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February 1, 2013 12:48 PM   Subscribe

"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." The doubtful ethics of the new emotional labor.
posted by Riton (294 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess we remedied mass production's alienation of labor with the new service economy's uncanny valley of labor
posted by the mad poster! at 12:51 PM on February 1, 2013 [42 favorites]


I have to agree with Mad Poster, when someone is really, really happy to be helping you at their minimum wage job it just feels creepy. A business-like demeanor is a good thing.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:52 PM on February 1, 2013 [69 favorites]


Absolutely terrifying to me.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember some fast food chain once had a promotion where, if your cashier didn't smile when handing over your order, you would receive $1.

Any customer who made sure that their cashier handed over that dollar is literally worse than forty Hitlers.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2013 [96 favorites]


Yanno if these places paid a living wage they'd probably be happy all on their own.
posted by hellojed at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2013 [60 favorites]


Back when I worked at Jimmy John's, a customer once asked if we were "paid to be friendly" as, apparently, my coworkers and I were particularly friendly that night. The answer was 'no' -- I don't think there were any guidelines for interaction outside of "be polite" and "stay cool" -- we were all just treated like human beings by the managers (who worked alongside us) and trying to make the best of having to make sandwiches at 2 A.M. on a Saturday night.

This, on the other hand, is literally the exact opposite of what would promote actual friendly behavior.
posted by griphus at 12:55 PM on February 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


I prefer my servers to be openly hostile.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:55 PM on February 1, 2013 [32 favorites]


Thats a lot of pearl clutching and oh how terrible hand waving with little substance.

Take this sentence, for example: "Pret doesn't merely want its employees to lend their minds and bodies; it wants their souls, too. It will not employ anyone who is "here just for the money.""

The company wants to hire folks who are more than just money oriented towards the job...that equates to "wants their souls"???

I'm not seeing the problem here... When I worked retail management, I treated customers in a manner that made them smile. I expected other staff to do the same... there was another store across the street, why send your business away by being negative...
posted by HuronBob at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Eh.
In all these instances, emotional labor served (legitimately or not) identifiable emotional needs. That's not true at Pret. Fast-food service is not one of the caring professions. The only imperatives typically addressed in a Pret shop are hunger and thirst.
People spend money based on feelings. Give them a good feeling about your business and you have a much better chance of getting repeat business. This isn't the same as prostitution; I really don't believe it's too much to ask that your employees are friendly.
Emotional labor is not itself new. Prostitutes have faked orgasms for millennia.
Really? They're gonna go there?
posted by mullingitover at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Arbeit macht glücklich.
posted by tommasz at 12:57 PM on February 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Who are the brain police? Maybe they should make employees who aren't sufficiently perky perform a self criticism in front of the other employees to boost team morale.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I prefer my servers to be openly hostile.

It feels more legitimately French that way.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


When I worked retail management, I treated customers in a manner that made them smile. I expected other staff to do the same...

Same here, but the way to do that is to create an environment, as best you can, to promote employees being happy. Not to order them to look happy.
posted by griphus at 12:59 PM on February 1, 2013 [72 favorites]


I have to agree with Mad Poster, when someone is really, really happy to be helping you at their minimum wage job it just feels creepy.

I could have posted this in yesterday's tipping thread. As an Australian visiting the United States last year, I got used to tipping. That was fine. What I couldn't get used to was the creepy, cliched, forced cheerfulnees displayed by the tipees...
posted by Jimbob at 12:59 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


It feels more legitimately French that way.

My restaurant job was in London, which is where I learned how to be polite and awful at the same time.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2013 [32 favorites]


I think there's a way to be polite and friendly without being so transparently fake. The problem is that a lot of the people working jobs that are just above minimum wage aren't really the same people who could pull off a good acting job.

Because, try as you might, you sometimes just won't feel like being polite and friendly and animated. The people who consistently pull it off are acting a bunch of the time. There's really no difference.
posted by inturnaround at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm liking the chain a lot less now. Dangit. They provided a halfway decent sandwich at high speed.
posted by aramaic at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2013


What I couldn't get used to was the creepy, cliched, forced cheerfulnees displayed by the tipees...

I think what you are referring to is called "American Culture". Unless you were in the extreme north east or north west, fake cheerfulness is pretty much expected of you all the time, even at funerals!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


I think the creep-factor here is from the scale and measurement, rather than the (appearance of) emotion. If I ran a small retail business like a nice coffee shop, I'd want the people working for me to be friendly to the customers. Not weirdly affectionate, just friendly. I would ask them to be friendly, and, if they're having a crap day (which happens to us all), to fake it reasonably well. Someone who genuinely wasn't capable of that probably shouldn't be working that job.

But if I ran such a business, I'd be around, and I keep an eye on my employees myself, or hear from regulars, or whatever. When you scale up to national chains, the methods start getting a bit creepy. OTOH, I know I like dealing with (some) places that probably have methods like that in place -- e.g. Virgin Airlines, where the folks really do seem to be more friendly & helpful than other airlines, and I'm sure methods like these are part of why.
posted by feckless at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I get lunch at Pret every couple of weeks. The staff always seems to be in pretty good spirits and gets along well, poking fun at each other, cracking jokes, etc. I have had some interesting conversations with the cashiers while waiting for my food.

Maybe it is all a show in an effort to get a bonus from a mystery shopper, but it seemed pretty genuine to me, and I deal with fake-nice people frequently.
posted by brain_drain at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2013


last year, I got used to tipping. That was fine. What I couldn't get used to was the creepy, cliched, forced cheerfulnees displayed by the tipees...

Cold Stone Creamery - About the Singing

This makes me want to vomit. I will never, ever set foot in a Cold Stone Creamery.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2013 [24 favorites]


Now that I know Pret's slender blonde doesn't love me, I prefer the human contact at a D.C. lunch counter called C.F. Folks. The food is infinitely better. But I also like that the service is slower, the staff is older and grumpier, and the prevailing emotion is "Get over yourself." Try touching someone at C.F. Folks, and you just might get slugged.

When I worked in Dupont Circle, I frequented CF Folks (and The Well-Dressed Burrito). They're damn fine - normal - lunch places. This was a really odd way to end the piece.
posted by troika at 1:04 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Same here, but the way to do that is to create an environment, as best you can, to promote employees being happy. Not to order them to look happy."

I agree, and I'm not seeing anything in the article that states that the employees are abused or not treated in a manner that is positive.

Having expectations is not wrong in and of itself...
posted by HuronBob at 1:05 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless you were in the extreme north east

I gotcher extreme Northeast RIGHT HEAH!

Would you like fries with that?
posted by bondcliff at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Now that I know Pret's slender blonde doesn't love me....."

And, there you have it.... every blog post has it's own motivation, eh?
posted by HuronBob at 1:07 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I gotcher extreme Northeast RIGHT HEAH!

When I first got to DC I lived with a guy from New Hampshire who would occasionally let me borrow his car to run errands. Coming from the deep south, it was so liberating having those yankee plates. I felt so free to honk at people and even yell an occasional obcenity. What a rush!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yanno if these places paid a living wage they'd probably be happy all on their own.

I dunno; many service sector jobs in Western Europe (in banks, railroad ticket offices, public sector stuff) supposedly pay a living wage and the people working them are still surly as hell much of the time, AFAICT.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a serious dislike of Pret A Manger.

I remember when it started. I love carrot cake, and Pret sells single serving carrot cake. As I was standing on line to pay for my single serving carrot cake I read the back. It said something like "Totes sorry this is a cardboard box instead of an awesome vintage pressed tin box like grandma had. Our cakes are totally made with love (just like grandma used) and deserve way better than cardboard. You should pretend the cardboard is a fabulous heirloom tin".

I understand informality and that kind of cutssieness in corporate communications. I also understand there are only a few ways to distinguish relatively upscale goods from the competition. One of the ways I call "Love". You position your product not as the end result of a sequence of market research, tests, and spreadsheets, but as a labor of love. You make carrot cake because that shit is your life. Your only goal is to make the best carrot cake possible, damn the consequences. Fuck the P&L statements, the suits just don't understand.

There are plenty of chains and product lines that use this tactic. Pret however, has cranked that shit up to 11. They have reached a level that makes me not only question them, but all products marketed in that way. It makes me long for a carrot cake that was just made in a plant somewhere with the cheapest ingredients possible, with no pretense.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [46 favorites]


Here's another piece about the culture there.... a bit of a different take.
posted by HuronBob at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2013


See: All retail in Japan
posted by cman at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Marge: Ooh, that's a great price for twelve pounds of nutmeg.
Apu: Oh, great selection and rock-bottom prices. But where is the love?
Man: [over loudspeaker] Attention, Monstro Mart shoppers: just a reminder that we love each and every one of you.
Everyone: Aw.
posted by griphus at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [29 favorites]


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 . . .

Yes, in the engineering field we have this too; groin-cupping in particular aids comprehension and makes those technical conversations go much more efficiently.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure I get this. Isn't the framing "I thought she was in love with me, so I kept going there. Now that I know she isn't in love with me, I go somewhere else." While I don't think he literally means "in love," isn't he kind of proving the point that people care about the demeanor of servers?

There's something about this that I actually find vaguely demeaning to people who work in service jobs, as if we're somehow defending their right to be the unpleasant grudges they really want to be. A lot of people who work behind counters do, in fact, take pride in giving good customer service and don't consider it any more "real" to take a "get over yourself" attitude toward customers. While I would be uncomfortable with enforced hugging or something, saying you're hoping to hire people who aren't strictly there to pick up a check and leave doesn't strike me as quite the terrible thing it's made out to be here. I think there are places where it's taken to an extreme and people are forced to perform feats of false emotion, but I have to say, none of this ("have a sense of fun," etc.) offends me at all.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I absolutely abhor attempts to make small talk when I go into a business, especially at a restaurant. I find myself agreeing with much of the content of this Onion piece:

Neighborhood Kind Of Hoping Panera Bread Shows Up And Plows Over Charming Local Bakery

"They're nice at Callahan's, but they don't seem to get that this is only a business transaction," New continued. "I just want a cup of coffee. We're not friends."

A recent survey found that more than half of all Grafton Hill residents admitted they routinely drive to a Panera location in a neighboring town instead of simply walking down the block to Callahan's, 72 percent claimed they would prefer being alerted of their order's completion by a vibrating pager than by that one kind-faced woman who calls everyone "sweetheart," and four out of five said they "didn't give a shit" whether the ingredients in their panini were locally sourced.


....

"I don't want them remembering what I had yesterday—I don't want them to remember me at all," 46-year-old Colin Cady said. "Just give me the goddamn half-sandwich-and-cup-of-soup special and don't refer to it as 'the usual.' No good-natured joking around, no asking how my kids are doing, no offering me a complimentary jar of homemade fruit preserves—none of that shit."
posted by dhens at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2013 [32 favorites]


> I remember some fast food chain once had a promotion where, if your cashier didn't smile when handing over your order, you would receive $1.

One of the very few Serious Talks I've given my younger sister was when she lulzed about how she insisted on her free smile from McDonalds (which used to have "SMILES - FREE" on the menu above the counter). You know the scene in Grizzly Man where Werner Herzog makes the dead man's friend promise that she will "NEVAH, EVAH" listen to the tape with the audio of his death? That was pretty much the tone.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:16 PM on February 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Heh, I just remembered: when I was working at a small neighborhood video store on the Upper East Side, my manager told me to stop saying "hi" to everyone who came in because even if I was just trying to be pleasant/polite, they didn't want to risk it coming off as fake and alienating the clientele.
posted by griphus at 1:16 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's nothing worse than someone pretending to be friendly because their job forces them to be. I'm okay with just simple civility or politeness.

Forcing people to fake friendliness for hours at a stretch just leads to nervous breakdowns.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 1:17 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Jesus, and I thought I was cynical.

"We catch you being upbeat and nice to the customers, and we reward you with cash on the spot."

And this is bad? Because they're at least acting pleasant?

It makes me long for a carrot cake that was just made in a plant somewhere with the cheapest ingredients possible, with no pretense.

A cute slogan makes you want to give up on food you enjoy and go by crappy versions?

Seriously? Is this a hipster thing I don't understand because I'm old?

See, I would just say "wow, they're trying to be clever, today they failed" and then *eat the nummy carrot cake.*
posted by eriko at 1:18 PM on February 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


The article mentions in passing that the pay "isn't bad by fast-food standards." Their website says that employees get paid vacation time and healthcare after six months. The enforced-cheeriness is creepy but I'd be a lot more upset about it if workers were getting shit on financially, which doesn't seem to be the case (although I'd welcome any evidence to the contrary).

On the other hand, I had a really gross "hot wrap" there once.
posted by theodolite at 1:18 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was pretty regular at a Quiznos near me for awhile, one embedded into a gas station -- their prices were very low, because they were trying to drum up clientele, and well, it worked with me, at least until the prices went back to normal.

So, I got to chatting with the guy, and I was kidding him about yelling "Fire in the hole!" every time they put a sandwich in the grill. They were absolutely anal about doing this, even if I was the only customer in the store, and every other employee would chorus it back. Empty gas station convenience store, with one person behind the counter, two other employees, and me as the only customer, and they'd be all, "Fire in the hole!" "Fire in the hole!"

And I said something like, "You know, every time you do that, I keep looking for a grenade." And the clerk told me, with a completely straight face, that they were monitored by video link, and that if they failed to do this, they could be fired. In retrospect, I realize now that he might have been kidding, but I believed it at the time; their absolute cultlike adherence to the call-and-response felt exactly like something you'd do if you were under constant video surveillance.

Shouting something about 'Cooking for Dear Leader!' would have been entirely appropriate.
posted by Malor at 1:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


There are old-fashioned Left reasons to hate Pret management, too: like "systematic intimidation" of staff attempting to set up a trade union.

This kind of strikes home for me, because the union-busting has been happening at the particular Pret branch I go to most often, and it really underlines the basic disrespect (verging on contempt) that "emotional labour"-demanding bosses actually have for their employees. Happy on our terms? Fine? On your terms? How dare you! You're fired!
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [30 favorites]


Dodgy ham sandwich means I don't buy my lunch at Eat anymore.
Dodgy labour practice means I don't buy my lunch at Pret anymore.
If it turns out M&S burn kittens for fuel, I'm going to starve to death.
posted by bright cold day at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


And this is bad? Because they're at least acting pleasant?

"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."

This is the bad part, because rather than encouraging a healthy relationship between everyone, it leads to people policing each other in absolutely the worst ways. They're not rewarded for being nice; they're threatened for not being nice with the wrath of their coworkers.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2013 [35 favorites]


At the Walgreens pharmacy near my place (and I assume all over), they end each sale by saying "Be Well!"

I generally buy cigarettes there.
posted by lampshade at 1:21 PM on February 1, 2013 [30 favorites]


A cute slogan makes you want to give up on food you enjoy and go by crappy versions?

Seriously? Is this a hipster thing I don't understand because I'm old?

Well maybe. I think it is because I could go to a local bakery, where the carrot cake may actually contain love instead of a chain that is actually just selling the crappy version with a cute slogan. That is to say, I am paying $2 bucks extra for the slogan.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:22 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cold Stone Creamery - About the Singing

I left a tip at a Cold Stone Creamery before I'd ever heard about this. I've never felt like such a bad person for leaving a tip.
posted by the jam at 1:27 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Be well!

Be fucked.

posted by gagglezoomer at 1:29 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised we've gotten this far without a mention of 37 pieces of flair...because that was the first thing I thought of.
posted by epersonae at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was getting a serious Papa Song's in Cloud Atlas vibe reading this...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The company wants to hire folks who are more than just money oriented towards the job...that equates to "wants their souls"???

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that expecting someone in a service position to be polite and friendly is reasonable, but expecting them to have a motivation beyond getting paid is both completely out of touch with reality and a ridiculous imposition that isn't any of the employer's business.
posted by invitapriore at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [51 favorites]


I've only been to the Upper East Side Coldstone Creamery twice, but both times I went in there, all the workers were black teenagers and all the customers were white women with children. The white women would put a dollar in the jar and the black teens would sing in conspicuous display of enforced gratitude.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [23 favorites]


I think there's a strong case for comparing "emotional labor" with prostitution, actually.

In both cases, the service that you pay for is having someone else induce a feeling in yourself, rather than having someone perform a specialized task for you (well, okay, prostitution can include both). I think that this is a difficult type of task/category of work that should be remunerated more highly.

In both cases, there is I think a tendency for many people to conflate how the service worker acts toward you with how they actually feel. There's a rhetoric that, not only should customer service be respectful and professional and pleasant, but that poorly-paid service workers should be sincere, not just putting on a pleasant act for the customer's benefit. Some of the coercive employee behavior monitoring techniques I've seen or heard about in the past stray strongly into this territory. Also, I've certainly known people who go to certain restaurants or whatever because "oh, the barrista there knows me and is my friend!" Sometimes the server really is the person's friend. But usually not, and I think it's rather demeaning to hope or expect for your relationship with service workers to be any deeper than a professional relationship (unless you encounter them outside of the work context and build a friendship-based relationship on that, of course). (Of course, this does not excuse being rude and obnoxious toward service industry workers. They are still people, and due all the respect that any other random person is due.)

This is on a continuum with consumers of porn who pat themselves on the back for only choosing porn where it looks like the workers are enjoying themselves. Well yeah, if they are any good at acting, of course they look like they are enjoying themselves - that's their job. If you are concerned about ethical porn consumption, look into labor standards and protections for the workers involved. Likewise for other sex industry workers. Continuing to the extreme end of the continuum, the "happy hooker" stereotype is shades of the happy-go-lucky slave stereotype from the bad old days.

Basically, wherever there seems to be a strong emphasis on how happy a worker appears, especially when tinged with a sort of defensiveness around how the worker is not just being a professional, but actually truly enjoys their labor, I take that as a strong indication that someone is being exploited and underpaid. No one, for example, worries about whether their lawyer or accountant is their friend and truly enjoys, say, doing your taxes. These workers are expected to be polite and professional, and to be effective in the service they provide, but are allowed the integrity of a private inner life separate from their professional persona.
posted by eviemath at 1:36 PM on February 1, 2013 [81 favorites]



This kind of strikes home for me, because the union-busting has been happening at the particular Pret branch I go to most often, and it really underlines the basic disrespect (verging on contempt) that "emotional labour"-demanding bosses actually have for their employees. Happy on our terms? Fine? On your terms? How dare you! You're fired!
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:19 PM on February 1 [2 favorites +] [!]


