As the holiday shopping season gets into full swing, many businesses are surely counting on their workers to spread some holiday cheer among customers. But is it possible for your employees too cheery?
Pret A Manger, a United Kingdom-based sandwich chain with more than 50 United States locations, has raised eyebrows over the abounding enthusiasm of its workers. The company trains its store employees to follow so-called “Pret Behaviours”—which includes passion, clear speech and teamwork, according to an article in London’s Telegraph. CEO Clive Schlee says he likes to see employees gently touching each other, as a sign of camaraderie and compassion. “Are they smiling, reacting to each other, happy, engaged? I can almost predict sales on body language alone,” Schlee said, according to London’s Metro.
Mystery shoppers are sent into shops to check whether employees are truly adhering to what some have dubbed Pret’s “enforced happiness.” Workers with the best attitudes get a bonus.
While the emphasis on enthusiasm may seem smart from a customer service perspective, some customers think the touchy-feely attitude at Pret A Manger is too much to stomach.
"For a good long while, I let myself think that the slender platinum blonde behind the counter at Pret A Manger was in love with me,” joked writer Timothy Noah in a New Republic column earlier this year. “How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte? Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.
"Why must the person who sells me a cheddar and tomato sandwich have 'presence' and 'create a sense of fun'?" Noah added.
Others have noted that Pret’s emphasis on cheer feels creepy, superficial and unfair to its employees: “Enforced-friendliness policies and mandatory personae seem like a violation of people's integrity,” Slate.com columnist Matthew Yglesias wrote.
To be sure, Pret A Manger isn’t the only business asking its employees to plaster on a smile these days. McDonald’s said earlier this year that it was encouraging its counter staff to be cheerier. Apple stores pride themselves on hiring employees who are enthusiastic about Apple products. What’s wrong with that?
Nothing, says Fast Company magazine co-founder Bill Taylor. In a recent blog post for Harvard Business Review, Taylor defends Pret and argues that businesses that try to forge stronger personal connections are building “more valuable” organizations positioned to succeed in today’s high-tech, low-human-touch world.
"At a time of vast and troubling uncertainty, in a world that is being reshaped by technology, small acts of connection take on outsized importance,” Taylor writes. “It’s strange to think that a winning smile from a cashier or a flight attendant, or a nod of recognition from an employee who has seen you three times that week, might matter to the person receiving it—or to the person doing it. But I believe it does matter.”
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