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Friday, July 26, 2013

Blurred Lines

 Every so often I think maybe I am just old school in how people should behave at work.  My first full-time job was at Walt Disney World as a merchandise hostess (Epcot, Centorium -“The Gifts of Future World!”) One concept engrained during my first few days of pixie dusting was the concept of onstage and backstage.

What it meant was anytime a cast member (employee) was anywhere there could possibly be a guest (customer), AKA Onstage, the expectation was to act on-the-job.  The culture was employees were always on best behavior in front of customers, regardless of the circumstance.  When not in front of customers, usually physically behind a door or fence, AKA Backstage, it was more relaxed and informal. 

Sometimes, I miss those days.  There are good things about society become more relaxed and casual (Ask any woman about wearing pantyhose during a humid Florida summer.) But there are blurred lines I wish we could reestablish.  Sometimes I think, “Yuck! I did not need to see or know that!” or “You do know you are at work?”

What Happened
My hubby and I were checking out at a Walmart express lane.  We are third in line.  The customer at the register seems to have a lot of merchandise for an express lane, and there is a problem with his order.  The next person in line is a Walmart employee, presumably on her break as she was buying a cheesecake snack from the deli.   The first transaction is taking longer to resolve, so the Walmart employees opens the cheesecake and starts eating in line while waiting to check out!  I can’t imagine Walmart appreciates this behavior from customers, let alone an employee.

At all types of businesses, I’ve heard personal and inappropriate conversations taking place between employees, this includes managers.  I've heard about the results of doctor’s appointments I never wanted to know about. I know about relationships in ways that make me think, “Too much information!”   When I worked in a call center, even though employees aren’t physically in front of customers, I remember conversations taking place on the floor that made me scratch my head, “You did not just say that!” The other thing is how often smartphones come out at work.   Does everyone realize that they are paid to work, and not check in with their personal life?

When employees are so involved in their personal lives at work, customers are seen as an interruption and not the reason they are paid.   In this context, personal life includes talking to fellow employees.   More importantly from a business perspective, it makes the customers feel unimportant and many times uncomfortable.  I won’t ask an employee for help when I hear a personal conversation, nor do I tend to linger longer. That is lost revenue. 

Clear and Muddy
We spend so much time at work that it is clear many of our co-workers become our friends.  We establish personal bonds because we see our co-workers more than we see our actual families.  That part is good.  Having friends at work typically improves an employee’s satisfaction and engagement.  It’s nice to know our co-workers, share good times, and have a sympathetic ear in bad times.

Where it gets muddy is the idea that the personal relationships are more important than the job itself, or a job is an extension of life outside of work.  When an employee talks to another employee about marriage issues, eats in front of a customer, talks about their children’s book report, or a gazillion other behaviors, it says they made that decision that whatever is happening in their life is more important than what they are getting paid to do.  That is not the type of employee that creates satisfied customers.

How to Solve

The key here is to keep it simple.
  • If the supervisors are doing any of these behaviors, the employees will do it too, as they create the defacto culture.  Find ways to help them manage their behavior.
  • Have this question guide behavior: “If my boss’ boss was standing right in front of me, would I be doing this?” 
  • Put a physical line on the floor and make a sign that says, “Beyond this line it is Game On!” or whatever terminology works for your environment.  It does not have to be formal, but the point needs to be made. 
  • Office environments work a bit differently, so ask your team for their ideas how to manage this behavior.
Help unblur the line for your teams.  Set the expectations, reinforce them, and be a model of the best behavior.  There is a time and place for everything, onstage and backstage.  Define what that is for your world and tell your teams.  Are you ready?  Lights, camera, ACTION!


1 comment:

  1. Update...For the Walmart Haters out there, I was in Target the day after posting the blog. I was in line to check out, and behind me was an employee talking to a customer, but the customer was obviously a personal friend. The customer/friend was telling a very loud story about a girl's weekend in Las Vegas. TMI, folks, TMI!