It's very uncomfortable; like certain hip clothing stores demanding that their employees only eat healthy food while at work, or chain restaurants hiring exclusively thin, young blondes to serve food or drinks. They're not just paying you to perform a task anymore, you have to be a perfect spokes model for the entire company, complete with plastic smile and sanitized opinions. If the dignity issue isn't enough, it's really edging into discriminatory territory.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:39 PM on February 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I have recently started frequenting Pret because one opened up just along the (Fulham) Road. The coffee's alright most of the time, and I like the fizzy apple drink because I'm still six years old inside. They also do a wrap which isn't revolting and is only 288 calories. I attributed the friendliness of the female staff there to the fact that I've been looking particularly handsome recently and now I feel like a cheap john. Fuck you MetaFilter.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:41 PM on February 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


Big thumbs up for use of the word "ebullient" -- which provides the perfect "means something that's supposed to be good but actually sounds creepy as fuck" fit for this situation.


At the Walgreens pharmacy near my place (and I assume all over), they end each sale by saying "Be Well!"

I generally buy cigarettes there.


I have had that happen in Chicago too. I always had the feeling that they were mocking me for buying cigarettes. Still not sure they are not.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:42 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not seeing the problem here.

Put yourself in the position of somebody who works there, who maybe needs the job (the way a lot of people need their job) and maybe likes their coworkers (the way a lot of people like their coworkers) and you've had a shitty day because you woke up with a headache or your cat died or you broke up with somebody or got a parking ticket (because all of us, every last goddamn one of us, has had that day.)

You come into work, because you need that job, but what you can muster for the job that day isn't full-on artificial perk, but just steady, professional helpfulness, the kind of thing that's absolutely acceptable customer service everywhere. And you get the secret shopper that day, and you dig in and treat that person with helpful, professional courtesy, and that's not good enough, so you and all your coworkers don't get a bonus that month because you didn't act happy enough and fuck you, that's why.

Do you see what's happening here? People who work their are now functionally speaking in a hostage situation, on the inside of their own heads, all the time. That's what the whole "want their souls" part is about.

It's a shitty, demeaning way to treat people, anyone who participates in it is worse for it, and we should not do it because it's awful.
posted by mhoye at 1:42 PM on February 1, 2013 [112 favorites]


Eriko: "A cute slogan makes you want to give up on food you enjoy and go by crappy versions?"

I don't know if it's a "hipster" thing, but here's how I feel about some stuff and maybe it'll help you understand?

Not depressing: eating grandma's cake.

Semi-manageably depressing: the whole industrial globalized world poisoning our oceans &c. to mass produce carrot cakes.

Soul-crushingly, hide indoors for days, depressing: eating some mass-produced globalized bullshit trying to distract me from my baseline despair (which it and it's corporate masters help to create) at the state of the world by evoking memories of someone and something actually pleasant and not encumbered by the disgusting trappings of corporatism and wage-labor. It makes me so sad that I have to remind myself that life is worth living if for no other reason than to fuck their shit up.

It's violating to me for marketers to attempt evoke memories I value for their own selfish ends.

Maybe that's just me, but that's how I feel and honestly most of my friends consider me to be rather cheerful in general.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2013 [42 favorites]




And this is bad? Because they're at least acting pleasant?


No, they're being paid to act pleasant regardless of how the customer is treating them. You don't see why that might be a problem?

Part of having dignity is being able to tell people that you interact with where your boundaries are, and to react sincerely to stimulus. (Within reasonable bounds, as socially appropriate.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I prefer my servers to be openly hostile.

If I lived anywhere near the Wieners Circle I'd eat there all the time.

Of course, sometimes hostile service results in blowback...
posted by delfin at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2013


I left a tip at a Cold Stone Creamery before I'd ever heard about this. I've never felt like such a bad person for leaving a tip.

I tip at cold stone. When I do so, I make it clear that this tip is contingent upon them NOT singing, and that if their manager has a problem with it she can talk to me about it.

My local Cold Stone employees LOVE me.

OTOH, the employees at my local Costco are always friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, without being weirdly forced about it. I complimented the front-end manager about it once, and he said "Oh yes! We get that a lot. Want to know what our secret is? We pay them well and give them health care."
posted by KathrynT at 1:47 PM on February 1, 2013 [97 favorites]


Is this a new phenomena to Europe? Because enforced cheer has been part of the American Way for ages, perhaps less so on the coasts, but certainly in the South and the Midwest.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:48 PM on February 1, 2013




Here's what I care about: what the employees do. Do they know what they are doing? Do they get me whatever I'm shopping for quickly? Can they answer questions? Do they seem to give a shit if I get what I came for?

That's really all I ask. They don't have to grin like fools or dance for me, or sing, or tell me their name. They just have to be competent and reasonably polite.

People who work on their feet all day for low wages get a lot of slack from me, because I have been there and I know how much it can suck sometimes. And if their management is giving them shit about flair or not being cheerful enough, ye gods. As if working for crap wages with crazy hours doing hard physical work just wasn't enough? Fuck those people. You want smiles, pay your staff better wages overall, not just when they dance for you. And stop making me, the customer, your reason for oppressing your employees, when clearly this is about your twisted little power game, employers.
posted by emjaybee at 1:50 PM on February 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Darn those British, trying to impose their deeply ingrained culture of bubbly cheerfulness on American workers.
posted by octothorpe at 1:53 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Basically, wherever there seems to be a strong emphasis on how happy a worker appears, especially when tinged with a sort of defensiveness around how the worker is not just being a professional, but actually truly enjoys their labor, I take that as a strong indication that someone is being exploited and underpaid.

So true. Funny how these expectations of solicitous behavior are expected out of professions that have been traditionally filled by women.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:53 PM on February 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


saying you're hoping to hire people who aren't strictly there to pick up a check and leave doesn't strike me as quite the terrible thing it's made out to be here

It's fast food. Like all but a very few jobs, everyone is there primarily to make money. No one is working fast food because it is their lifelong dream. Demanding that they act otherwise is demeaning.
posted by enn at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2013 [23 favorites]


I agree with Ad hominem. The way that Pret slathers cutsey ad copy all over everything: the walls, the food containers, the napkins, is borderline Orwellian.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yanno if these places paid a living wage they'd probably be happy all on their own.

This. Instead, this company is promoting false friendliness, which I see everywhere. Impossibly estatic workers sounding like they stepped out of a commercial, where unnaturally perky tones of voice have prevailed for decades, people beyond joyous about their car insurance company, their dishwashing detergent, or the incredible mind-bending power of their diarrhea medication. No one is ever that happy in real life, and so it trips people's fakeness detectors.

Thats a lot of pearl clutching

EXPIRATION DATE ON THAT PHRASE IN THREE... TWO... ONE... BEEP!

"We catch you being upbeat and nice to the customers, and we reward you with cash on the spot."
And this is bad? Because they're at least acting pleasant?


If you have to give someone extra money to be happy, it's to hide how unhappy they are normally. It's just wallpapering over the cracks.

And I said something like, "You know, every time you do that, I keep looking for a grenade." And the clerk told me, with a completely straight face, that they were monitored by video link, and that if they failed to do this, they could be fired.

I believe it. Whenever employees of a store says something specific in response to some event, you can bet they've been coached on it. This goes for "fire in the hole" and "welcome to Moe's" to anything else loud, explicit and noticeable that anyone working in a restaurant says.

I left a tip at a Cold Stone Creamery before I'd ever heard about this. I've never felt like such a bad person for leaving a tip.

I can imagine employees working up sarcastic songs in response to very low tips.
posted by JHarris at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thats a lot of pearl clutching

It's a lot more than that; if you haven't worked in a low-wage service job for the last 20 years you might not understand. A myster shopper once reported that I greeted them in a "mechanical way". Not that I wasn't polite or that I didn't say hello. They just didn't feel it.

And guess what that meant? I, an adult at the time, had to answer for this with a self-important retail manager. Can you think what that conversation was like?

At another job, I was once reprimanded, in front of other people, for reversing the "proper" order of "hello" and "thank you for calling" when answering the phone.

Stuff like this is, of course, on top of all the other indignities of wearing a uniform and name badge, forced "joiner-ism", being treated as stupid because you work in a serivce job (never mind me putting myself through college at the time...)

And I only had to deal with this stuff in high school and college; I knew I was going into a professonal field. Some people have to deal with this in their 30s, 40s, and beyond.

Knowing how bad it was, I couldn't bring myself to ever complain about anyone in retail/food service unless they were outright malicious.
posted by spaltavian at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2013 [58 favorites]


Worth noting that this doesn't just suck on days you feel a little tired/cranky/neutral, it also co-opts your good moods. You've got people in this thread questioning whether some clerk they interacted with was genuinely in a chipper mood, or if instead they were only fooled by the plastic smile of a poor, oppressed wage slave desperate to please the company. I'd hate to be peer-pressured into that fake smile, but I'd really hate to have people think my general good naturedness was just an act I was putting on for the boss.
posted by intendedeffect at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's not the enforced cheerfulness that I find gross here; it's using public disapprobation as the penalty for failing to comply. It's one thing to have your own bonus contingent on a smile. It's another thing entirely to have everyone else's bonus on the line.
posted by painquale at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


The fact that it's secret-shopper enforced and controls their bonuses using high-stakes testing makes this more problematic than the simple "be friendly" policy at the hotel/resort I worked at. We were expected to be warm, but you know what? Everybody has off days. If you had a lot of those off days, then you weren't rehired for the next season, or you were told to fix it, or you were fired.

I know that if there was significant money on the line for all my coworkers, it would feel dirty putting on the nice face. It would poison the relationship I had with every person I encountered at the job: is this person going to screw all my friends? The secret shopper turns what should be internal motivation--"being friendly is the job, I want to do a good job"--into infantilizing external motivation: "if a mysterious force catches you being bad, I'll be punished." (I know someone will hide behind the excuse that the removal of a bonus isn't punishment, but that's horse puckey and they know it.)
posted by daveliepmann at 1:59 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


> I tip at cold stone. When I do so, I make it clear that this tip is contingent upon them NOT singing, and that if their manager has a problem with it she can talk to me about it.

People used to do this when I worked at Lick's, but a lot of the time they were out of luck because we'd have to sing for the next customers in line and they'd hear it anyway. They only people who actually seemed to enjoy the singing were really old people, little kids and stoners.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


hellojed: Yanno if these places paid a living wage they'd probably be happy all on their own.

I don't meant to comment just to be contradictory, but have you seen my co-workers? Having well-paying salaried health-insurance'd office jobs does nothing to keep their demeanor more than one point north of 'seriously glum'.

I agree that Pret shouldn't be forcing happiness level standards on its employees but to imply that money naturally purchases it doesn't quite ring true either.
posted by komara at 2:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know why the writer frames this as a new trend coming from England's dark satanic mills . I've come across this kind of happy talk service thing most intensely with high-end Californian supermarket checkout counter staff (and I'm sure it's being widespread in other contexts here in the US too for a long time) . It's nice as first , if you get the staff members who are really good at the talk and come across as naturally friendly. But then you gradually realize that's it's scripted (e.g. the checkout person claiming they have tried something in your shopping cart and saying its really good OR they point to something you're buying and say that it's new and ask if you if it's tasty... this has happened so many times to me) and then you come across the occasional staff member who is going through the motions of the happy talk routine in a half-assed or clumsy way.)
posted by Bwithh at 2:01 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh Pret A Manger: "those sandwiches had better arrive by 5am or there'll be trouble".
posted by Lanark at 2:01 PM on February 1, 2013


In fact, many of our crew members enjoy the singing so much they create their own songs.

Augh. Even if I knew beforehand this was the required behaviour for those poor workers, I'm not sure I could stop myself from running the hell out of there with or without my purchase in hand. Way beyond unsettling, sorry.
posted by Iosephus at 2:05 PM on February 1, 2013


Aziz Ansari on Cold Stone Creamery: FIVE people are singing & dancing for A DOLLAR! That’s 20 cents a person! If you saw a homeless dude outside of Cold Stone & you’re like, “Hey man, I’ll give you 20 cents to sing some songs about Cold Stone.” He'd go, “Hey man! Go fuck yourself! That’s degrading!”
posted by zsazsa at 2:06 PM on February 1, 2013 [110 favorites]


Oh Pret A Manger: "those sandwiches had better arrive by 5am or there'll be trouble".
posted by Lanark at 2:01 PM on February 1 [+] [!]


Why do you think Pret was to blame for the tragic accident based on this article? The lorry driver doesn't seem to be an employee of Pret even. And your quote is not in the article, and the accident happened AFTER the driver after finished the delivery to Pret.
posted by Bwithh at 2:06 PM on February 1, 2013


The whole phenomenon of secret shopping seems like a big part of this. No customers are complaining, so let's bring in a hyper-critical shopper to make sure the staff do things according to corporate rules, but contrary to what actual customers want. Customers neither know nor care about corporate rules, so it's BS to pretend that rules compliance is about serving customers better. When I worked at Barnes and Noble, cashiers were required to ask everyone - regardless of whether they were a 16 year old boy buying Cliff's Notes or a mom buying a latte - whether they would like a membership card, which cost $25/year. No one liked asking this, and no one liked being asked this.

Secret shoppers were there to make sure that we ultimately provided worse customer service- the transactions took longer, the customers were irritated at being asked, and it was not a super-effective sales method. When they threatened to extend the requirement of asking about membership cards to the information desk, I quit, which I could do because I actually was there for reasons other than my paycheck. Other people who needed the paycheck? Grit your teeth and mildy piss off every customer all day.
posted by palindromic at 2:07 PM on February 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


Riton: "if the employee who rings up the sale is appropriately ebullient"

this sounds like a job for the happiness hat.
posted by boo_radley at 2:08 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I, for one, am glad Blockbuster Video is dead, just so I'll never again be greeted by one of their clerks saying Hi! every damn time I step foot in any Blockbuster anywhere in the world.

It was just a tiny little thing, but it was so obvious that the workers were forced to do it that it just creeped me the fuck out. I almost wonder if it was designed not to make customers feel welcome, but to make us feel watched, which is very much the exact opposite; they might as well have been saying, I can see you, so don't try any funny stuff.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Pret A Manger actually has a pretty interesting work culture that the writer doesn't really delve more broadly into: for instance, new employee candidates have to work a shift with a Pret store team (front line ordinary staff) at a location, and then the team votes on whether or not the candidate can join their location or not. And other quirks like that - Pret seems to have a pretty good reputation as a retail place to work in the UK

Telegraph article
NYT
posted by Bwithh at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: really old people, little kids and stoners.
posted by emjaybee at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's one thing to have your own bonus contingent on a smile. It's another thing entirely to have everyone else's bonus on the line.

This. Look, noone is saying you shouldn't give a bonus for being treated extra special nice. But making it happen every week means it's expected, and not getting it becomes more like a punishment. And bringing collective punishment into it is totally evil, I'm sorry.
posted by freebird at 2:21 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, do I hate this kind of stuff. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than, say, an Applebees waiter who plops down on the seat next to me, ostensibly to seem more "friendly."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I more or less live on the road, and corporate-enforced Gidget impersonations become an absolutely miserable experience when you have to deal with them three times a day, along with the complete absence of anyone who's actually glad to see you.

Blast it, I'm here for a meal, and to sit and read my email while I'm waiting. I don't want you to try to convince me that I'm your new best friend. We're both only here because that's how we earn our meager wage.

On the other hand, you can't blame the server. It's painfully clear how much of this crap is imposed from higher up. In some chains popular with customers or peers, I swear I could reverse-engineer the training video. Bring me my food fast and accurate, and I'll still tip appropriately, however much you've set my teeth on edge.

The folks I truly appreciate are the ones who can code switch: go bubble at the young mothers in the way that makes them happy, then come talk to me in a quiet, professional, and non-intrusive way. That's real customer service, instead of some MBA-approved fake.

I wish I could think that it's a relief to be able to turn down the wattage for a minute or two, but honestly, it's probably even more exhausting, because they have to actually pay attention and deal with customers on their own terms as people. OTOH, I, at least, try to make sure that it's blasted rewarding. Anyone who does this just made my day a little bit less unpleasant that I expected it to be. It's only fair that I try hard to return the favor on the only way I can, when it's time to leave the tip.
posted by CHoldredge at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


...then the team votes on whether or not the candidate can join their location or not. And other quirks like that.

Wow. Unless the vote has to be unanimous, this is exactly the same Lord of the Flies crap as the article in the FPP.
posted by griphus at 2:23 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I left a tip at a Cold Stone Creamery before I'd ever heard about this. I've never felt like such a bad person for leaving a tip.

Whenever I went, I tried to sneak my tip into the jar in such a way that they could see that I'd tipped, but they could plausibly pretend not to have seen it and hence didn't have to sing.
posted by winna at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Welcome to Costco; I love you. Welcome to Costco; I love you. Welcome to Costco; I love you.
posted by Flunkie at 2:25 PM on February 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


Poor Timothy Noah--looking for love in all the wrong places. Of all the insincerity, back-stabbing, subterfuge and double dealing possible in Washington, DC, he's torqued about a sandwich joint?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:31 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am completely depressed by the thought that I have the choice between minimum-wage nonverbal surliness (which I totally understand -- I wouldn't be cheerful for that kind of wage either!) and peer-pressure-forced friendliness.

Because I really like Pret, on days when I've had a hard day doing customer service and I could really use a sandwich and some friendliness.
posted by Jeanne at 2:34 PM on February 1, 2013


Any customer who made sure that their cashier handed over that dollar is literally worse than forty Hitlers.

That's as many as four tens.

And that's terrible.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:38 PM on February 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm really surprised that this is coming from a British chain. I thought British customer service was more like Canadian, or it seemed that way when I lived there. Certainly, the Brits I knew did not want people talking to them any more than necessary, just like Canadians don't like greeters at Walmart (they were removed from stores here).
posted by jb at 2:40 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


People in this thread might find the interestingly-named British academic Nina Power's book One-Dimensional Woman of interest.

She observes, "Objectification implies that there is something left over in the subject that resists such a capture, that we might protest if we thought someone was trying to deny such interiority, but it’s not clear that contemporary work allows anyone to have an inner life in the way that we might once have understood it," which seems like it was made to describe the Pret-ified ethos of labor.

Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism might also be relevant.
posted by Frowner at 2:42 PM on February 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


Whenever I went, I tried to sneak my tip into the jar in such a way that they could see that I'd tipped, but they could plausibly pretend not to have seen it and hence didn't have to sing.

