Alarm Bells Ring
Lately, my two daughters and their seemingly limitless stories of unpleasant, frankly rude customers, work colleagues and managers, have made me very conscious of how unpleasant the workplace can be for many young people. Seen through their eyes, this brand new, much-anticipated world of work is quite shocking and not what they expected at all. It can be intimidating and spirit sapping, and it’s not what I want for them. I am often incensed and always amazed at how rude customers can be. In fact I go so far as to label this behaviour as bullying.
“… use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.” Wikipedia
It is incumbent on us all to treat this behaviour as unacceptable whenever and wherever it is encountered.
In retail, so many frontline customer service people are very young. They are on low wages with little training. At a time when they need the most support, they are often being managed by people with very little experience in management. I believe it is a flawed practice designed to save money but potentially delivering quite the opposite, resulting from disengaged employees, high employee turnover etc. I suggest that these employees are also often considered expendable. They are easier to remove from the ranks if they are perceived to be troublesome (although they shouldn’t be), and there are queues of cannon fodder in waiting. The biggest hindrance in the fight against bullying behaviours is the silence that results from the fear of career limiting labels “troublemaker, high maintenance” and so on.
In difficult and intimidating scenarios, given the lack of experience, management support and a tenuous employment position, these young people can struggle with balancing their own interest with the “customer is always right”. Not every customer is right.
Do we even hear the alarm bells
The longer you reside in this world, this world of transactions, the more desensitized, complacent and accepting of poor behaviours you can become. I guess we are all guilty of some degree of complacency, but recently I have become conscious of just how much. It’s time we were all conscious of our behaviours not only at work, but also outside of work hours. Do you agree?
I can recall countless stories of rude and unpleasant behaviour in the workplace (both witnessed by me and described to me by friends and colleagues). In fact, I had only just finished drafting this article when I purchased and began reading a new book, ‘The No Asshole Rule’, by Robert Sutton, (more on that in another post). This book addresses antisocial and very unpleasant behaviour in the workplace. It essentially suggests installing a rule that the people who display these behaviours are weeded out and moved on. Not so easy to do with customers, particularly in a retail environment, but achievable with employees and customers in other workplaces.
The book provides the statistics to support what we know, and that is that poor behaviours are rampant in work places of all sorts, although often administered in a clandestine manner. The statistics are alarming. There are huge numbers of employees across the globe, experiencing bullying in the work place, with intimidating behaviours like verbal abuse, exclusion, harassment etc. from co-workers as well as superiors. And don’t think for a minute that the average bully is uneducated, or less fortunate. They come from all walks of life, levels of education, privilege and capability. In fact, some of the rudest and most unpleasant retail customers appear to come from the ranks of the more wealthy and some of the most prolific bullying happens in the medical field amongst the most highly educated.
I can’t help but wonder if, amongst the reasons this behaviour plays out in our everyday lives, is that we unconsciously shape our behaviour based on the proliferation of brain numbing media we are overdosed with now. Does it leave us feeling we need to get one up on every transactional interaction we have with others, and at their expense? Or is there some other cause for this unpleasant trend? Help me out here. Why is there so much of this behaviour?
Are we all becoming increasingly desensitized and in turn less empathetic? Are you? Just think about TV and movies. Every entertainment is served up with a shocking sauce designed for maximum impact. The fast talking, quick quipping TV stars never cease to impress us with their complete nonchalant reactions to the myriad of murder victims that litter our prime time. Take a detective with a coffee and a donut, throw in a corpse and a few slick one liners and you have a hit series. And reality TV, where junkie fans feast on the inner secrets of their short-lived, typically talentless celebrity favourites, before feigning sympathy for their eventual morbid demise, all played out in front of a nation secretly baying for their ruination. No wonder we couldn’t care less about our real life expectations. Is it any surprise some people feel they need to be the headline TV star in their own soapie at the expense of some poor unfortunate?
How I belittled a shop assistant in 10 simple words and a speak to the hand gesture.
How I ruined the shop assistants day with my razor-sharp sarcastic repartee whilst my shopping companions looked on jeering and sniggering. Ha ha ha ha (maniacal laugh).
In retail, the ruder and greedier the customer gets, the more desensitized the customer service persons become. And then of course, the more confident, brash and incensed the customer becomes and so goes on a vicious and unnecessary cycle. When my wife and I do the grocery shopping, I am always amazed by the monotone and clearly compulsory greeting of the checkout guys and gals. Are they bored, or beaten into submission?
“Hi, how are you. Hi, how are you. Hi, how are you. Hi, how are you.” rolls out the looped greeting of the checkout guys and gals. Sometimes they will take one quick furtive glance at you, making eye contact for a split second to assess you before retreating into their Stepford personas.
Next time you go shopping, try this. Smile and reply, “Good thanks, how are you”, in an upbeat tone. So often they are visibly quite shocked to have you make a return enquiry. Now if you really out there you might even ask them “Is it busy tonight – long to go on your shift?” Wow they are human. Many of them are quite happy and grateful to have a quick chat and a smile to break up the monotony of the routine. Who’d have thought you could do so much good by doing so little.
What am I asking for?
Ok, some empathy, some consideration and some effort to make someone’s day better. The power resides in all of us to send someone home happy from work. Whether it’s at your place of work or when you’re out on the bargain prowl.
We need work places where all employees, from junior to senior are not complacent. Where these behaviours are not accepted by anyone and that employees are confident to report and call out these behaviours in defence of themselves and support of their colleagues. Where the troublemakers are bullies and intimidators, and where those who need support are confident to ask for it and receive what they need and know they are valued.