  6. Good sharing and nicely wrote.. pro and cons. Going to meet them for interview. Hope I can go through the challenging retail working culture once again.

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