Seems like you could also make eye contact as you do it, put your finger to your lips and mime "ssssh" conspiratorially while shaking your head, to let them know it's okay not to sing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:46 PM on February 1, 2013


I blame Ann Curry
posted by lampshade at 2:48 PM on February 1, 2013


Sorry, dude. Pearl clutching is it.

Service industry? Yes, you damn well better impress the customers like the boss says. That's why they call it the service industry.

This is common in all service industry jobs. Trader Joes is kind of famous for this.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:50 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If in industrial and even advanced capitalism we could easily shift back and forth between the “strategic” and the purely “emotional”, the main cultural problem in contemporary culture, according to Illouz, is that it becomes more and more difficult to shift from the strategic (or the economic) back to the emotional. We are increasingly stuck in a condition of “hyperrationality” which has commodified and rationalized the self. The standardization and scripting of intimacy and the ways we talk about it (using a vocabulary more and more dictated by the market), weakens our capacity for nearness, for passionate and intuitive thinking and, perhaps most of all, for fantasy.

That's probably the most depressing thing I've read all day.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:52 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]




Sorry, dude. Pearl clutching is it.

Service industry? Yes, you damn well better impress the customers like the boss says. That's why they call it the service industry.

This is common in all service industry jobs. Trader Joes is kind of famous for this.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:50 PM on February 1 [!]


And you deserve all the happiness that their eight bucks an hour can buy you.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:53 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


f the employee who rings up the sale is appropriately ebullient, then everyone in the shop gets a bonus. If not, nobody does.

Reminds me of the first 45 minutes of Full Metal Jacket, hopefully without the guns.

Eventually everybody will have to act like a goddamned concierge.

Remember the good old days when the highest job aspiration of the lower-born was to a job in "good service" - maid, butler, or cook in a choice upper-class household? Except I think the trick there was to be as unobtrusive as possible - smiles optional. Maybe I've seen "Remains of the Day" too many times.

Anyway, I'll be sure to avoid Pret should it install itself in my area. I don't think I live in the right zip code, however.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:55 PM on February 1, 2013


Service industry? Yes, you damn well better impress the customers like the boss says. That's why they call it the service industry.

This is common in all service industry jobs.


Since when does "common" equal "good"? Ordering a sandwich does not entitle you to anything but a sandwich.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


This is seriously ridiculous, the amount of hand-wringing over this.

Let's not pretend that these businesses exist for any reason other than one: to make more money. And let's not pretend that in certain decisions, people consistently choose the one which makes them feel better about themselves or have an easier time of things.

And yes. It is, often, what the customer wants.

I bank with a bank which gives me not-as-great banking products, but when I call up they are kind, courteous, and friendly. They make the time pass faster when I call in, and they always give me the impression that they are trying to make my life easier. And you know what? I don't care if they're faking it. I enjoy not getting stressed out arguing with snarky bank employees.

People don't eat out at these upscale kind of semi-fast-food joints because they are in a rush. And they don't do it because it's cheap. They do it because they don't want to make it themselves, and also want the illusion of class, and service - which is the illusion of servants.

I fail to understand why people can work long hours for no healthcare and that's fine, but the smile is assumed to be the thing that kills them.

Coldstone Creamery has some good ice cream, and I'm not sure what's so monstrous about asking employees to sing.
posted by corb at 2:59 PM on February 1, 2013


I found the original LRB article a bit weak and confused. It seems to be slapdashingly conflating affective labour to create a nicer customer service experience with worker personality trait profiling and shaping to enhance teamwork collaboration and workplace culture. on top of that, it seems to be mixing in labour unionization disputes and other labour-management issues like pay ( if even the starting wages Pret workers were paid substantially more, does the affective labour objection go away or not? Or is it supposed to be an inherently "objectionable" class of labour like prostitution for these critics?) . yes, yes, I know, in the Marxist analysis it's all connected and boildownable, but this feels like mish-mashy Amateur Hour radical lefty scaresensationalism.
posted by Bwithh at 2:59 PM on February 1, 2013



I fail to understand why people can work long hours for no healthcare and that's fine, but the smile is assumed to be the thing that kills them.
posted by corb at 2:59 PM on February 1 [+] [!]


It's not... that's not fine at all. It's an atrocity.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


Coldstone Creamery has some good ice cream, and I'm not sure what's so monstrous about asking employees to sing.

The monstrous thing is that they're not "asking."
posted by Sys Rq at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2013 [26 favorites]



I fail to understand why people can work long hours for no healthcare and that's fine, but the smile is assumed to be the thing that kills them.

Coldstone Creamery has some good ice cream, and I'm not sure what's so monstrous about asking employees to sing.
posted by corb at 2:59 PM on February 1 [+] [!]



Look at it this way:

They could create a safe, friendly workplace that their employees can genuinely enjoy being in. An environment that fosters happiness. They could create a place that people are relatively happy to be in.

Or... they could punish their workers for not smiling enough.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Coldstone Creamery has some good ice cream, and I'm not sure what's so monstrous about asking employees to sing.

The monstrous thing is that they're not "asking."


You think that's bad, you should see the singing requirements if you get a job in one of those stage shows on Broadway. Not only do they require you to sing if you want to get paid, if you don't sing well enough, you get fired!
posted by straight at 3:06 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


they might as well have been saying, I can see you, so don't try any funny stuff.

To be honest, this was part of the reason we said "hi" to all customers coming through the door back when I worked music instrument retail. The company definitely wanted people to think twice about trying to sneak out with a $100 guitar pedal.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:06 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, you damn well better impress the customers like the boss says. That's why they call it the service industry.
There's a difference between being expected to be generally pleasant and accommodating and this forced "If I don't smile hard enough to hurt the corners of my mouth I'm going to get written up" ebullience. See also: the "Pieces of Flair" Office Space subplot.
Coldstone Creamery has some good ice cream, and I'm not sure what's so monstrous about asking employees to sing.
The Aziz Ansari quote from above bears repeating: "FIVE people are singing & dancing for A DOLLAR! That’s 20 cents a person! If you saw a homeless dude outside of Cold Stone & you’re like, “Hey man, I’ll give you 20 cents to sing some songs about Cold Stone.” He'd go, “Hey man! Go fuck yourself! That’s degrading!”"
posted by usonian at 3:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I have ATM cards from a couple different banks; each of them doubles as a debit card. I have never in my life used a debit card, I don't intend to, and I'm a little uncomfortable with the "direct to your bank account" nature of it. So for a long time -- years -- I've been thinking about asking my banks if I could have a just-plain-ATM card, minus the debit card functionality. It's very low on my list of priorities, though, which is why I've done nothing about it for years.

Last week, though, I decided to actually do something about it. So I call the first bank up and ask them. The conversation is short, to the point, and productive.

I call the second bank up. Literally -- and I don't mean "figuratively" -- every other sentence out of the customer service rep was thanking me. Thanking me "so much", in fact. Thank you so much for telling me your name. Thank you so much for telling me your account number. Thank you so much for your question. Thank you so much for allowing me to place you on hold. Thank you so much for waiting. Thank you so much for your question again. Thank you so much for providing that information. Thank you so much for understanding that this will take seven to ten business days. Thank you so much for agreeing to receive a new card in the mail.

It was... harrowing.

OK, maybe not really harrowing. But it definitely had an effect on me contrary to the effect that I assume it was intended to produce.
posted by Flunkie at 3:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


You think that's bad, you should see the singing requirements if you get a job in one of those stage shows on Broadway. Not only do they require you to sing if you want to get paid, if you don't sing well enough, you get fired!

I think you'll find that singing is somewhat less integral to the ice cream scooping business than show business. And the pay is somewhat less.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


The Aziz Ansari quote from above bears repeating: "FIVE people are singing & dancing for A DOLLAR! That’s 20 cents a person! If you saw a homeless dude outside of Cold Stone & you’re like, “Hey man, I’ll give you 20 cents to sing some songs about Cold Stone.” He'd go, “Hey man! Go fuck yourself! That’s degrading!”

And maybe they would say that. That's their choice - just as it's the Cold Stone Creamery employee's choice to try to fight back against the singing if they dont' like it. They can choose not to work there. Choose to try to unionize. Choose to strike. Choose to do a ton of things. They choose not to - which is a choice that the juice is worth the squeeze.

They could create a safe, friendly workplace that their employees can genuinely enjoy being in. An environment that fosters happiness. They could create a place that people are relatively happy to be in.

Look. No matter how cool the job, it is just impossible to have a job that is so amazing that it compensates for every other trouble in your life. And when you're upset, your natural default is not a smile, no matter how cool that workplace might be. So yes, if they want a smile, they are going to say that it is a portion of the job, and you will get fired if you don't provide it. And they are more likely to get one that way than through trying to actually make their workers happy. It's certainly more cost-efficient, at the present time.
posted by corb at 3:15 PM on February 1, 2013


That's why they call it the service industry.

It's the service industry, not the servile industry.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:16 PM on February 1, 2013 [41 favorites]


Arbeit macht glücklich.
posted by tommasz at 3:57 PM on February 1 [7 favorites +] [!]

Did this thread get Godwinned in exactly ten comments?
posted by bilabial at 3:17 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Side note:

I gotcher extreme Northeast RIGHT HEAH!

bondcliff? I love you.
posted by theredpen at 3:17 PM on February 1, 2013


(that was a rhetorical question)
posted by bilabial at 3:18 PM on February 1, 2013


> Every other sentence out of the customer service rep was thanking me. Thanking me "so much", in fact...

I always wonder about the people who set these policies. Do they demand that sort of attitude from their own immediate subordinates? When they call into their bank and the poor person who picks up is made to talk like that, do they really think "yes, that's how things should be"?

Or is it botched implementation after someone high up says "hey, let's tell people we're grateful for their business?"
posted by postcommunism at 3:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's certainly more cost-efficient, at the present time.

Yes, in no small part because of the fast turnover. Employees are cheap if you can get them to quit before they expect a raise.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


People don't eat out at these upscale kind of semi-fast-food joints because they are in a rush. And they don't do it because it's cheap. They do it because they don't want to make it themselves, and also want the illusion of class, and service - which is the illusion of servants.

When I go out to get a sandwich on my lunchbreak, it is to buy a cheap(ish) and easy pre-prepared meal (not sure a sandwich even counts as a 'pre-prepared meal' really) I can pick up and finish eating inside 20 minutes, so I can get it over with and perhaps use my remaining break-time to order that thing for the house or book tickets for [event]. The atmosphere is busy, the tables are bolted to the ground, half the time you can't sit down even if you wanted to. Never in all my time eating in a Starbucks / Pret / Eat / whatevs have I ever thought 'Hah you team of butlers! Do try not to be the plebs you are and attend to me appropriately and with enough fawning!'. (Perhaps that's the thought process of people dining at The Ivy, I'm not sure). There is nothing about these pre-packaged sandwich establishments that vibe out 'performing upper-class opportunity'. Seriously.
posted by everydayanewday at 3:21 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So yes, if they want a smile, they are going to say that it is a portion of the job, and you will get fired if you don't provide it.

The problem is that they don't just want a smile. Polite, friendly professionalism is not enough; they want "radiant," "ebullient," "glowing" workers, at all times. That's what is being discussed here.
posted by coupdefoudre at 3:21 PM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Start reading any sort of waiter/waitress online journal and you will see that a certain segment of the population cannot get enough of the obsequious frosting and they're the most vocal about not getting it. Keep reading, you'll see that restaurant managers in general bend over backward for the most annoying shitheel customers (see for example the recent Applebee's flapplebee). This feedback loop is what Pret A Manger / Coldstone / etc is all about and we're all very excited about what's on the horizon, customer-relationship-wise (here the narrator squeezes you gently and slips a conversation heart labelled "O YOU KID" into your breast shirt pocket).
posted by user92371 at 3:26 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oy. Look, for a while I worked as a media coordinator. Did I like all (or really, any) of the press people I needed to speak to? No. Did I absolutely have to try my damnedest to forge personal (albeit fake) connections? Sure. Because that was part of the job. And nobody ever said the words "radiant and glowing" but I'm sure if I had said them it would not have been naysayed.

Or does that not count because it's not serving fast food? I don't see these kinds of complaints about receptionists, even though they have to pull off the same thing.
posted by corb at 3:29 PM on February 1, 2013


Like all but a very few jobs, everyone is there primarily to make money. No one is working fast food because it is their lifelong dream.

Clive Schlee, Pret’s chief executive since 2003, who is 52 and a product of Rugby and University College, Oxford (a first in modern history), is instinctively in tune with this spirit. He managed Pizza Hut and Taco Bell franchises in North America and Asia Pacific

Maybe not his lifelong dream, but clearly the fellow was game, and clearly he had other serious options. For others not so well launched early in life, the big chain fast food joint can indeed be a first step up the work ladder. Not everyone is proto-professional.

And yeah, primarily it's money - but not exclusively. Plenty of people quit jobs or take jobs based on how they get on with fellow workers. Probably more important the less money you make, in fact. I've had crap jobs made bearable because of fellow workers, and well paid ones that were dismal because of co-workers. So the practice of putting someone on a team to see if they would fit in, giving the team people some input here, makes sense to me on all sides.

I absolutely abhor attempts to make small talk when I go into a business, especially at a restaurant.

Then this place isn't for you. Which, fair enough. The same can be said of this place a place to work. Retail in general and restaurants in particular are a branch of show business - up-beatness and people-person cheeriness are at the very least a plus. Getting that in a large corporation is difficult, but from what I'm reading, they're trying to meet the employee half-way. Ideally, they would like to be that taco bell out in California. Not the worst ambition in the world.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:29 PM on February 1, 2013


When I was at the grocery store, I found that being friendly and helpful to customers ultimately made them go away. It sucked when they were shitty to me, but I never took any of it personally. I liked talking to people as much as I liked putting canned goods on shelves, in that i didn't, but I ultimately looked it as another facet of my job that I sought to make more efficient until it just became routine. Apparently I became so good at it that I would often deal with shitty customers because my managers were too angry. I didn't care, saying "on behalf of myself and the store, I want to say I'm sorry for [xyz] and blah blah we value your business blah" was like taking out the garbage, or getting carts from the lot. Actually, it was preferable, because I didn't have to get my jacket. I dunno, I never took it that shoppers actually thought I cared, but the nicer I was, the quicker they left me alone.

Then again, my friend worked at Wal-Mart at the time, and they had to do some weird staff "cheer" where they spelled out "WAL-MART" like the YMCA dance, and the dash in "Wal-Mart" was represented as little shimmy and fuck THAT noise.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:31 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


On the plus side, it's nice to see the "emotional labor" component of otherwise low-level work acknowledged and discussed. I've cleared brush all day for okay money, and I've done phone support all day for okay money. And I know physical labor will literally break you, but man... when you come home from clearing brush, your body is tired; when you come home from answering phones, you're emotionally exhausted.

Hell, at least with the former I could have a beer at lunch.
posted by postcommunism at 3:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


I once got canned for not clapping during a “team morning meeting” at Filene’s when they announced that month’s sales figures (and doing the slow clap when called on it). It was my summer high school job, so I was fucking glad, but what about the poor folks who had to work there to support their families? Imagine not feeling like clapping one day.

Also, fuck Filene’s, and this sandwich joint.
posted by theredpen at 3:34 PM on February 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


I should also note that dealing with customers at a grocery store was a cake-walk after my previous job of a little over a year (Whodathunk people don't much care for telemarketers!)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:35 PM on February 1, 2013


you tube of the wal mart cheer!

(oh my god)
posted by bukvich at 3:37 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"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 if we don't actually give these bonuses at all, even better! as long as the employees BELIEVE this is the case, they'll beat each other into joy without costing us a dime!
posted by radiosilents at 3:41 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


In 'Going Postal', his book about workplace shootings, Mark Ames talks about how both literal slaves and modern wage slaves are expected to maintain this ultra-cheerful attitude everywhere and it just makes things worse.
Or as Dylan sings, "They say sing while you slave and I just get bored"
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:43 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe they need this.
posted by HuronBob at 3:45 PM on February 1, 2013


There are a few drive-through espresso stands here that are 100% staffed by very fit, attractive young women who wear bikinis or 'sexy' costumes as their mandated uniform. The stands have names like 'Bikini Latte' and such. They get away with it by calling the baristas 'models'--thus they supposedly aren't subject to equal opportunity employment laws. I have to wonder if something similar is up with the Coldstone employment 'audition'.
posted by lovecrafty at 3:47 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you want to kill a man, do not go and buy a gun or prepare an alabi, but instead make him long for the sweet release of death.

(apologies to Antoine de Saint Exupéry)
posted by poe at 3:48 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb "Oy. Look, for a while I worked as a media coordinator."

and i'll bet you made a damn sight more than minimum wage (or less) doing it, too. something you could even maybe aspire would lead to a career, yeah? this isn't that. at all. and if you're unable to recognize that, then you're really just done in here. we get that you feel like you deserve something more than you've earned; we're arguing that you don't. this is, to a degree, literally about you and people who insist the things you're insisting.
posted by radiosilents at 4:06 PM on February 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


Is this a new phenomena to Europe? Because enforced cheer has been part of the American Way for ages, perhaps less so on the coasts, but certainly in the South and the Midwest.

But it's cultural in the South. That's just how it's done. You say please and thank you and be nice to company and wipe your shoes before you come in. Etc.

Someone above mentioned this, and I think it bears repeating: who are the lunatics who write these friendliness scripts? I can understand the motivations for following these policies, but what kind of sick individual demands it? These are people, I would imagine, who never actually have to deal with any kind of customer service interaction, or who are so self-centered that they can't tell the difference between phoney nice and real nice.
posted by gjc at 4:10 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


When Tomkins and Ekman unpacked the face, one of their key discoveries is that facial expressions work both ways; not only are expressions a consistent and universal indicator of our feelings, but forcing a facial expression will cause us to have the associated feeling even if we have no real reason to. That's why these businesses want their employees to exude fake happiness; to a certain extent that will translate into real happiness, which both resonates with customers and helps with the payroll and union organizers. And that, in turn, is why it is akin to wanting your soul; it's not enough for you to perform a task that needs to be done, you have to think and feel a certain way as well as serve sandwiches. It's obscene.
posted by localroger at 4:12 PM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Related: Smile! It Could Make You Happier
posted by mochapickle at 4:15 PM on February 1, 2013


I spent two days in training this week. Part of that included being asked to create a story about my company to use at dinner parties when other guests made critical remarks about the company.
posted by awfurby at 4:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Or does that not count because it's not serving fast food?

