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Friday, August 26, 2011

Do People Like to Work?

Do people like to work? Hmmm, the first response is, “Of course, people don’t like to work.” Then why do people work? It is to receive compensation that further advances other aspects of their lives. Well, at least that is why I believe most people work, especially front line employees.

So if people work to receive compensation, and know that is why employers are paying them, then why do I observe more and more people actually working less while on the job? Somewhere along the way the unwritten contract between employer and employee seems to have diluted to employee’s feeling work is simply showing up, that talking to coworkers, ignoring the customer, or using technology to do personal things on the job is something the employer should still consider work.

Here are three examples of the phenomena. Recently, I had jury duty at the Orange County courthouse in central Florida. While waiting to be screened at security I saw the sheriff, who should have been observing the security process, texting during my wait. 


Second example, when I worked at a call center I noticed many front line agents using the texting capabilities of their phones between calls, and there was no business reason to even have their phones out while waiting for the next call. 

Final example, my husband called three separate Footlocker stores to inquire about a soccer shoe he saw online. Every call ended abruptly with the store employee rudely answering the phone, assuming they knew what he wanted, and the employee ended the call within one minute. The employees reacted as if my husband was bothering them. 

Why does that happen? Primarily it is boredom, the repetition of the job. 


Busy people have no time to do anything but be engaged at work. But not all jobs require the employee to be ‘on’ from start to finish of the shift. By the nature of many front line positions there is downtime between customer interactions, so without direction employees find other ways to pass the time. Second, it is a lack of supervision. No one would dream of doing anything but work, or the appearance of work, while a supervisor is nearby. But it is not realistic to think a supervisor has the capacity to observe employees every moment of the shift, nor is it efficient.

Finally, it is the unwritten contract between employee and employer. 


Everyone knows that they should be only doing work at work, but it seeps into the culture of what one can get away with, and what the employee feels they “deserve” in relation to compensation or benefits. For example, the employee in their minds are not compensated fairly, so they will make up the compensation in form of not giving 100% on the job effort. No matter what you tell an employee in training, if they see it is not the reality in the environment, the environment will win.

I will also add that this is a behavior I see salaried folks demonstrate as well. 

This baffles me to no end. I have seen several intelligent employees practice this behavior, and I have observed many employees not seem to give a care about customers when they are in their very presence. Put aside me being a customer, but at least acknowledge me as a human being! The main question is how do you change your culture so this is not the accepted norm, when this is the accepted practice in society?

The Customer Service Guru Solution

My main thought to combat this is to always have a set of expectations for employees during customer interactions, face to face and on the phone. In my examples, the sheriff should know that it was completely unacceptable to be doing anything but observing the population being screened. I know it is boring, but anyone wishing to do harm is betting on that boredom. With the Footlocker example, the employees should have set expectations how to properly answer and personalize a phone call. In the call center example there is always something to do that would add value to the business. Finally, have supervisors spot check employees during these interactions.

I also believe employers will get nowhere if this is pursued with a punitive mindset. That only creates a culture of distrust and negativity, which employees will devise even more sophisticated methods not to work. Create a culture that shows employees are appreciated, and compensate accordingly, for giving 100% effort every minute of the working day.

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