Emotional Labor

In The New Republic, Timothy Noah looks at “emotional labor,” which in practice means work environments where employees are required to exude happiness to give customers a positive experience. Here’s Noah on sandwich chain Pret A Manger:

Pret keeps its sales clerks in a state of enforced rapture through policies vaguely reminiscent of the old East German Stasi. A “mystery shopper” visits every Pret outlet once a week. If the employee who rings up the sale is appropriately ebullient, then everyone in the shop gets a bonus. If not, nobody does. This system turns peers into enthusiasm cops, further constricting any space for a reserved and private self. And these cops require literal stroking. In other workplaces, touching a co-worker may get you fired, but at Pret you have to worry about not touching co-workers enough. “The first thing I look at,” Chief Executive Clive Schlee told The Telegraph last March, “is whether staff are touching each other . . . I can almost predict sales on body language alone.”

I’m a generally positive, happy person, but working somewhere that not only asks you to look happy but touch each other, is just too much.

Photo: Zorilla

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18 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

+10000 for the gif and for finding the approps picture.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

Ummmm, sexual harassment hotbed, anyone?

Sallymander (#3,159)

I’ll second the props for that gif! So appropriate. And yeah, this sounds like the worst workplace ever, speaking as an emotionally distant, not-cheerful, prickly loner. BUT I AM SO INTRIGUED BY, “I can almost predict sales on body language alone.” More touching = higher sales? By how much? How often have I been manipulated into buying coffee by the invisible psychological nudge that is touching employees???

@Sallymander Probably fewer than the number of extra beers I’ve bought from a flirty bartender.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@forget it i quit It’s weird too because Pret is one of those places where you go in to grab your sandwich/coffee and get out of there, not really where you hang around and shop and soak up the touch-y vibe of the place or whatever!

probs (#296)

Aaaauuuuuuugh!

probs (#296)

I hate businesses that subject their employees to these humiliations. Making minumum-wage earners sing to me at fucking Moe’s, forcing grown men and women to wear polyester cullotes and neckerchiefs at Disney World. Just put up a notice by the handwashing sign that reads “EMPLOYEE DIGNITY IS NOT ALLOWED”

@probs The outright ridiculous ones like Coldstone Creamery singing when they get a tip makes me uncomfortable, like the employees are nothing more than windup marionettes that get activated with a quarter.

That said, I had lots of fun making my little cousin embarrass himself at Coldstone. That normally woulda cost me $10.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@forget it i quit yes! This! I can’t bring myself to tip at coldstone because the singing makes me so uncomfortable. I just want some icecream I don’t want to make a whole big scene.

Megano! (#124)

@probs I agree, but I think Disney World is the only place this should be allowed.

Fig. 1 (#632)

Now, what’s worse – working at Pret, or working in an Amazon warehouse?

@Fig. 1 Considering Amazon actually has robots doing many of those jobs in other warehouses, I think that would be more depressing.

Fig. 1 (#632)

@forget it i quit Yeah, I’d rather work at Pret, even with all the touching. I know people who’d rather walk 7 miles a day to avoid a hug, though.

@Fig. 1 My cousin works in an amazon warehouse near our hometown. She’s had a rough couple years and there is really nothing else in the area, so its the only place she could get a job. It sounds pretty brutal, but she actually doesn’t seem that unhappy. But I know another friend of mine who worked there for one hour or something, left before he finished the orientation.

Megano! (#124)

That sounds absolutely hellish.

calamity (#2,577)

Oh mannn, there was a really hot Pret worker who I was flirting with off-and-on for a few weeks. I haven’t seen him there for a while so I think he left, but this is just rubbing salt in the wound! WAS IT ALL A LIE???

I mean … I did visit more often than I would have otherwise. BUT STILL.

honey cowl (#1,510)

Ew. A special kind of hell.

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