Let's take things across the pond, not only to see how America's low-wage work culture is infiltrating overseas, but to see how people outside our own country view this culture. Now, usually when we learn about Europe, we learn about how employment is a little more laid back in the US. Longer afternoon breaks, casual coffee breaks as means to bond with co workers instead of corporate team-building exercises, better work/life balance, etc. Not so anymore, some employers are taking pages from America's book on how to run things, especially for minimum wage jobs.
Abi Wilkinson's article for The Telegraph paints a picture of how more low-wage U.K. employers are copying America, and according to Wilkinson it's downright dystopian. It's moved beyond general pride in work, and is all about taking your employer into your heart and soul. Memorize their values, sing the company song, dance the company dance (literally!), and show your love and devotion to the organization paying you a meager paycheck for your labor. If anything, this attitude of needing employees to go above and beyond what's needed all the time is doing more harm than good for employees.
This is by no means advocating employees to be surly in front of customers. It's about allowing them to vent in the break room after a particularly difficult customer. It's about employers seeing their staff as human, and having human expectations. It's about allowing co workers to bond in a more natural fashion to create a more cohesive team. It's about building brand advocacy by creating a great environment, as opposed to operating your business like a cult.
In truth, employees at low wage service jobs want to be treated better. They want good pay, benefits, holidays, stability, and for their employers and managers to know that they may just be there for the paycheck. Maybe if more employers considered raising wages over song-and-dance numbers they'd have a happier, more loyal work force.
For anyone who has worked at a low wage employer, have you had to engage in any of these "loyalty building" practices?
Like many people, I spent my late teens and early twenties bouncing between a variety of customer service jobs. For between £5 and £7 an hour I manned tills, waited tables, pulled pints and mixed cocktails with a forced pleasantness that in hindsight sometimes masked fairly disturbing thoughts about the misfortune I wished upon particularly unpleasant clientele.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely didn’t hate every customer. As I remember it, I felt either positive or neutral about the vast majority of them. Occasionally, though, it took every ounce of willpower to avoid either bursting into tears or telling people what I really thought about their obnoxious behaviour.
(more after the flip)
Thankfully, my managers weren’t under any illusions about the realities of hospitality and retail work. As a result, they weren’t particularly bothered about what was going on in my head – as long as I completed the tasks required and was friendly enough that customers weren’t deterred from coming back. If my smile turned to an eye-rolling scowl when I popped back of house, well, that was my own business.
Only now do I realise how fortunate this actually was. Through a combination of luck and timing, I managed to totally avoid a terrifying trend that seems to have spread like wildfire across the UK service sector in recent years.
Taking their cue from the USA – a country that has truly led the way inpushing employment relations to their dystopian limits – many British companies are starting to demand far more from staff than the efficient and courteous performance of basic role requirements. Increasingly, they’re also seeking to control their hearts and minds.
I’ve lost count of the number of anecdotes I’ve heard about employers that seem to operate more like cults. Through a combination of jargon-laden propaganda about "corporate values" and humiliating, infantilising activities, senior managers attempt to mould compliant, dedicated customer service-a-trons whose work becomes their central purpose in life.
One individual described getting “an absolute bollocking” for refusing to draw and colour in a coat of arms “representing the organisation values and team values”. Another told me they were forced to sing a company song and reprimanded for failing to participate enthusiastically enough.
At group interviews for a major UK supermarket chain, all candidates are required to perform a dance routine and chant for the approval of would-be bosses. The purpose seems to be to discover which potential employees are most cheerful about submitting, without question, to any arbitrary demand placed upon them.
A book published in 2012 by the US-born chairman of Metro Bank lays out his psychological approach to management in chilling detail. It explains how the company goes to significant lengths to “de-program” new employees and claims that “it doesn’t take new hires long to see that our philosophy is much more than a corporate mission statement: it’s a way of life”. Apparently, this is supposed to be inspirational rather than utterly terrifying.
You hardly have to be a raving Lefty to see a problem with companies attempting to exercise increasing control over the mental and emotional state of their employees. In many ways, then, it’s reassuring that it rarely seems to work as intended. I’ve never spoken to anyone who feels anything other than patronised and resentful of corporate brainwashing efforts.
Despite this, it places pressure on people to demonstrate a level of enthusiasm that goes far beyond what’s necessary in their role. Individuals earning barely more than minimum wage are required to adopt a constantly cheery persona not just for the benefit of customers, but also to appease their bosses.
Whenever I’ve worked in shops, bars and restaurants, staff have been allowed to moan to each other about late shifts and mock rude customers behind their back without management questioning their commitment and suitability. This made it much easier to turn the charm on when it was genuinely required and promoted solidarity amongst staff. We might have been working long hours for low pay, with little job security and clientele who sometimes treated us like dirt, but at least we were in it together.
If you want to maximise morale, you’re better off with the kind of straightforward managers who knows that “paying my bills” is top of most people’s reasons for coming to work and don’t insist they pretend otherwise.Things that actually make people happier in the workplace are higher wages, stability and security, respect, autonomy, generous holidays and having a good work-life balance.
It seems ridiculous to have to point out that there’s no cut-price alternative involving ditties about "company values" and compulsory colouring in.
Original article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/shopping-and-consumer-news/12129461/Why-do-I-need-to-love-a-company-to-work-there.html