Monday, August 15, 2011

Diner Dash -- for Cash

Ready to Smile?

How does any company encourage teamwork? At Pret a Manger, executives say, the answer is to hire, pay and promote based on — believe it or not — qualities like cheerfulness. There is a certain “Survivor” element to all of this. New hires are sent to a Pret a Manger shop for a six-hour day, and then the employees there vote whether to keep them or not. Ninety percent of prospects get a thumbs-up. Those who are voted out are sent home with $57 and no hard feelings.

(This Pret Post content derived from post by Rob Horning based on a a link to this NYT article about Pret à Manger and their monstrous use of surveillance, emotional management, and gamification to motivate.)

The crucial factor is gaining support from existing employees. Those workers have skin in the game: bonuses are awarded based on the performance of an entire team, not individuals. Pret workers know that a bad hire could cost them money.

Instead of solidarity against management, each worker becomes the face of management, another Stasi spy for the happy police. But that is not nearly enough surveillance to allow Pret’s management to discriminate among workers:

Pret also sends “mystery shoppers” to every shop each week. Those shoppers give employee-specific critiques. (”Bill didn’t smile at the till,” for instance.) If a mystery shopper scores a shop as “outstanding” — 86 percent of stores usually qualify — all of the employees get a £1-per-hour bonus, based on a week’s pay, so full-timers get around $73.

“There’s a lot of peer pressure,” said Andrea Wareham, the human resources director at Pret.

Pret reinforces the teamwork concept in other ways. When employees are promoted or pass training milestones, they receive vouchers, a payment that Pret calls a “shooting star.” But instead of keeping the bonus, the employees must give the money to colleagues, people who have helped them along the way.'

“Rewards, through bonuses or ‘outstanding’ cards, affect behavior,” Ms. Wareham says.

In the end, it’s just Pavlovian manipulation, not genuine recognition of the worker as a human. The incentivizing of feeling leaves no space for the employees to be recognized in and of themselves. That’s what is so creepy about going into a Pret—you know they are being forced to be nice to you and are being carefully watched by other fake-nice bosses and informers.

Every new employee gets a thick binder of instructions. It states, for example, that employees should be “bustling around and being active” on the floor, not “standing around looking bored.” It encourages them to occasionally hand out free coffee or cakes to regulars, and not “hide your true character” with customers.
Are human interactions so conditioned by the imperative of exchange that giving and getting something for nothing is the best way to simulate genuineness, or sincere benevolence?

Unless you believe that it’s more fun to be forced to pretend to be having fun while working a deli counter—maybe the findings that people who are forced to smile report being happier apply here also. Pret’s annual work force turnover rate is about 60 percent — low for the fast-food industry, where the rate is normally 300 to 400 percent. Stockholm Syndrome is a powerful management tool.

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