Exactly! A media coordinator is not a minimum wage food service worker and your anecdata is worth nothing!
posted by griphus at 4:33 PM on February 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


Unless they have changed it the last few years, the first step in the ten step order of service at Waffle House is "friendly greeting with a smile". They are supposed to all stop what they are doing when a customer comes in and say hello.


I am so glad I work for a locally owned private business. We are friendly because we dang well feel like it, not because we are forced to be. And not being forced to be friendly makes us FEEL like being friendly. See how that works, Corporate America?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:35 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used to be upset about this, but then I read some retail-positive tumblrs.
posted by michaelh at 4:37 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


They can choose not to work there. Choose to try to unionize. Choose to strike. Choose to do a ton of things.

You libertarians, you fucking crack me up. Only a right winger could - In America, great googly moogly! - assume that someone who is in all likelihood a) a kid, or close to it, b) broke, c) lacking any qualifications and d) completely ignorant about labour organising could do any of those things. I mean hoonestly, fuuuuu... "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

This OP resonates with me - I'm long behind my hospitality industry days, thank god, and Australia doesn't much go in for that business anyway, but I had my annual review this week at my corporate job. It went well; I got a promotion and a pay rise which is fabulous. But I got feedback, that I project a cynical mien with regards to my attitude about the company and initiatives.

It shat me off, I cannot lie. It shat me because firstly, I'm only cynical about bullshit, not good stuff, and only then because I still care about our employees and resent them being ignored in the latest brainfart coming down from worldwide. It shat me because I'm only like that with my team, whom I think of as colleagues, and friends - never like that with my stakeholders. It shat me because I was like, "damn, I've been doing great, competent, promotion-worthy work this year - much of it premised on pushing back on bullshit and focusing on getting stuff done - and that's still not enough for you vultures. I have to sing from the corporate hymnbook and put on a happy face. Doing my job isn't enough for you! You don't own my opinions!"

Unfortunately, my response was, "Well, I've been here five years now without a promotion, if they want me to blindly champion everything, they need to promote me." And then they promoted me, bastards. I have to keep my mouth shut now, but inside I'll still be hatin'.
posted by smoke at 4:41 PM on February 1, 2013 [60 favorites]


>>Coldstone Creamery has some good ice cream, and I'm not sure what's so monstrous about asking employees to sing.

>The monstrous thing is that they're not "asking."

You think that's bad, you should see the singing requirements if you get a job in one of those stage shows on Broadway. Not only do they require you to sing if you want to get paid, if you don't sing well enough, you get fired!


Yeah but conversely, if you work in one of those particular stage show jobs on Broadway and someone asks you to fetch them an ice cream, you can tell them to fuck themselves. So why are we not affording symmetric rights to the ice cream shop worker?
posted by Dysk at 4:41 PM on February 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


So true. Funny how these expectations of solicitous behavior are expected out of professions that have been traditionally filled by women.

The article comments on the gender angle:
In the three decades since Hochschild published The Managed Heart, the emotional economy has spread like a noxious weed to dry cleaners, nail salons, even computer-repair shops. ... Back when she wrote her book, Hochschild estimated that about one-third of all jobs entailed "substantial demands for emotional labor." Today, she figures it's more like half. This is, among other things, terrible news for men, who (unlike women) are not taught from birth how to make other people happy. Perhaps that explains why men are losing ground in the service economy.
posted by John Cohen at 4:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is why I hate chains, this corporate shit. I loathe going to a chain restaurant because the waitstaff always have these very long spiels, "Hi. My name is Mark. I'm going to be your server tonight. I'd like to point out the specials to you. You can find the salads on this page, and over here is a listing of our sandwiches. I can recommend the Louisiana BarBQ sweet-n-sour pork salad which comes with a side of fried tomatoes. And over here you can find our drinks. People just love our sour applelet margaritas and you can get them by the glass, by the bottomless glass or by the pitcher! Is it anybody's birthday today? Oh look at that pretty purse, it sure is lovely. And now can I get anyone a drink? Do you folks need a minute to look at the menu?" and on and on in that hyper-chatter gosh-ain't-I-cute voice when really all I want to do is have you shut up and go away so I can look at the menu in peace. The best service is quiet, respectful, and efficient. I don't need a song and a dance, I don't need ebullient, I don't need glowing waitstaff.

Maybe I need to move out of the South.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


And that, in turn, is why it is akin to wanting your soul; it's not enough for you to perform a task that needs to be done, you have to think and feel a certain way as well as serve sandwiches.
Yes... I don't think anybody is saying it's unreasonable to ask fast food employees (or service employees in general) to be pleasant, courteous, et cetera. I worked as a movie theater usher for a couple of years. As minimum wage service jobs go, it was pretty good because *most* people are in a good mood when they go to see a movie. I can't remember being given a single behavioral instruction beyond "Say welcome to General Cinema if you're taking tickets at the door" and in the event of a complaint, "Listen, nod politely, and tell them that you're going to get a manager."

I mean, it was kind of implicitly understood by anyone who made it through an interview and got hired that as a customer-facing employee, you were expected to be nice to customers.

Being subjected to secret random happiness compliance checks is some real-life Office Space "pieces of flair" style soul death.
posted by usonian at 4:47 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think there's a way to be polite and friendly without being so transparently fake.

It's one thing to have your own bonus contingent on a smile. It's another thing entirely to have everyone else's bonus on the line.


I work standing up eight hours a day behind the fuel desk at a truck stop. Truckers come in cranky, happy, in a hurry, often tired or hungry, sometimes want to talk my ear off, sometimes can barely grunt when I say hello.

I'm always polite and professional, even if they rant on and on about Obama, are racist and misogynistic, or just rude and nasty. Some of them turn my stomach, and if I were not acting as an agent of the company, I'd tell them to F-off. I pretend to be extremely busy and too rushed to listen, but you have a nice day. Some people only want polite, professional, others enjoy yacking and cracking jokes. Part of it is reading the customer. What I enjoy about the job is the customers, and I take pride in giving good service and being accurate on the register. What I hate about the job is the management treating me like a peon or a ten-year old, being expected to suck up, and being told I HAVE to be friendly.

OTOH, the employees at my local Costco are always friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, without being weirdly forced about it. I complimented the front-end manager about it once, and he said "Oh yes! We get that a lot. Want to know what our secret is? We pay them well and give them health care."

WHOA! What a novel idea.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:47 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Protip: whenever your server at a chain restaurant says "Have you dined with us before?" lie and say yes or you'll get a five minute spiel "explaiining how things work." It's a restaurant. I look at the menu, I tell you what I want, you bring it to me, I pay you. Not that complicated. I really don't want to talk to you beyond that.
posted by desjardins at 4:52 PM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of New York in the '90s. I didn't get to meet the legendary Soup Nazi, but I routinely bought my groceries at the Cathedral Market. There were always lines, and the checkout girls had a 'tude. They would shout "NEXT!!!"

It stayed real that way.
posted by bad grammar at 5:17 PM on February 1, 2013


"They can just choose to try to form a union"....

It just so happens that I am friends with a bunch of people who tried goddamn hard to unionize the local Jimmy John's restaurants. (And I never eat at any JJs-like place now because I know only too well that people are working with strep and working with the flu as they make my food.)

It's really hard to organize because your population is two kinds: kids who expect to work there for a couple of years, only pull a few shifts a week and just grin and bear it, and people who have to work there to support their families, many of whom are working class people of color, and who have to keep their heads well the fuck down because their position in life is already so precarious. There were some bold souls from this population who helped with the campaign, and they ran a huge risk.

When you're a working class woman of color, too, you have to put up with some really shitty racist and misogynist stuff from your managers and posher co-workers, I'm just saying.

That aside, the attempt was crushed with extreme prejudice by the owners, who fired people and did a bunch of illegal stuff. NLRB ruled in favor of the organizers....like eight months later, after everyone had been fired.

And that was an organized campaign with some talented folks behind it, and it was mostly about getting sick days.

I suppose there always will be people who believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that the market has - without any form of legal, economic or governmental support - proved as immutably as gravity that some people must work miserable jobs where they have to sing like a trained animal on command. Boo, yah, sucks to you as my favorite writer Angela Carter would say.
posted by Frowner at 5:39 PM on February 1, 2013 [45 favorites]


And when you do this sort of thing all day, even in a self-starting, non-corporate mode (I'm a librarian), you do NOT want to come home and do it on Facebook all night. This is why I don't do Facebook.
posted by bad grammar at 5:50 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you'll find that singing is somewhat less integral to the ice cream scooping business than show business.

Not if you work at an ice cream store whose schtick is that the scoopers sing when you tip them.

I really don't see how singing is somehow more degrading than scooping ice cream. If scooping and singing (and cleaning and taking out the garbage) are in the job description, then that's what you're being hired to do.

"FIVE people are singing & dancing for A DOLLAR! That’s 20 cents a person! If you saw a homeless dude outside of Cold Stone & you’re like, “Hey man, I’ll give you 20 cents to sing some songs about Cold Stone.” He'd go, “Hey man! Go fuck yourself! That’s degrading!”

The singing is not really being paid for by the tip. The singing is just part of what you're getting your $x/hour for. And seriously, singing a silly song is really, really low on the list of degrading jobs you can get for that wage.
posted by straight at 6:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I briefly worked in a clothing store that was an American chain that had a rule that customers must, MUST, be greeted within 5 seconds of entering the store. Having been on the other end of similar rubbish, it's off putting and weird and infantilising. I just want to look at some clothes, I don't need you to validate my existence. Strangely they went bankrupt in this country last year.

Thankfully I went on to work at another retailer where several times my manager's response to customers with an over developed sense of entitlement was basically "Tell them to fuck off, but in a nice way."
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The singing is not really being paid for by the tip. The singing is just part of what you're getting your $x/hour for. And seriously, singing a silly song is really, really low on the list of degrading jobs you can get for that wage.
posted by straight at 6:09 PM on February 1 [+] [!]


What if they were required to dance like monkeys?

Who the fuck wants people to sing for them when they get ice cream anyway. You've already got ice cream, and ice cream is pretty awesome. If you want a choir go to were ever it is they perform.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:13 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Applebee's flapplebee"= best thing I've read all day.
posted by emjaybee at 6:17 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


The singing is not really being paid for by the tip. The singing is just part of what you're getting your $x/hour for. And seriously, singing a silly song is really, really low on the list of degrading jobs you can get for that wage.

So customer wants an icecream - they pay the business, you sccop the icecream, the business pays you. Customer wants a song - they pay you, and um... Yeah, the song is for the tip. No tip, no song. The tip is paying for the song.
posted by Dysk at 6:18 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


(And if the business is then collecting everyone's tips and redistributing (some of) it to the servers, that makes the business effectively a song pimp.)
posted by Dysk at 6:20 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wait till the bot in your fridge talks to you when you open it to get the orange juice for breakfast.

(teeny tiny chirpy voice) "Good morning! What a wonderful day! Would you like some lovely orange juice?"

(hungover / sleep-deprived human) "Mmph." (SLAM!)

The danger is when robots can perfectly simulate emotions, all these people forced to act like bots will be put out of work, unless the thrill of employing humans is knowing that a living, breathing human being is being required to act in a servile way.
posted by bad grammar at 6:48 PM on February 1, 2013


Like the AI appliances in Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues?
I'm disconcerted when servers remember my name and are friendly to me.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:50 PM on February 1, 2013


Very weird. It's a self-service sandwich place. All I want from the checkout person is correct change. If they want to improve the experience they should make better sandwiches.
posted by w0mbat at 6:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sorry, dude. Pearl clutching is it.

Service industry? Yes, you damn well better impress the customers like the boss says. That's why they call it the service industry.


No one is impressed by this except for idiots. The more we tell adults it's okay to have their poor little feelings hurt because the cashier didn't smile at them, the more child like behavior we can expect from them.

Or does that not count because it's not serving fast food? I don't see these kinds of complaints about receptionists, even though they have to pull off the same thing.


No, they don't. Since you are seriously comparing being a media coordinator to working retail, maybe it's time for you to realize you have no idea what you're talking about? That you have no idea what these jobs are actually like?

These jobs are degrading. There is no debate about that. Being treated as, and forced to act, like a child makes it worse.

Let me repeat: I was very nearly written up for greeting someone in a "mechanical way". I want you to consider the chain of events that was required for this to happen. First, an adult, had to hear me say "hello" and decide that my tone did not properly convey my joy at being able to cut their fucking lunch meat. Then, they had to feel so strongly that this was significant detriment to their experience of getting some lunch meat, that their complaint must be heard. Then, another adult, had to read this and not only agree with this assessment, but decide that it was worth their time to pursue this, and that is was such a transgression that I had to be confronted about it. At no point did these people question whether it was reasonable or fair to expect this from me.

This is what is wrong with our culture. If you think it's okay, then in all seriousness, I hate you.
posted by spaltavian at 7:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [63 favorites]


I've worked shitty minimum-wage customer service jobs nearly all my life (in fact, I work one now) and I do terribly resent imperatives to fucking touch people and sing and smile more than a normal employee would smile. To my mind, it's appropriate to speak with or discipline a surly or lacking employee-- not appropriate to have employees giving each other handjobs behind the counter to show what a fun-loving, let-me-pleasure-you type environment it is. I mean, fuck you. I like good customer service, I like positive customer interactions and doing my job well, but I don't like this clowning attitude that makes customers consciously uncomfortable while apparently playing on their subconscious and makes employees feel weird and uncomfortable and like they are apportioning away their humanity at work. I am questioning whether a lot of people in this thread have had to work these jobs, and I mean once they were out of their teen years. I was reasonably ok with this stuff when I was 16, but now that I'm 23 it is really hard to handle, and my almost-50-year-old mother isn't a particular fan either. She takes pride in her job and does it well, but is healthily contemptuous of b.s.

These jobs are degrading. There is no debate about that. Being treated as, and forced to act, like a child makes it worse.

So true. I don't find it degrading to scoop ice cream, or to sell clothes or wait tables. I don't even find it degrading to be patient and friendly to customers who are reaming me out because they fucked up or aren't immediately satisfied with every aspect of their experience, whether it's under my control or not (ok, maybe sometimes I do). It's a job, someone's gotta do it, and I get paid. But I do find it degrading to be told to go "above and beyond" in a variety of demeaning, childlike ways when I am being paid the bare minimum. Maybe people don't realize how punitive these types of jobs are and how little choice most people have in working them. When you are in a situation where your only option is to work a job that doesn't even pay you enough to live, maybe you'd rather just act like a normal, helpful person than have to tapdance for a bunch of randos and your boss.

I really don't see how singing is somehow more degrading than scooping ice cream. If scooping and singing (and cleaning and taking out the garbage) are in the job description, then that's what you're being hired to do.

Most people who work these jobs did not choose them out of a variety of prestigious job offers. They are working there probably because they have to, and can only choose between a variety of minimum wage jobs that force you to sing or enforce the 10 Foot Attitude or whatever mechanized babying customer service tactic the company can wring out of them. If they did choose to work at Cold Stone Creamery solely because they love ice cream and look forward to singing for tips, then they are a rare bird, and good luck filling your minimum wage hourly positions with rare and talented birds.

Anyway, if you have worked with the public, even if you take pride in it, you are entitled to think The Public is full of a bunch of crybaby bitches every once in awhile. Because what else are you supposed to think about grown adults who tattle on other adults for not smiling enough or having an "ugly piercing" or whatever the hell. Crybaby bitches.


The thing is that in most minimum-wage customer service and sales jobs, you are being paid to help very grouchy, touchy people and tell half-truths or white lies all day that make people instinctively dislike you. When you do your job well or like your coworkers it makes these kinds of jobs tolerable and even sometimes rewarding. Adding on an unnecessary and silly, infantalizing layer because of this race-to-the-bottom for profits (see: employees working on Thanksgiving instead of being with their families 'cos "the new Black Friday") in order that the people on top can salvage their huge salaries as much as possible while continuing to pay the people doing the shit work minimum wage... fucking blows. It takes whatever genuine humanity and personal pride can exist in a service position like this and shoots it full of lead, preferring to sell the employee's dignity instead.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


Heh, I just remembered: when I was working at a small neighborhood video store on the Upper East Side, my manager told me to stop saying "hi" to everyone who came in because even if I was just trying to be pleasant/polite, they didn't want to risk it coming off as fake and alienating the clientele.

A close relative of mine owns a retail store and once shared her retail philosophy as a shopper: if she walks into a store and no one greets her, she will not buy anything, even if the thing she came specifically is right in front of her. On the other hand, if she walks into a store -- even as the most casual browser -- and she is greeted by the staff, she will buy something, even if there is nothing in particular she wants.

This did not accord with the way I had approached retail from either side of the counter, but I thought I would give it a shot. A few days later, I was in Pendragon, a games store in Winnipeg well-known for both its good stock and its idiosyncratic customer service. As I opened the door, the owner bellowed "Can I help you with something?!?" I said I was fine and just looking but thought, Christ, let me get both feet over the threshold before you start gladhanding me.

I browsed for a minute or two, and the next customer entered and got the same treatment as he was entering. This guy coming in said, "Yeah, I am looking for a copy of Axis and Allies for the PC. Do you have it?" The owner laughed in his face and said no, they had nothing like that. The customer asked, "Well, can you suggest anywhere that might have it?" The owner laughed again and said he had no idea.

When the guy left, the owner turned to me and asked if I could believe that, that some guy came looking for a computer version of Axis and Allies as if to express his bafflement at the world and its inexplicable ways. I thought, No: it is a games store that sells both computer games and Axis and Allies, so it is not that weird.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:46 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Preach it, stoneandstar, preach it sister. I might be a superannuated bastard now, but the procession of casual jobs I had in high school and at university - and their attendant poverty, stress, and misery - is not easily forgotten.

Would that everyone could be forced to do six months of that once every five years. We'd have a lot more socialists, that's for fucking sure.
posted by smoke at 7:51 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Maybe I'm stretching a bit here, but I blame this sort of thing on free-market capitalism. Those at the top will continue to exploit workers in whatever ways necessary to extract more profit from them. This works because labor today is cheap and plentiful, and there are few legal protections for laborers anymore. These conditions effectively create a permanent underclass, literally saddled by debt, which will do whatever it takes to put food on the table.

This state of affairs is inhumane. It robs individuals of their freedom, agency and dignity. Every human being deserves respect. The way I see it, the endless, gaping maw of profit -- at any cost -- is why this country is so fucked up right now, and the reason why things need to change.
posted by nowhere man at 7:59 PM on February 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


^^ I rest my case.
posted by smoke at 8:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]



The singing is not really being paid for by the tip. The singing is just part of what you're getting your $x/hour for. And seriously, singing a silly song is really, really low on the list of degrading jobs you can get for that wage.
posted by straight at 6:09 PM on February 1 [+] [!]


