My first job was running a cash register at Kmart, a company that I’ve watched slide into financial trouble over the years.
During my five years working there, I moved up from cashier to checkout supervisor and service desk employee, which meant I ran the front desk, handled customer service issues, and gave refunds and exchanges.
There was a middle-aged couple who used to come in regularly — I’d see them a few times a week. No matter how busy we were, no matter how long the line might be, when they saw me, they’d ask me the same question:
Working hard or hardly working?
I’m not sure why they insisted on that greeting every single time.
Maybe they thought it was so clever, they used it all the time and lost track of the fact that the people they regularly spoke always heard it.
Maybe they considered it a way to break the ice, a way to get their foot in the door to conversation in a social situation.
Maybe they didn’t even think about it at all.
But they said it.
Every. Single. Time.
It’s the kind of thing that most people often don’t notice, even though it might be repeated often, until.
Until it dawns on them how annoying, how tiresome it really is.
I never complained to them about it, but I did try a few simple responses I hoped might snap them out of it.
Once, I answered, “You know the answer to that by now: I’m always working hard.”
Another time I answered, “Oh, I hate to give you the same answer every time, but I’d have to say working hard.”
Either they just didn’t pick on my attempts at subtle hints or were so locked in on that little ice-breaker that they couldn’t break that habit.
Even though I was working hard on a way to break them of it!