Oh it's included in the eight bucks an hour, well I guess it's totally worth it then.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:10 PM on February 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Initially, I was confused and bothered by the practice of shouting Irasshaimase! at customers entering retail establishments in Japan. Then I realized that there were different ways of doing it.

There is standing by the front entrance of Daimaru or Kintetsu and saying it while bowing very politely (hands on thighs).

There is saying it eagerly and cheerfully as a prelude to taking a coffee order in a train station cafe.

There is calling out Irassahai-! to attract clientele to your noodle stand.

And then there is leaping out from nowhere and screaming it as loudly as possible, in order to absolutely fucking terrify someone who may have wandered into your shop.


I miss Japan.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:27 PM on February 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


I've never been to a Pret a Manger nor to a Cold Stone Creamery. After reading this thread, I never will go to a Cold Stone. My image of hell is any of those restaurants that sing their custom version of Happy Birthday, and, yes, singing for a tip is demeaning--and anyone who doesn't get that is either a pure Pollyanna, or Mitt Romney.

Where I fall on the Pret story is that forcing people to be cheerful is reprehensible. However, people who work with the public each and every day had better figure out how to at least be positive and professional, even if they are having a shit day themselves or find another line of work.

Most of my career, I worked in sales and in client relationship management. Not in the BS manner where half-baked management themes are imposed top down, but where the value of a relationship went beyond the value of the goods and money exchanged.

One example I can provide is that I inherited a major customer from another manager and our business with that customer was jeopardized because our on-time performance, our level of defects, and our customer service 'tude were all crap. The prior manager had tried imposing an attitude reward scheme without addressing the underlying problems. He visited the manufacturing plant once or twice in the span of a year, and he himself continually grumbled about our plant personnel. My solution was to move in to an apartment kept by the company near the plant and show up for work every day for three months, meeting with everyone from the shipping dock to incoming receiving. I didn't try to show that I could do the job as well as they could--there is no way that I could--but the bottom line that I wanted to impart was that each and everyone of us is a customer of someone else. I asked that they treat their customers the way they wanted to be treated. To belabor the point, the people in shipping were customers of the people on the finishing line. If the product they received was not right, it was a false support of their coworkers to ignore it and pass it along to our very upset customer. Let me also say that this was a firmly unionized plant, and I supported their union completely. My predecessor and my bosses all felt that the union was the problem. The problem was with people being pissed at management (and rightfully so--for reasons not covered here) and more or less passive-aggressively passing that on to the customer.

It was not hard to get my coworkers to understand that if our performance continued at that level, the customer would fire us. In those three months, we went from the customer's worst supplier to getting nominated & winning the customer's top supplier award, which triggered an internal managers award. I gave the money from the award to the union, and we had a well deserved party.

Long story, but the point is, there is a point to good customer service and that leads to customers that buy for reasons beyond the price point. Our company was never the lowest price option. But if I ever met the person who came up with the Wal-Mart cheer, I might have to slash their tires or something.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:38 PM on February 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


Just a note: it's not only Pret that employs mystery shoppers. Almost all national chains use this strategy to shape service to some extent, if not as thoroughly as this. I worked at four retailers in my life, and all four used mystery shoppers, as did one tourist attraction I worked at, as well. Just something to note - it's not unique to this one chain, even if their methodology and consequences are.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is what the fuck kind of weirdo customer actually finds the singing at Cold Stone some kind of value added? I love the ice cream, but what with all the creepy singing I am basically terrified of going in there at this point. I assume there must be enough people who feel otherwise that this is a worthwhile business strategy for Cold Stone, but I can't imagine who they would be.
posted by naoko at 9:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Would that everyone could be forced to do six months of that once every five years.

When I worked at Whole Foods, I decided that when I became Empress of the Universe, I would make everyone work a week of retail (I include waiting tables in this) per year. Except for people who already worked retail, of course.

We had secret shoppers, but they could be impossible to distinguish from or ordinary difficult customers, of whom there were many. We were lucky in my department in that we had a great department manager (aka team leader, in wholefoodsian) - she was laid back but not a pushover, a great teacher, an excellent modeler of good customer service. She made us sort of naturally cheerful, without any overt "You must be happy and friendly with the customers, or else!" We mostly all liked each other, or at least respected each other. Those are things that can't be forced (but can be gently and indirectly encouraged), but they're pretty important in retail.
posted by rtha at 10:26 PM on February 1, 2013


I think I've been to Cold Stones about twice, many years ago. Dear god, I am never going in one again.

I find it really irritating how these days, work is supposed to own your soul. You can't post stuff online of any even vaguely not-sanitized nature, your work might find it. You can't smoke on your own time because work pays your insurance. You have to be happy, happy, happy without any allowance for illness or else get fired. What the fuck, world? Seriously? You literally can't be a human being? Good luck with that, because I doubt anyone can pull that off.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:46 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


You think we're harsh here with our expectations around employee behavior? Japan seems to take it a step further.
posted by HuronBob at 3:40 AM on February 2, 2013


There is something you can actually do about this.

As a customer, Corporate is telling employees that you must be grovelled at. Decent people find grovelling to be fucking annoying. Assholes don't. Assholes enjoy it, take advantage of it, and always push it further.

So, as a customer, whenever another customer is an asshole to an employee - take advantage of your privileged state, and speak up. The employee cannot defend themselves. They are forbidden to act as if they were a human being who mattered; they will be fired if they try. However, you can defend them.

It's easy. Just practice it.

"Hey, asshole. Nobody here cares about what temperature your fucking five dollar hot dog is supposed to be. The kid behind the counter is paid to pretend to care, but he doesn't care any more than I do. You're wasting my time, his time, and everyone else's time too. Fuck off and shove it in your cakehole, or fuck off and throw it in the bin, but either way, fuck off."

"Hey, asshole. If you want some girl to pretend you're not a sleazy scumbag who gets off on sexually harassing someone who would be fired if she slapped you like you deserve, fuck off to a strip club."

Obviously this takes a certain degree of willingness to get into an argument, and a certain lack of fear of assholes. You could even be a lot nicer about it than in my examples above. However, the point of the exercise is to redirect the asshole from bullying the hapless employee. Whenever you see it happen, take responsibility for achieving that result.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:41 AM on February 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm guessing in the grim unregulated hyper-capitalist future, the only jobs left will be deliberately humiliating yourself for wealthier people.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:59 AM on February 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


This reminds me of years back when my ex was working for [large hotel chain] and took snaps of their training materials:

"Customer 6 steps away from desk: Make eye contact
Customer 3 steps away from desk: Begin smiling"

That was the tip of the iceberg. Also that same international six-sigma managed chain made their immigrant employees clock out early and put in a few extra unpaid hours.

When my ex left there she graffiti'd Lorca's "Dawn" on the side walk

...

Those who go out early know in their bones
there will be no paradise or loves that bloom and die:
they know they will be mired in numbers and laws,
in mindless games, in fruitless labors.

...

posted by yoHighness at 5:22 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Cold Stone Creamery - About the Singing

The creepiest thing about that write-up is the way "Entertainment Factor" is capitalized. They could have just said they sing to create an enjoyable atmosphere or whatever, but no, they have to BusinessSpeak it up and turn it into some sort of Management Dictated Profit Generation Process.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:28 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


, I would make everyone work a week of retail (I include waiting tables in this) per year.

I admire your stance but I've done both and would separate them. In retail, you are much more trapped, usually on a sales floor or behind a counter. As waitstaff, you actually have a domain to retreat to - the back of house - where another hierarchy reigns that's a bit more meritocratic. Your interactions with customers can be briefer, and you can go back and vent to your colleagues every few minutes. This is just to say that the consistent attitude and public presence required in retail is actually a different kind of stressor.
posted by Miko at 6:53 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The great thing about Pret is they have a really efficient way of dividing tasks among the servers which means you never have to wait for your coffee. That's worth much more to me than a smile and some forced chit chat.
posted by Summer at 7:07 AM on February 2, 2013


True, Miko.

Okay, a week of working retail for everyone, and a week of waiting tables!
posted by rtha at 7:26 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


How does Trader Joe's have such happy employees? I actually look forward to going there because everyone's always in such a good mood. Even when a tiny store is packed with like 500 people on a weekend, the lines are short and the employees actually seem genuinely interested in making small talk with every single customer. Several people there recognize me even though I only go every 2 weeks or less. Do they have some kind of a brain implant or what?
posted by miyabo at 7:41 AM on February 2, 2013


There is something this thread has caused me to ponder, which is the question of how valuable this emotional labor really is, anyway? Certainly if it were valuable, then the people who had to do the most of it would be very well paid, and the ability to do this kind of "performance", above and beyond simple "white collar professionalism" would be correlated with high compensating jobs-- particularly in retail, but also in other fields. But it isn't, is it? Corporate lawyers and spine surgeons aren't known for being "ebbulient", nor are luxury car salesmen, high end real estate agents, private bankers, or even those super-friendly sales associates at Nordstrom. This seems to be only something expected of employees at the very low end of the retail totem pole.

And what kind of people (here is a case where "corporations are people, my friend" applies) are the ones demanding and enforcing this kind of servile behavior from their employees?
posted by deanc at 7:58 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]



Most people who work these jobs did not choose them out of a variety of prestigious job offers. They are working there probably because they have to, and can only choose between a variety of minimum wage jobs that force you to sing or enforce the 10 Foot Attitude or whatever mechanized babying customer service tactic the company can wring out of them. If they did choose to work at Cold Stone Creamery solely because they love ice cream and look forward to singing for tips, then they are a rare bird, and good luck filling your minimum wage hourly positions with rare and talented birds.


I understand that everyone thinks that it is somehow more terrible if you have to sing for your supper if you're making minimum wage, but I wonder how much overlap there is between people who are offended by people singing for their supper and people who are offended by minimum wage jobs in the first place.

This is evidenced by the amount of crap I got by suggesting that there are other jobs, better paying jobs, that have similar fake-emotion requirements - that if fake-emotion is the delineation of what is degrading, then the one should be equally as degrading as the other.

People who work minimum wage jobs are choosing to do so, often as a result of a string of choices that have gone horribly wrong. And yes, their choices and options at that point may be sad, but the thing is - no one deserves to have a job. You don't have a right to be gainfully employed, or a right to be surly, or a right to somehow be a special snowflake and get treated differently than every other employee of the faceless corporation that you work for. If you want your money at the end of the day, you smile, or sing, or dance, or do whatever parameters they have required. If you think your perception of your own dignity is more important than your bread (and I support that choice, and have made that choice at one job), then you try to change it or you quit. Sometimes the dignity is worth more than the bread. Sometimes the bread is worth more than the dignity.

If you as the consumer want to change things such that those expectations are not the dominant model, then sure, go ahead, vote with your feet, write letters to those corporations, do what you can. But don't expect that somehow people should be obligated to do what you want or think your way out of some sort of objective reality.

You libertarians, you fucking crack me up. Only a right winger could - In America, great googly moogly! - assume that someone who is in all likelihood a) a kid, or close to it, b) broke, c) lacking any qualifications and d) completely ignorant about labour organising could do any of those things. I mean hoonestly, fuuuuu... "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

It's kind of funny how much that quote is used, how ridiculously masturbatory it is. You realize that no one who doesn't agree with you cares, right? Yes, I appreciate that the law forbids the rich and poor alike to beg in the streets, and steal bread. Because all of the following are public nuisances, and no one should be doing them, regardless of their societal status. I know the likelihood is low of the rich having to do those things, and I don't care. It does not make me think the law is one whit unjust. (For those reasons, anyway - there's plenty of reasons it is.)

All of the categories listed above can, in fact, do what I suggested. They can /try/ to organize a labor union. Will they succeed? Probably not, unless the mass of people out there agree with them that it is more demeaning than the bread is worth. Which is, in fact, unlikely. Can they quit? Sure. Can they strike? Absolutely - and don't tell me kids don't know what striking is, because they do. Will they probably get fired after striking? Yes, unless, as above, the mass of people support them.

But their opportunity of choice is still the same, just not their opportunity of result.
posted by corb at 8:09 AM on February 2, 2013


corb "But their opportunity of choice is still the same, just not their opportunity of result."

SO MAKE WITH MY SINGING SO THAT I MAY TAKE PLEASURE IN YOUR DISCOMFORT. YOUR LACK OF OPPORTUNITY IS CERTAINLY NOT MY PROBLEM, AND I DESIRE ARTIFICIAL JOY AND OBSEQUIOUSNESS SO THAT I MAY INFLATE MY SENSE OF SELF WORTH AT YOUR EXPENSE. YOUR POOR CHOICES AND DEFINITELY NOT YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES ARE TO BLAME! HUZZAH TO ME!
posted by radiosilents at 8:15 AM on February 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


But their opportunity of choice is still the same, just not their opportunity of result.

And is that not the important part? How would it feel if low wage retail employees were expected to act only with the same kind of professionalism that you were expected to have with your coworkers and clients, rather than enforced ebbulience and other performance requirements? It would certainly make you feel like your accomplishments were wasted, would it not? And that is sort of the point of your argument-- how can your job, where your supervisors treat you with respect, be considered valuable if OTHER people are accorded that same kind of respect by their supervisors and are not themselves required to engage in degrading servility? A land where people are treated well in the workplace would be considered by you to be "equality if result", which you consider a moral offense.

In the end, it is not our job to make the middle classes feel better about themselves at the expense of the poor and lower classes. Rather, we would prefer that everyone be treated with respect.
posted by deanc at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Schlee, who is 52 and a product of Rugby and University College, Oxford (a
first in modern history)


Can someone explain what this means?
posted by medusa at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2013


Corb, I don't think that we're really disagreeing about what the world looks like. This isn't really a debate, because we don't disagree about what's happening. Yeah, we all dance for whatever the wealthy will give us, and some bear that burden more heavily than others.

Where we're diverging is around whether that system is desirable, because it's certainly not inevitable. Some of us aren't satisfied with this, and think that we can do better. Count me in with those that think the quality of life guaranteed by minimum wage in North America is unjust and unreasonable, even before the singing and the dancing. I've lived that life, and I wouldn't do it again, better that nobody else have to either.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:32 AM on February 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Miyabo, it's my understanding that Trader Joe's actually pays fairly high wages compared to similar positions in other stores. From Wikipedia:
Trader Joe's pays above-union wages: as of 2010, supervisory crew members ("Merchants," and "Mates") can start at $35–50,000 per year and store managers ("Captain") can earn in the "low six figures." It contributes to an employee's standard 401(k) plan. As of 2013, pay for entry-level Crew Members was $10 to $11 an hour.[2][6]

Trader Joe's also offers health insurance benefits (dental, vision, and medical) to all employees and their dependents. Crew Members must work 900 hours per year (an average of 20 hours per week) and be employed for a minimum of three months consecutively to qualify. All Crew Members are evaluated every six months with the possibility of a pay increase. All employees also receive a 10 percent discount on items bought at the store.
Honestly, those people are making more money than I am right now, and I own my own damn business! If I ever get tired of what I'm doing now, I could definitely think of worse jobs to have for that same amount of money.

And let me just add to the chorus of "it is just CREEPY to make your employees do these HAPPY HAPPY things..." in-thread.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:39 AM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I spent two days in training this week. Part of that included being asked to create a story about my company to use at dinner parties when other guests made critical remarks about the company.

This would've been the sum total of my story.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 8:42 AM on February 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


This probably isn't universal, but at my high school it was quite popular to work at Coldstone. The kids who did it were the ones who did the school musicals or had musical aspirations. The singing was part of the reason they wanted to work there, and the tips meant that they were making more than I was at my retail job, even though we probably had about the same hourly rate. I don't see why it's not a valid business model, especially when they're upfront from the start about singing being part of the job. I think it's a different situation than the Pret one.
posted by sparrow89 at 9:26 AM on February 2, 2013


People who work minimum wage jobs are choosing to do so, often as a result of a string of choices that have gone horribly wrong.

This is an extremely libertarian and highly debatable definition of the word "choice."
posted by soundguy99 at 9:51 AM on February 2, 2013 [22 favorites]


God, this stuff makes me angry. All I expect from people who serve me food and coffee is a very basic level of civility and the ability to serve me food and coffee reasonably efficiently. It's a shit, low-paid job; everyone knows it's a shit, low-paid job; and only a heartless, entitled bastard would expect fake smiles and shift-long sunny charm from the poor sods who have to do it.
posted by Decani at 9:57 AM on February 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I also think that one of the moral weaknesses of libertarianism is the refusal/inability to make moral judgments about the behavior of the businesses. From the libertarian perspective, the ONLY thing to be argued in favor of the businesses is, "There should be no government regulation that directly prevents these management decisions about retail worker rules." And that's it. Anything beyond that, such as an affirmative defense of manager policies and worker treatment should not be seen as an outgrowth of libertarian philosophy, but rather as nothing more than support of immoral and degrading behavior on the part of management and other corporate executives towards employees. Except that this seems to be a flaw of libertarianism: what should be a morally neutral refusal to advocate government intervention and force to second-guess and make decisions for management turns into an affirmative moral endorsement of these management decisions and a taking of the side of management against the workers.
posted by deanc at 10:02 AM on February 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


Oh it's included in the eight bucks an hour, well I guess it's totally worth it then.

If I had a job where I got $8/hr to scoop ice cream, run the cash register, wipe the counters, mop the floor, clean the bathrooms, take out the trash, and sing silly songs, the silly songs would be dead last on my list of stuff to complain about.
posted by straight at 10:33 AM on February 2, 2013


Can someone explain what this means?

Rugby is an English public (i.e. private, in American parlance) school. Getting a first in your university degree is graduating with highest hono(u)rs - like summa cum laude in the U.S.

In other words, a background of much privilege, academic prestige and potential.
posted by rtha at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2013


You know who else wants you to sing when you provide basic service?

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!"

I have no idea what significance this comment has, but that has never stopped me before.
posted by HuronBob at 11:23 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Schlee, who is 52 and a product of Rugby and University College, Oxford (a
first in modern history)


It's not the first time in modern history that someone from Rugby has graduated from University College, Oxford (the University is divided into colleges). He studied Modern History there and got a first, which is a very good degree.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:40 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


yes, their choices and options at that point may be sad, but the thing is - no one deserves to have a job.

What a horrible worldview.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:41 AM on February 2, 2013 [22 favorites]


Here's what I genuinely don't understand: given that plenty of people don't have a choice not to work retail/food service, isn't there still a choice of employers within that class of work? My impression was that huge turnover and the crappiness of the positions were such that it was, on average, easier to land such jobs than ones slightly higher up the totem pole. (Certainly, none of the high-schoolers I know have ever had difficulties finding themselves fast-food counter jobs at fairly short notice over breaks and whatnot).

If that's the case, and if affective-labor requirements are a universally soul-sucking abomination for everyone, then why wouldn't you choose to just go work the same job somewhere else that doesn't have those requirements? There must be tens or hundreds of fast-food places within walking distance of the average NYC Pret. If you resent the opportunity to win a bonus for smiling at a customer, why not just tough it out for a month or two until a counter opening shows up for similar pay at McDonalds or BK or someplace equally sucky but less irritatingly twee? If you don't like to be made to sing at Cold Stone, why not look for the equivalent non-singing job at, you know, Orange Julius or Maggie Moos or DQ or wherever? In an industry where mobility is pretty high and decent workers are probably not super-easy to come by, it seems like this kind of problem should solve itself fairly quickly via employee self-assortment to whatever employers tend to share their personal outlook toward customer service.

Heck, if it's really true that any thinking worker hates this, then maybe the pro-affective-labor bosses would ultimately get the message that their policies are driving all the intelligent personnel to go work for the competition.
posted by gallusgallus at 11:45 AM on February 2, 2013


If you want your money at the end of the day, you smile, or sing, or dance, or do whatever parameters they have required.

No shit Corb; this is exactly what everyone in this thread is saying is bad. It's also why I expressly blamed customers like (presumably) you, who expect this sort of servile and and degrading behavior from people who already less fortunate than us.
posted by spaltavian at 11:51 AM on February 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


deanc: I also think that one of the moral weaknesses of libertarianism is the refusal/inability to make moral judgments about the behavior of the businesses. From the libertarian perspective, the ONLY thing to be argued in favor of the businesses is, "There should be no government regulation that directly prevents these management decisions about retail worker rules." And that's it. Anything beyond that, such as an affirmative defense of manager policies and worker treatment should not be seen as an outgrowth of libertarian philosophy, but rather as nothing more than support of immoral and degrading behavior on the part of management and other corporate executives towards employees. Except that this seems to be a flaw of libertarianism: what should be a morally neutral refusal to advocate government intervention and force to second-guess and make decisions for management turns into an affirmative moral endorsement of these management decisions and a taking of the side of management against the workers.

Ok, I'm a lowercase-l libertarian, and probably not the best person to make the counter-argument, but I can see some misrepresentations here.

At its most fundamental, libertarianism is about allowing people to do what they want to do, as much as possible, and eschewing the use of force. The use of force includes believing that this is unacceptable behavior, and forcing these businesses, through the use of the legal system, to comply with that viewpoint. This means that, in turn, the guns of the government are pointed at this business, and they are required to comply. If they do not comply, they can have property confiscated, or even be hurt or killed, depending on how the conflict is resolved.

And this is true whether you or not you happen to believe it. Even if you think you wouldn't advocate the use of force to uphold these laws, that's what laws are, rules that you must follow or be fined and/or jailed. The ability to levy fines and throw you in jail come, ultimately, from the barrel of a gun. If enough people disagree with you about a policy (like, say, "you shouldn't use drugs"), then your only option to enforce that policy is hurting and/or killing them, as we simply seem incapable of learning. (see: failure of massive War on Drugs.)

Libertarianism views the desire to use the guns of the government to enforce this kind of behavior standard as authoritarianism, and I see no reason to believe otherwise. That's what it is. It may be gentle authoritarianism, with good intentions, but it is authoritarianism nonetheless.

As a lowercase-l libertarian, I'm quite aware of the disproportionate force that employers (well, basically, rich people in general) can impose on the poor, and I tend to think that organization and labor unions are one of the best ways to offset the power of capital. There are times when government intervention, backed by force, is warranted; I would say that Wal-Mart, for example, is such a powerful economic actor that only the government would be able to restrain their abuses, and it might be only partially successful even then.

But, in this case, this is one small employer among many many, so there's no disproportionate force involved, and there's no reason to be pointing guns at anyone, either directly or indirectly. This isn't a tacit endorsement of abuse; it's a direct endorsement of the ability of consenting adults to enter into any relationship they choose, no matter what other people happen to think about it.

If you want to sing for your supper at Cold Stone Creamery, then the libertarian view is, knock yourself out. If you don't want to, then don't. And if you feel that you're being forced to do so out of economic necessity, then find a bunch of friends, communicate with customers, and organize to shame them into not being so abusive. The only time the guns of the government should be involved is when there's a significant threat to life and health, and this particular case does not qualify.

There are certainly imaginary ones where it might, but in this real example, it's up to the employees and the customers to push back about the policy, not the police.
posted by Malor at 12:00 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"And if you feel that you're being forced to do so out of economic necessity, then find a bunch of friends, communicate with customers, and organize to shame them into not being so abusive."

you're immediately (like on the spot) fired for so much as suggesting this. what's the next step in the libertarian paradise handbook? bearing in mind, please, that it took weeks of soul-crushing rejections for even a fast food job in the current economy.
posted by radiosilents at 12:02 PM on February 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


And if you feel that you're being forced to do so out of economic necessity, then find a bunch of friends, communicate with customers, and organize to shame them into not being so abusive.

That's kind of what this thread is doing. And yet, here you are, bashing it and going on about "the guns of the government!!!" like anybody was endorsing that. Some real solid ideals you've got there.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:05 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can still find a bunch of friends, organize, and shame. And it's not like there's any shortage of alternative employers in the world. This is a tiny outfit, a little boutique luxury retail chain.

The alternative is marching in, with guns out, and forcing them to comply with your behavior standards. Do you think this is acceptable in this case? Obviously, there are times when it absolutely is, but this is so minor. Are you really willing to take out a gun and point it at someone to make this behavior stop?
posted by Malor at 12:06 PM on February 2, 2013


I'm not bashing this thread, Sys Rq. If you think I am, then you need to back the fuck up and reread what I wrote.
posted by Malor at 12:07 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I'm saying, ultimately, is that we should be using wallets to fight this, not weapons. There doesn't need to be a special law, we just need to refuse to buy anything at this place, and convince enough other people that they should avoid the place as well.

What with them being a tiny luxury boutique, the opinions of liberals will be very important to them; if enough Mefite-type folks get annoyed at them, they're going to go out of business, because we're the sort of folks that buy this kind of luxury item. Your specific opinion is disproportionately important in this case, and simple economic pain should suffice to contain the abuses -- if you can convince enough people that you're right.

I'm convinced! I agree that it's bad. So I won't shop there.
posted by Malor at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2013


that's really the thing about libertarianism; it argues all of its point from the perspective that we already live in a perfect world wherein these concepts are immediately practical.

getting from HERE to THERE, though, is something that defiantly argued against as an unnecessary distraction in the face of the inherent solutions offered by the utopian ideal.

as it turns out, there are TONS of ideologies that work if you can wave your hands to clear the slate and institute them tabla rasa... but when you raise the point that for success you would have to actually accomplish widespread and systemic change before these benefits are attainable, handwaving away the difficulties, roadblocks, and conceptual fallacies followed by descending further into defending the core philosophical tenets seems to be the going retort.
posted by radiosilents at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I worked a lot of retail. I am an extrovert, and am usually aggressively cheerful™ with customers. One year I had a siege of flu before Thanksgiving, and was merely polite & helpful. I experienced the worst customer behavior I'd ever known. Teaching staff to be ebullient may actually benefit them, though I find it skeevy. Bad labor practice will make me boycott pretty much any vendor.

Service jobs require service, and rewarding excellent service makes sense. The worker who knows how to do 3 things at once, competently and calmly*, thus speeding the line at lunchtime, deserves a bonus. I think I'd rather know that any food vendor visits kitchens, and rewards stores that are especially clean and sanitary, and that make the food especially well. That one worker at Panera who arranges the avocado, turkey & bacon just so, and gets the mayo on *all* the bread is my (lunchtime) hero.

The customer who stands there at the head of a long line, dithering about the ham vs. the salmon, and asking for minute details about the mustard, then has to dig for the wallet, etc., may be lynched by the people who are in a hurry, and, really, what jury would convict? If you are this person, give the worker, and your fellow customers a break during busy times.
posted by theora55 at 12:13 PM on February 2, 2013


Alright. You're not bashing it.because you mentioned Quiznos. Fair enough.

But you've demonstrated pretty clearly how there are no "lowercase-l libertarians"; only capital-S Suckers.

Fact is, freedom ain't free. Without the resources to fight against exploitation, the working class is fucked. The only hold those people have on their freedom is provided by government guns regulations.

What I'm saying, ultimately, is that we should be using wallets to fight this, not weapons.


*facepalm*
posted by Sys Rq at 12:16 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


that's really the thing about libertarianism; it argues all of its point from the perspective that we already live in a perfect world wherein these concepts are immediately practical.

I would say that it argues that using violence for short-term gain is not the correct behavior. They want to solve problems correctly and completely, by convincing everyone that ideas are wrong, rather than imposing views by force.

They view the use of force as an evil in and of itself, one that may be justified if the behavior is bad enough. But there is always blowback when you use force to impose your viewpoint on people.
posted by Malor at 12:17 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Malor - who suggested anyone use force or violence as a counter to atrocious behavior from self-entitled, narcissistic market capitalists?
posted by radiosilents at 12:19 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Libertarianism views the desire to use the guns of the government to enforce this kind of behavior standard as authoritarianism, and I see no reason to believe otherwise. That's what it is

The libertarian argument SHOULD stop here. If you are a libertarian, this is the only libertarian contribution that can be made to the conversation. Once you start going beyond that, explaining why this is "ok" as a way to treat employees, regarding this excess "emotional labor" as anything other than enforced civility and degradation, is a reflection of your own moral outlook, not as a "libertarian." HOWEVER, modern "libertarian culture" drives its adherence to instinctively take the side of the managers and the employers.

No one has advocated government use of force to rectify the situation. Yet the libertarians on this thread JUST HAPPEN to be the ones jumping in to defend these practices and behaviors, not to condemn them. Now if libertarianism is/should be only about not advocating the government use of force, why is this thread and the contributions from the libertarians playing out this way? It makes me suspect that this is because libertarianism is about blind worship of power and falling down on the side of power and whatever their decisions are, every time.
posted by deanc at 12:24 PM on February 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think what Malor's saying is that that is the logical conclusion of the enforcement of law.

I also think that saying "nobody deserves a job" when not having a job equals starvation and homelessness is why modern-day libertarianism makes me wanna vomit.
posted by RedEmma at 12:26 PM on February 2, 2013 [17 favorites]


HOWEVER, modern "libertarian culture" drives its adherence to instinctively take the side of the managers and the employers.

Exactly. What the hell happened to libertarians, anyway?
posted by RedEmma at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would say that it argues that using violence for short-term gain is not the correct behavior.

Except that it settles for the status quo created by countless past uses of force for short-term gains, which became long-term gains in the form of lasting systems for producing inequalities.
posted by Miko at 12:33 PM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It makes me suspect that this is because libertarianism is about blind worship of power and falling down on the side of power and whatever their decisions are, every time.

I think there's some truth to this, at least for some libertarians, but I think that this explanation is closer to the truth:

HOWEVER, modern "libertarian culture" drives its adherence to instinctively take the side of the managers and the employers.


This is because managers and employers have a financial stake in limiting government power over business, so employers and libertarians make a natural political coalition. And when you're in a coalition with someone, some of their ideas and values are bound to rub off.
posted by straight at 12:37 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Malor, if you disagree that monopoly on violence is a legitimate foundation for authority, then you have no coherent basis on which to judge whether a situation merits state intervention, given that your belief implies the illegitimacy of the state in every matter.
posted by invitapriore at 12:37 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


enforced civility

Enforced servility, rather
posted by deanc at 12:37 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you want your money at the end of the day, you smile, or sing, or dance, or do whatever parameters they have required. If you think your perception of your own dignity is more important than your bread (and I support that choice, and have made that choice at one job), then you try to change it or you quit. Sometimes the dignity is worth more than the bread. Sometimes the bread is worth more than the dignity.

No shit, Sherlock. Explaining this to people who are telling you they live it is pretty revealing in terms of how much more you think you know than you actually do. You are seriously fucking ignorant about the lives of your fellow Americans. It's a crime.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:32 PM on February 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


invitapriore, what he said was that state violence is an evil that may be necessary to prevent or combat a worse evil.

But you're right that it doesn't make sense to ask of every individual law whether it merits the threat of state violence. Because the question is whether the legitimacy of the state to make and enforce laws is worth the threat of violence, which I would say it very much is, particularly when the state is structured in such a way that we can make and change the laws without violence.
posted by straight at 1:37 PM on February 2, 2013


I'm still waiting for someone to point to the post calling for Pret's asinine bonus policy (or Cold Stone's creepy "sing for my pocket change" policy) to be made illegal. As usual, all I see from the libertarian / anarcho-capitalist contingent is the standard conflation of complaints of asshole corporate policy with calls to turn the US (or UK, I guess, in this case) into some sort of communist workers' paradise (along with the requisite disdain for those making minimum wage).
posted by dirigibleman at 1:59 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much overlap there is between people who are offended by people singing for their supper and people who are offended by minimum wage jobs in the first place.

If you have an accusation to make about people in this thread, you should make it instead of oblique digs.

People who work minimum wage jobs are choosing to do so, often as a result of a string of choices that have gone horribly wrong.

What about their parents' choices? What about a society that actively discriminates against them? Honestly, libertarians grossly - grossly - overstate the input and impact of an individual on a person's life. I realise this cuts to the core of libertarian philosophy - there is no society - but it boggles my mind.

No one deserves to have a job. You don't have a right to be gainfully employed, or a right to be surly, or a right to somehow be a special snowflake and get treated differently than every other employee of the faceless corporation that you work for.

That's a horrific, workhouse, "deserving poor" mentality on display there, and thankfully one that many countries, leaders, and people from all walks of life refute vehemently.

I think your expansion, "get treated differently than every other employee" is quite revealing, Corb. No one has really argued that here, that I can see. Does the thought of someone being unfairly advantaged bother you? It seems odd, given that most institutionalised assistance ("treating differently") is done to address disadvantage, not promote advantage. What if someone has a disability? Should they get treated differently?

It's interesting because everyone in this thread seems to be railing against treating people differently; customers from staff, low-wage workers from high-wage workers.

Sometimes the dignity is worth more than the bread. Sometimes the bread is worth more than the dignity.

Except when you're poor, dignity is not worth much, eh? Do you think that's an ideal state of affairs?

Crikey man, I realise we could go at it hammer and tongs all day, and you're not gonna change and I'm not gonna change. I don't know whether I pray you're never put in the position that a lot of these people are - with the same assets they have - or I pray that you are.
posted by smoke at 2:10 PM on February 2, 2013 [16 favorites]


Just so were clear libertarians:

Government's use of power to restrict humiliating work conditions based on unfair economic relations : bad and authoritarianism

Employer's use of power to create and enforce humiliating work conditions based on unfair economic relations, because the proles 'chose it' else they'd work somewhere else : just plain dandy and Freedom(tm).

Does anyone else feel like they might have accidentally fallen into a time vortex that took them back to a mill town in the early 19th Century?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 2:14 PM on February 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


I usually figure that people who work service jobs have been on their feet for quite some time, and aren't getting paid that much, so it's my role as a fellow human to help make their job easy and to send a little positive emotion their way.

Some of them just want to do their job and get on with it, while others enjoy a little more extended and personal interaction, but it's not too hard to read people and figure out which is appropriate.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Certainly, none of the high-schoolers I know have ever had difficulties finding themselves fast-food counter jobs at fairly short notice over breaks and whatnot).

As a university graduate living in the UK at the moment, I wish the many, many fast food places I've applied to for jobs would even so much as send out a mail-merge form rejection email or something. Jobs are not easy to come by these days, especially if you've not had any meaningful or relevant experience.
posted by Dysk at 4:39 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Historically, small-l libertarianism was a synonym for anarchism or civil-libertarianism, and included at least a bit of analysis of economic as well as state power, and an understanding of the concept of structural inequalities. Malor, in pretending that everyone is an individual with equal power to start with, is arguing more of a capital-L libertarian position. While the critique of state power is a common factor relating these philosophies, that issue of the existence of structural or systemic inequalities is a pretty major difference. The exact term used is beside the point in this thread, but it is my personal opinion that one should actually know and understand the history of any larger, historical philosophy that one claims to ascribe to.
posted by eviemath at 5:55 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is something this thread has caused me to ponder, which is the question of how valuable this emotional labor really is, anyway? ... This seems to be only something expected of employees at the very low end of the retail totem pole. - deanc

I think the original link and some of our discussion in this thread has conflated "emotional labor" with the requirements and restrictions on how low-status, low-wage employees are supposed to actually, authentically feel, and how they are supposed to act and believe in their personal lives outside of work. Consider the psychiatric profession: arguably involves emotional labor, but is respected, well-compensated, and provides a work environment where the private lives of the workers in that field are respected. I'd agree that this is a fairly exceptional example though, and much more often jobs requiring emotional labor are lower-status service sector jobs that are poorly-compensated and leave workers vulnerable to this employer take-over of employees' inner life. My read of the situation is that employer claims to ownership of these employees' entire lives is more of a symptom that the employees are in an exploitative situation than a necessary consequence of emotional labor. I think the co-incidence of these sort of abuses with service industry jobs stems from service industry jobs being traditionally low status and under-compensated, which stems from a variety of factors such as service and most aspect of emotional labor being considered traditionally female tasks, and probably a bunch of other factors too - history of slavery, the role of servility in perpetuating structures of oppression (which corb is giving us such a delightful case study of), etc.
posted by eviemath at 6:16 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, I appreciate that the law forbids the rich and poor alike to beg in the streets, and steal bread. Because all of the following are public nuisances, and no one should be doing them, regardless of their societal status.

The fact that you consider some people's actual, physical survival to be a public nuisance is abhorrent.
posted by eviemath at 6:17 PM on February 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Sometimes the dignity is worth more than the bread. Sometimes the bread is worth more than the dignity.

Is it too much to ask that people are afforded both bread and dignity? I think not.

Everyone has to put up with bullshit at work. My job, for example, frequently requires that I feign interest in topics of no interest to me whatsoever. But, firstly, I am paid a reasonable wage. Secondly, I am judged by my work output, and I am free to do my work in a manner that suits me, so long as I'm professional and the work gets done. When I'm talking to someone about something that doesn't interest me, I have to be professional and listen and ask questions; I don't have to act like the person is an old pal. My boss isn't going to come to me and say "your work is good, but you didn't smile enough during your meeting with so-and-so."

I expect my service employees to be professional and courteous. I expect them to politely answer my questions, if I have any. I do not expect them to be entertaining or ebullient. If I am in Cold Stone Creamery, I want to get ice cream, I do not want to be entertained. If I want to be entertained, I'll go to a movie or a concert. If I'm in Pret, I want to get a sandwich and leave. I don't want to make friends, if I want to make friends, I'll go to a party or a bar or join a meetup group.

I'd guess that's the thing: the goal of Pret is to sell sandwiches. Why don't they base their bonuses on, I don't know, how many sandwiches they sell? That way each employee, in consultation with their direct manager, can figure out how best to accomplish that goal in a way that respects each person. When you get faceless corporate bureaucrats telling people to be "ebullient" because they're supposed to be just so gosh-darn happy to be making some yuppie's change, shit yeah, that's an affront to human dignity. It's also an insult to the customer's intelligence.
posted by breakin' the law at 6:58 PM on February 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


You know, there's a reason why no serious political philosopher takes American libertarianism seriously. It's basically a nonsensical revival of 18th century proprietor liberalism, which was based on people who were obsessed with the idea of freedom of contract. Never mind that many of the people that they signed up to those contracts where children, or working in places were the slightest spark would mean that everyone would burn to death.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:19 PM on February 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


corb: People who work minimum wage jobs are choosing to do so, often as a result of a string of choices that have gone horribly wrong.

You have directly insulted me with that assertion. I could say more, but I don't think the mods would approve.
posted by JHarris at 7:27 PM on February 2, 2013 [23 favorites]


No one deserves to have a job. You don't have a right to be gainfully employed,

That's quite the double-bind you've set up. No one deserves to have a job, and no one deserves public assistance if they don't have a job. (I'm extrapolating from your previous posts, so please do correct me if I'm wrong here.)

or a right to be surly, or a right to somehow be a special snowflake and get treated differently than every other employee of the faceless corporation that you work for.

Making nice to a limited audience (fellow employees, clients, vendors) is not at all the same as being "ebullient," however defined, to each and every one of the scores of people you're required to engage with in a retail shift.

Any random asshole can walk into Pret and many do. Your distasteful experience in media relations (with an office, salary, and benefits) is not at all the same thing.

You do get that, don't you?
posted by dogrose at 8:47 PM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Eviemath, your comment was thought-provoking.

much more often jobs requiring emotional labor are lower-status service sector jobs that are poorly-compensated and leave workers vulnerable to this employer take-over of employees' inner life....I think the co-incidence of these sort of abuses with service industry jobs stems from service industry jobs being traditionally low status and under-compensated, which stems from a variety of factors such as service and most aspect of emotional labor being considered traditionally female tasks, and probably a bunch of other factors too - history of slavery, the role of servility in perpetuating structures of oppression (which corb is giving us such a delightful case study of), etc.

I think there's a lot of truth to this, but a couple of points occur. First, a construct of 'emotional labor' applies to a lot of labor, as others have pointed out. I naturally lean toward the introverted and have a very mission-focused, un-social attitude toward work, the idea being to get it done and get out so we can live our lives, but I've learned that at work, I will simply not progress unless I engage in small talk, celebrate little occasions, be a pleasant team member, manage other people's emotional states to a small degree, etc. In my career, these soft factors have been increasingly important as I go up the ladder, not down. I am more judged on "whole person" factors today than I was as a store clerk, box office salesperson, or waitress, where my efficiency at the job functions was paramount.

Secondly, it is tempting and even pretty well supported to draw a line from 'pink ghetto' occupations to a higher expectation of servility. But at the same time, there is something sort of new about the degree of performing happiness and connection that corporate retailers are pushing now. My clerking days in the late 1980s and early 1990s were about making upsales and keeping the floor neat and approaching customers within 60 seconds, etc. They were not to any great degree about embodying brand ideals. I think while it's true that people from an already disempowered class - young, female, poor, less-educated - are already in a position that makes them easier to manipulate, I don't like to let the corporate culture off the hook here for what are, really, new ideas about brand saturation and behavior control.
posted by Miko at 6:09 AM on February 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is it too much to ask that people are afforded both bread and dignity? I think not.

I completely agree, but I grow more and more convinced that there is a large number of people who don't want anyone they deem beneath them to have any self-respect or personal pride because they don't think people below a certain economic level deserve to have them.

The attitude of 'fuck you, I've got mine' on which this appalling glibertarian nonsense is based is being extended to the concepts of human dignity and worth, in other words.

I'm a terrible person, so I like to imagine their chagrin and despair were the social and economic benefits they received through the luck of the draw to be withdrawn and they were forced to live like those of us born behind the eight ball. I've been lucky enough to see it happen to a couple of well-deserving assholes, though, and they don't actually extend their new revelations about human injustice to other people. They just change the definition of deserving people to include themselves, despite having identical circumstances to those people they so cruelly disregarded previously.
posted by winna at 8:37 AM on February 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


People who work minimum wage jobs are choosing to do so, often as a result of a string of choices that have gone horribly wrong.

The people who tripped on those subway stairs chose to do so. They could've paid more attention to their feet. It's their own fault, really.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 2:46 PM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Emotional labor crops up in a link from the comments on another FPP.
posted by eviemath at 3:29 PM on February 3, 2013


It's not the first time in modern history that someone from Rugby has graduated from University College, Oxford (the University is divided into colleges). He studied Modern History there and got a first, which is a very good degree.

OMG. Thank you for explaining this. I sound like an idiot but I was so confused about why this guy going to college was such an historically unprecedented event.
posted by medusa at 6:20 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And is that not the important part? How would it feel if low wage retail employees were expected to act only with the same kind of professionalism that you were expected to have with your coworkers and clients, rather than enforced ebbulience and other performance requirements? It would certainly make you feel like your accomplishments were wasted, would it not? And that is sort of the point of your argument-- how can your job, where your supervisors treat you with respect, be considered valuable if OTHER people are accorded that same kind of respect by their supervisors and are not themselves required to engage in degrading servility? A land where people are treated well in the workplace would be considered by you to be "equality if result", which you consider a moral offense.

This is a really strong misstatement of my position, but I think it's a revealing one on your part. This is how you feel people think, but I don't think anyone actually thinks like this. I don't really care whether low wage retail employees are expected to act only with the same sort of professionalism that I was expected to have, whether they're treated better or worse. It is a matter of complete irrelevance to me. I have no moral problem with equality of result if it is attained without force. I have a problem with equality of result that is attained by the violence of law. If people of their own free will and volition decide that allowing their employees the sort of dignity that they would like to have is a good idea, then mazeltov to them. I read an article about it, nod approvingly, and move on with my day. If they decide that making their employees dance and sing is a good idea, I shrug my shoulders and move on with my day. If they do something I truly find egregious, I scowl disapprovingly and move on with my day, and perhaps make the decision not to shop there or to send them a strongly worded letter.

I think this is, in actual fact - in action, rather than in belief - little different than most of the people here making disapproving noises about Cold Stone Creamery.

Crikey man, I realise we could go at it hammer and tongs all day, and you're not gonna change and I'm not gonna change. I don't know whether I pray you're never put in the position that a lot of these people are - with the same assets they have - or I pray that you are.

The thing that I find most hilarious of all is that every time I say my philosophy, without fail, many people talk about how they hope I someday become poor, or experience poverty, because then I would change my mind. They make a lot of assumptions about how I was born and how I have lived that are completely ass-backwards wrong. And the idea that if people have been poor or lived poor that they can't be a libertarian is profoundly insulting.

Poverty is a complex situation that is caused by a variety of factors. There are outside environmental factors, and there are internal factors. Most people like to choose one but not the other. So they either like to say that it's all based on external environment, and has nothing to do with a person's abilities and choices, or they like to say that it's all based on abilities and choices and has nothing to do with environment. Both are false.

Environment makes it harder to have good choices, and requires higher abilities to obtain them. Libertarians do not deny this. I don't know a single libertarian who thinks that everyone alive has equal choices and opportunities. They just think that people should be able to choose from the choices they have without constraint.
posted by corb at 7:11 AM on February 4, 2013


The people who tripped on those subway stairs chose to do so. They could've paid more attention to their feet. It's their own fault, really.

See also.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:14 AM on February 4, 2013


I have a problem with equality of result that is attained by the violence of law.

"Violence of law" - that makes me laugh.

If they decide that making their employees dance and sing is a good idea, I shrug my shoulders and move on with my day


One of the central inconsistencies of libertarianism is the expression of fear and concern about coercion when it comes from one kind of large powerful institution - the government - but not about the coercion that comes from other kinds of large and powerful institutions. Which citizens have far less control over, making them more likely to be bad actors.

They just think that people should be able to choose from the choices they have without constraint.

No, they believe in actively restricting the choices available to people who already have limited choice due to circumstances beyond their control. Let's be honest here.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


The thing that I find most hilarious of all is that every time I say my philosophy, without fail, many people talk about how they hope I someday become poor, or experience poverty, because then I would change my mind.

To be fair, I don't think you would. If you ended up in such a situation and then got out of it, you would go on to believe that you "deserved" to get away from that situation and that everyone still in that abusive position somehow still "deserves" it, being that it is human to believe in a just world myth.

f they decide that making their employees dance and sing is a good idea, I shrug my shoulders and move on with my day

Obviously. Because the feelings and dignity of other people and how they are treated are of no concern to you. And in your mind, expressing concern or disapproval is itself a form of violence because it could lead to the law being changed, and thus even public shaming of this managerial behavior has to be opposed. Playing off the libertarian doctrine of opposing the "violence of the law", they believe that public speech and expressions which could eventually (though not directly) turn people to be more sympathetic to changing laws is in the same violent category, so they oppose that as well.
posted by deanc at 7:26 AM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


And in your mind, expressing concern or disapproval is itself a form of violence because it could lead to the law being changed, and thus even public shaming of this managerial behavior has to be opposed. Playing off the libertarian doctrine of opposing the "violence of the law", they believe that public speech and expressions which could eventually (though not directly) turn people to be more sympathetic to changing laws is in the same violent category, so they oppose that as well.

This is not correct. I think that expressing concern or disapproval, in this case, is personally irritating, because it seems very twee. I have no political objections to people expressing concern or disapproval, unless they talk about changing the law to stop things. I just personally disagree. I am arguing from a point of personal disagreement. Where I politically (and libertarian-related) disagree is when people start jumping on the "There oughta be a law" bandwagon.
posted by corb at 7:59 AM on February 4, 2013


it seems very twee

It's "twee" to express concern about the human dignity of other people?

I am arguing from a point of personal disagreement.

Based on what? I'm curious. Can you talk about why you disagree without connecting this to a political ideology?
posted by Miko at 8:13 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no political objections to people expressing concern or disapproval, unless they talk about changing the law to stop things. I just personally disagree. I am arguing from a point of personal disagreement.

As I pointed out earlier, it is just a fascinating coincidence that libertarians just happen to also personally approve/endorse this management behavior as well as having a philosophical/political disagreement with using the law to intervene.

Then I start to think that their libertarian ideas are not merely a political/philosophical belief about the proper role of government and economic regulation, but rather a whole moral framework for who to view relationships, power, hierarchies, and treatment of others.
posted by deanc at 8:24 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's twee to express concern about human dignity at the same time as you profit intensely by the loss of it and by human suffering.

Without connecting it to a political ideology, it's really hard to express my disagreement - not feel it - but I'll try.

I think, having personally experienced the raw side of what is done in our name, I dislike the prettying of it. I think if you're going to eat hamburger, you should be willing to admit it's a dead cow - to name the thing that is happening, and if you're going to accept it, accept it fully. If you're willing to profit - and we do - by the system, you should be willing to look it in the eye and accept the gristle.

Every day, going through daily life, we profit in a thousand ways off the suffering of others. Most people, I think, close their eyes to it, so that they can still feel they're good people.

I've killed for the comfort of people here. I didn't use to look at it that way - I didn't use to accept it that way. But I've killed for the comfort of people who are here on Metafilter explaining how very concerned they are about other people singing and dancing for their supper, while (it feels to me) pretending that their hands aren't dirty with the blood they asked me to spill. And on a personal level, that's why it irritates me so much.

None of that is political, but that's the personal of it. It becomes political only in the sense that I am not willing to kill for the state anymore, and I don't want the state to do it on my behalf, either. But the personal, the wanting to pull back the green curtain and be honest about it, thats' what remains.
posted by corb at 8:25 AM on February 4, 2013


They just think that people should be able to choose from the choices they have without constraint.

No, they believe in actively restricting the choices available to people who already have limited choice due to circumstances beyond their control. Let's be honest here.


As I pointed out earlier, it is just a fascinating coincidence that libertarians just happen to also personally approve/endorse this management behavior as well as having a philosophical/political disagreement with using the law to intervene.

Then I start to think that their libertarian ideas are not merely a political/philosophical belief about the proper role of government and economic regulation, but rather a whole moral framework for who to view relationships, power, hierarchies, and treatment of others.


Of course it's put out by horrible people, but this propaganda film by the North Koreans touches on those themes!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:34 AM on February 4, 2013


I've killed for the comfort of people here. I didn't use to look at it that way - I didn't use to accept it that way. But I've killed for the comfort of people who are here on Metafilter explaining how very concerned they are about other people singing and dancing for their supper, while (it feels to me) pretending that their hands aren't dirty with the blood they asked me to spill. And on a personal level, that's why it irritates me so much.

Well, I suppose it's unfair to complain about e. coli in our food when "people are starving in [insert nation here] and WISH they had e. coli infected food", but, well, getting sick from e. coli sucks, too.

I'm not sure we at MeFi would describe your attitude as "twee", but we would probably describe such attitudes as more of an affectatious expression of, "I'm just so in touch with the hard reality of the world, and why can't you be that way, too?" It's basically an attempt to "pull rank" where it's not relevant.

It's when dealing with libertarians on these topics in particular, that mentioning these sort of indignities and bad behavior on the part of individuals making these decisions, that suddenly the libertarian gets offended, gets flustered, raises his voice in anger about trying to interfere with "choices made without restraint" that I start to get the impression that I have threatened them in some way-- that they feel I am about to take away their livelihood and their rights and freedoms that I realize that taking the side of people that libertarians don't feel are entitled to have others be on their side is, to them, no different than violence against those who have righteously decided that abusing the dignity of others is ok.... that I'm interfering with some kind of sacred arrangement that, in many cases, libertarians either dream of being able to implement themselves or arrangements who existence they depend on in order to feel better about their own accomplishments.
posted by deanc at 8:41 AM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you're willing to profit - and we do - by the system, you should be willing to look it in the eye and accept the gristle.

In this conception, who is "we"?

pretending that their hands aren't dirty with the blood they asked me to spill

So, you were drafted?

Without connecting it to a political ideology, it's really hard to express my disagreement


Which is exactly why I asked you to try. Connecting it to the ideology is much too simplistic an approach to resolve the difficult questions you are trying to resolve. And that's why the ideology is so incredibly facile and weak.

The last comment you wrote contained more genuine, original thought than I've ever seen expressed by you in all the linear feet of libertarian boilerplate you've written here. It is actually really enlightening to see where you're coming from. If only you could recognize the disconnect between your experiences and the ideology you're adopting as explanatory, which is just inadequate to the ethical tasks you are asking it to accomplish.

I agree with you that we should be able to confront realities. But there's no reason to assume that those realities are inevitable, in deanc's words "sacred arrangements," that we have no other choices about how to structure the relationships we have. We should be able to watch the cow be killed, but we have many choices about how to raise the cow, house the cow, feed the cow, kill the cow, process the cow, sell the cow, serve the cow, and when and how often and whether to eat the cow. Nothing about any of this is an inevitability. It is not "twee" for me to look into the eyes of an animal I'm going to eat and, at the same time, insist that it be properly taken care of. In fact, it's responsible, and is an assertion of the worth and value of that animal. Some choices are not going to produce clean and simple results. They are going to require compromise, sacrifice, and tradeoffs. Not everyone can have the better of all situations all the time. Nor should they. That's a reality worth recognizing.
posted by Miko at 8:42 AM on February 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I read an article about it, nod approvingly, and move on with my day. If they decide that making their employees dance and sing is a good idea, I shrug my shoulders and move on with my day. If they do something I truly find egregious, I scowl disapprovingly and move on with my day, and perhaps make the decision not to shop there or to send them a strongly worded letter.

Unless you're on MetaFilter, where you apparently read it and then proceed to tell everyone else in the thread how wrong they are to think it's wrong, and then follow with some irrelevance about how using the law here would be evil, which nobody was really proposing anyway.
posted by Dysk at 8:57 AM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's twee to express concern about human dignity at the same time as you profit intensely by the loss of it and by human suffering.

Since pretty much everyone who lives in a Western industrial nation profits in some way from the exploitation of human labor that the attendant suffering, then it sounds like you're saying we (collectively) can never express concern about that exploitation and suffering. Only if we live an utterly pure life, off the grid, can we put ourselves in a moral position to denounce exploitation and suffering.

I don't understand this point of view.
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you're willing to profit - and we do - by the system, you should be willing to look it in the eye and accept the gristle.

We do indeed (effectively) all profit from the system (which oppresses others - and us - in a variety of ways). That doesn't mean we're all willing to profit form the system. Some of us don't want to 'just accept' this kind of human suffering, profit or no. To cast us all as if we were hypocrites for being unwilling to accept a system we profit from is objectionable, when we've no choice to not profit from the system.
posted by Dysk at 9:02 AM on February 4, 2013


If you're willing to profit - and we do - by the system, you should be willing to look it in the eye and accept the gristle.

In some cases we are perfectly willing to recognize how the system makes criminals of all of us and for that specific reason, the system should be (forcibly) rearranged so that we do not end up making these kinds of (metaphorically) criminal decisions. But then libertarians would have things to complain about, because we would be using the force of the law. And that's when you start to think, "Maybe for the libertarian, the system itself, which forces a lot of people to engage in bad behavior, and then goes on to criticize those who take issue with that bad behavior, is exactly the system that libertarians want."
posted by deanc at 9:08 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


If only you could recognize the disconnect between your experiences and the ideology you're adopting as explanatory, which is just inadequate to the ethical tasks you are asking it to accomplish.

From my perspective, there really isn't a coherent ideology that is adequate to the ethical tasks I would like it to accomplish. I call myself a libertarian because it feels like the closest match with my beliefs - or more accurately, a pathway to the closest match with my beliefs. But there are a lot of places where my personal ethics don't agree with any ideology.

I agree with you that we should be able to confront realities. But there's no reason to assume that those realities are inevitable, in deanc's words "sacred arrangements," that we have no other choices about how to structure the relationships we have. We should be able to watch the cow be killed, but we have many choices about how to raise the cow, house the cow, feed the cow, kill the cow, process the cow, sell the cow, serve the cow, and when and how often and whether to eat the cow. Nothing about any of this is an inevitability.

This is true - but I think that in all of these choices, someone is still being harmed. The cow is being harmed. If our choices about how to raise, house, and feed the cow cost money, then where is it to come from? If our choices about when and whether to eat the cow leave someone hungry, what then? I do not see a choice where no one is harmed. As you said - Some choices are not going to produce clean and simple results. They are going to require compromise, sacrifice, and tradeoffs. So who chooses the sacrifice? Who chooses the tradeoffs? The clearest moral guideline I can find is that you choose for yourself, rather than for other people, what the morality and ethical code you choose to live by is.

We do indeed (effectively) all profit from the system (which oppresses others - and us - in a variety of ways). That doesn't mean we're all willing to profit form the system. Some of us don't want to 'just accept' this kind of human suffering, profit or no. To cast us all as if we were hypocrites for being unwilling to accept a system we profit from is objectionable, when we've no choice to not profit from the system.

But what are your alternatives? What is the system you propose which contains no human suffering at all?
posted by corb at 9:19 AM on February 4, 2013


But what are your alternatives? What is the system you propose which contains no human suffering at all?

Even assuming that there is no system which produces zero suffering, it does not follow that there is no difference between total, constant human suffering and a reduced degree of human suffering. It's reasonable to prefer one of these two conditions and should be obvious which is preferable. That's why I mentioned compromise and tradeoff. Harm reduction is a legitimate goal.

But there are a lot of places where my personal ethics don't agree with any ideology.

Then why be an apologist for an ideology? It's not necessary to adopt an ideology at all, you know. Especially one that is evidently too shallow for you.

It begins to look like a desire to simply sidestep life's most difficult questions and responsibilities.

So who chooses the sacrifice? Who chooses the tradeoffs? The clearest moral guideline I can find is that you choose for yourself, rather than for other people, what the morality and ethical code you choose to live by is.


But you seem blind to the fact that in "choosing for yourself," you actively create conditions that remove choices from other people. It is also possible to make choices that increase the number of choices for all other people. "Who chooses the tradeoffs?" In your proposed system, only the most powerful, already equipped with the broadest number of choices, are those who determine - who choose - the choices available to everyone.
posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


But what are your alternatives? What is the system you propose which contains no human suffering at all?

A frightfully good question - a state with functioning social welfare is one (increasing the choices available to many individuals greatly, at the cost of restricting those of a few somewhat - greater total amount of choice, if you will) but any suggestions of that ilk are rapidly shouted down by people obsessed with their right to 'choose' without government intervention (and happily ignoring all the other factors that intervene to restrict people's choices, which the government intervention is often mitigating).
posted by Dysk at 9:42 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this is, in actual fact - in action, rather than in belief - little different than most of the people here making disapproving noises about Cold Stone Creamery.

My issue here is that you spill a lot more virtual ink and scream a lot louder in outrage and MeFites' disapproval of these arrangements than you do about these arrangements themselves. Like it seems that , to you, the greater moral offense is that anyone would take the side of the employees and object to their treatment, while you don't consider the management to be worthy of any moral disapproval or regard management as committing some sort of philosophical/political offense.... rather, they're "just there" as forces of nature (or, as would be a more appropriate conception of the libertarian moral universe, "Acts of God"). It seems much more likely, to me, that, "People who work in management for these companies are choosing to do so, often as a result of a string of [moral] choices that have gone horribly wrong", and it is they who should suffer public and social (and, in some cases, though possibly not here, legal) consequences for their bad decisions. And this is not in any way a form of immoral "force" or "violence" except insofar as libertarians believe that they are entitled to social approval and these decisions shouldn't be questioned or condemned.

My experience with libertarian-oriented conservatives is that they are driven not necessarily by money (some of them have plenty of it, so they have little to complain about in that regard, others are never going to get more than they have, so it's not really their focus), but rather than strange social expectations of social autonomy and entitlement befitting of their economic/hierarchical position, and questioning the morality or (especially) validity of their decisions and behavior rises to the same offense as "government-backed violence."

Are MeFites acting worse or better than the mangement propping up the arrangements at Prez and Cold Stone Creamery? I argue they are making better decisions. So even if I might find the MeFites' concerns "twee", I realize the people with the broken and crooked decisionmaking are the management of Cold Stone and Prez.
posted by deanc at 10:39 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Please let's not drag other active posts into a thread.]
posted by cortex at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2013


Even assuming that there is no system which produces zero suffering, it does not follow that there is no difference between total, constant human suffering and a reduced degree of human suffering. It's reasonable to prefer one of these two conditions and should be obvious which is preferable. That's why I mentioned compromise and tradeoff. Harm reduction is a legitimate goal.

The problem, as I see it, is that there is no choice which reduces harm for everyone - only choices which shift harm from one group to another group. There are choices which shift harm from a group of a large group of people to harm to a smaller group of people - or choices which shift large harm from one group of people to smaller harm, or perceived smaller harm, to another group of people. But I have yet to see a choice which, overall, reduces harm to everyone.
posted by corb at 12:03 PM on February 4, 2013


But there are different kinds and levels of harm. Is the harm suffered by me, when I have to pay $10 more for a product because the company that makes it was required by law to install a widget it in their production line that prevents injury to the workers on that line worse or equivalent to the harm suffered by workers prior to the installation of the widget? Workers face a smaller risk of injury; I, the consumer, pay a little more money. Is the "harm" I suffer such that the widget should not have been installed, in order to maintain this fiction that all levels of harm are the same, and therefore there's no point in changing anything?
posted by rtha at 12:14 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


How many hours in an unsafe work environment are you going to have to spend to pay for that upcharge for the widget to make someone else safer?

Usually when a government mandated widget goes in the cost is spread so thin across an entire industry that the upcharge is marginal or the implementation is phased in over time so as to reduce the R&D costs.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:46 PM on February 4, 2013


Phrasing it in terms of choice is actually rather convenient here: there are decidedly routes we (as a society) could take that would increase the total number of options available to people as an aggregate, the average number of options available to people, and the useful significance of those choices. Not merely is it about transferring harm (impinged choices) from the many to the few - it is about giving a few (who already suffer very little harm/have many options/choices) a slight restriction (say, losing the option to buy a private jet) in order to give many MANY more options. Is it good for every individual? No. On average, is it better for the individual? Yes. It is impossible to rectify the negative effects of some choices on the choices available to other people without in some way 'harming' the former. Extending it far enough, it harms people who want to kill others to restrict their choices through laws about murder. Sometimes, the calculus is such that it is worthwhile at any rate. Personal liberty is not merely exemption from government interference - other structural factors are significant too. Can the imposition of a little government intervention often reduce the harms caused by other structural factors to a far greater degree? Hell yes.
posted by Dysk at 12:48 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are choices which shift harm from a group of a large group of people to harm to a smaller group of people - or choices which shift large harm from one group of people to smaller harm, or perceived smaller harm, to another group of people. But I have yet to see a choice which, overall, reduces harm to everyone.

Hm. First, as rtha pointed out, "harm" is not a single quantity. Small inconveniences are not equivalent to major sacrifices of health or opportunity. So it is morally justifiable to exchange a small inconvenience to someone, though you could call it a "harm," to gain a large improvement in health or opportunity for someone else. Right?

If there is no choice which reduces harm to everyone, then "I only choose that which reduces harm to everyone" is off limits as a possible moral philosophy. It won't work since you can't choose anything, then.

So what's the next most viable moral philosophy? It's recognizing that we still have the capacity to reduce harm by a great deal. We now have the problem of deciding whose harm to reduce (the many or the few, the weak or the strong, the poor or the rich, the young or the old or the middle-aged, the able or disabled) and how we reduce it.

But it's a bit of a canard that harm can't be reduced to a very, very small rate. There are many examples of things - clean water, traffic safety, tested drugs, universal education - that offer exceedingly minimal harm for tremendous aggregate gain.

In other words, by saying "I really wish we could just harm no one ever, but we can't, so oh well, everyone look out for yourself and good luck to you, you'll get no help from me," you're really embodying the idea of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And in fact, it's really hard to believe that you could truly accept the first principle (that you'd prefer no harm ever) when in fact you reject every middle state between that and "you're on your own" as a morally supportable answer. That just doesn't make any sense. Someone who truly accepts the first principle generally attempts to exhaust the middle ground (but what can we accomplish to reduce harm) before throwing up his or her hands and letting themselves completely off the hook for improving the conditions of life in the world at all. So it seems more likely that you don't really wish everyone could experience no harm, and that you just wish you could experience no harm.
posted by Miko at 2:03 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hm. First, as rtha pointed out, "harm" is not a single quantity. Small inconveniences are not equivalent to major sacrifices of health or opportunity. So it is morally justifiable to exchange a small inconvenience to someone, though you could call it a "harm," to gain a large improvement in health or opportunity for someone else. Right?

No. It is not, in my eyes, morally justifiable, to make a decision to choose someone else to suffer a harm, to gain a large improvement in health and opportunity for a third party. It is morally justifiable to personally choose to accept a sacrifice or harm, but it is not, by my lights, acceptable to essentially play God with other people.

And in fact, it's really hard to believe that you could truly accept the first principle (that you'd prefer no harm ever) when in fact you reject every middle state between that and "you're on your own" as a morally supportable answer. That just doesn't make any sense. Someone who truly accepts the first principle generally attempts to exhaust the middle ground (but what can we accomplish to reduce harm) before throwing up his or her hands and letting themselves completely off the hook for improving the conditions of life in the world at all. So it seems more likely that you don't really wish everyone could experience no harm, and that you just wish you could experience no harm.

On what basis do you say that? What evidence do you have for the idea that I don't try to reduce harm in my own life, when possible without harm to other people besides myself? I voluntarily choose to experience harm on many occasions to attempt to reduce harm to others. I chose to accept a job at a third of the salary that I could have had at a different job, because I thought the other job was morally unacceptable. You have no basis to make that assumption, and I wonder where it is coming from.
posted by corb at 2:19 PM on February 4, 2013


No. It is not, in my eyes, morally justifiable, to make a decision to choose someone else to suffer a harm, to gain a large improvement in health and opportunity for a third party.

Do you believe that people who commit assault should go to prison?
posted by KathrynT at 2:45 PM on February 4, 2013


Responsibility is not harm.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:58 PM on February 4, 2013


So the marketing storyboard is for city guys daydreaming about themselves as cowboys.

Or as gardeners. Or like my neighbor, as a grip. Or like my other neighbor, as a scenic artist. In short--there's lots of people who live in an urban environment who still need to haul around lots of big stuff, and aren't really fantasizing about life on the Ponderosa.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:10 PM on February 4, 2013


No. It is not, in my eyes, morally justifiable, to make a decision to choose someone else to suffer a harm, to gain a large improvement in health and opportunity for a third party.

Who should be able to choose who suffers the harm that you are causing, then?

You have no basis to make that assumption, and I wonder where it is coming from.

It's coming from your arguments. You seem not to believe that there are differences between kinds of harm, and you seem to think it is fine that other people should suffer great harm because of your preferences.

I'm sure you've done some nice things, but not because you believe that we should do everything we can to reduce harm; you've said that you don't believe that. You're saying that you should only do what you feel like doing, when you feel like it, to reduce harm, and not bother about it the rest of the time.

So when you ask us to believe that you are someone who would prefer no harm at all, it just doesn't jibe with these other stated beliefs. You are comfortable with many other people suffering harm because of your preferences. You can't believe both those things at once, and since you're going to bat for the latter much more than the former, it's reasonable for people to conclude you probably don't really believe the former.
posted by Miko at 3:12 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


No. It is not, in my eyes, morally justifiable, to make a decision to choose someone else to suffer a harm, to gain a large improvement in health and opportunity for a third party.

You've just written off our public health system. And laws and regulations that prevent or mitigate more Love Canal-type scenarios. That's...an interesting way to see things.
posted by rtha at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the word we're looking for here is "coercion" rather than "harm".

corb, one major gap in your personal philosophy seems to be that, while you see state power as coercive, you don't seem to acknowledge that any other institutions can exert coercive power. For example, while there are certainly many instances of police and military forces using actual violence to prevent workers from exercising their choice to not-work (i.e. strike), it has been throughout US history far more common for employers themselves to use violence against workers, often through security agencies such as Baldwin-Felts or Pinkertons. There are myriad other ways in which employers exert coercive power against employees. The FPP refers to one such example.

Now, you may argue that employees organizing, eg. in unions, is also a case of one group exerting coercive power against another group (employers). However, you seem to believe that it is okay to exert coercive power in your own interests. This is what employees are doing. While I see that there is some consistency in your being concerned about the coercive power of the state under which you live (directly affects you) but not the coercive power of employers whom you do not work for used against employees who are not you, yet it does not seem consistent with your stated ideology that you express any opinion one way or another in the matter of this third party situation. I mean, given that no one was talking about extending any state powers or in any other way doing anything that could be construed as applying coercive power to you. (Based on what you've told us so far about your involvement and interest in the matter, at least.) In particular, your expressing an opinion, one way or another, could be construed as adding to the coercive power of public opinion against one side or the other, thereby breaking your rule against not getting involved in third party disputes or choices.
posted by eviemath at 5:27 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the word we're looking for here is "coercion" rather than "harm"

Nothing against the other interesting discussion you're having, eviemath, but I actually was talking about harm - not inconsequential in moral philosophy. I fully agree with your analysis about often this sort of thinking misses the symmetry of coercions, but it's a separate (if linked) point.
posted by Miko at 5:47 PM on February 4, 2013


I didn't phrase that very well. corb seems to be talking more about coercion than about harm, by my read.
posted by eviemath at 6:13 PM on February 4, 2013


Meh, on reflection, perhaps not though. I see that the definition of harm that you linked to includes "loss of ability of freedom" and "loss of pleasure"; there's an overlap between the concepts of coercion and harm here. Historically, libertarianism and anarchism focus on coercion rather than harm, and I think that corb's arguments started a little bit more in that direction; but everyone does indeed seem to be talking about harm now.
posted by eviemath at 6:19 PM on February 4, 2013


Eviemath, it's not impossible that I've talked about coercion in the past, but yeah, it wasn't what I was talking about now. I think sometimes there's also a difference when I argue, "No, you're getting libertarians wrong, this is a more correct libertarian belief" and when I say "I believe this" even though I do identify as a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist. Miko has asked specifically for my own personal opinion, so I've tried to give it as such.

I think that I often personally disagree with the "coercive" idea, unless said coercion is backed by violence. I disapprove of state violence more than I disapprove of non-state violence, for reasons stated above, but I do not actually think it's okay for either workers or bosses to use violence on each other to achieve their aims. I also approve of both bosses and unions using non-violent coercive power on each other. In my ideal world, there is no Labor Relations board - workers are free to wildcat strike when they want, how they want, with no notice if they want, and bosses are free to fire them if they choose.

Miko, I think (and please correct me if I'm wrong) you seem to follow a more utilitarian view of harm, in that as long as you are lowering the degree of harm, you call it good, even if it harms people who were not previously harmed. In that, you look at me and say, "She's not willing to take any middle ground on harm reduction!" But I think that's mostly because your perceived middle ground is not a middle ground to me. It generally relies, not on the majority voting to take on themselves suffering to right the wrongs they see, but on the majority voting to put suffering and harm on the minority to right the wrongs they see. That bothers me in a lot of ways.

I also don't think it's possible to really compare harms with any quantitative measurement. Everyone's perception of their harm is subjective, and injustice is deeply felt from an early age. I think we have a tendency to think the harms we want to create won't really hurt anyone, but what is that based on?
posted by corb at 5:43 AM on February 5, 2013


No. It is not, in my eyes, morally justifiable, to make a decision to choose someone else to suffer a harm, to gain a large improvement in health and opportunity for a third party

The problem is that the libertarian standard for "harm" is so broad so as to include things like losing a vote on higher taxes , paying a small premium for a food or service than would have otherwise been paid, not believing in libertarianism, or facing social criticism. You simply can't run a modern society on a philosophy of such weak minded people.

You are, as I said, coming to the defense of one set of losers to insist that another group of people be treated worse, simply because you regard one group as deserving and one group not. As a said, though, someone who makes the sort of mistakes in life that causes them to end up working in management at Prez or becomes a libertarian is sometimes going to have to deal with the sort of consequences that come with that-- consequences that, I grant, they were trying to avoid by not working in low paid retail.

I can see that these discussions and ideas about labor really upset you, corb. There is a simple way to resolve it so that you and other employers never have to face the harm and coercion inherent to threads like this-- by not treating their employees that way. Problem solved. The world isn't going to switch over to a libertarian belief system just for the benefit of your feelings. What COULD happen is for employees to be treated with dignity and respect, and then libertarians would not face the daily indignities inherent in people not liking their decisions.

I do not actually think it's okay for either workers or bosses to use violence on each other to achieve their aims.

Once again, though, looking at labor history, the "libertarian" side has always been careful to define "violence" as "anything that happens to me" in order to have an excuse to engage in retaliatory violence. Ultimately, the government stepped in to tell all sides what is and isn't appropriate and create a forum and methods through which disputes can be resolved. Which strikes me as LESS violent and harmful, but to you is MORE violent and harmful.
posted by deanc at 6:23 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


corb: Certainly there are grey areas and people have some different subjective valuations of harm, but you seem to be saying that you don't think that any harms can be objectively compared? Death or dismemberment are objectively the same to you as, say, having sufficient nutrition available but limited choice in the food items supplying that nutrition?

In the context of this discussion, many of us are pointing at the situation described in the FPP, where employers are causing harm to their employees by restricting their "ability to engage normally in social intercourse" - part of the welfare interests from Miko's link; the consequence of their not submitting to this loss of freedom and loss of pleasure is that they would experience another harm, a lack of "at least minimal income and financial security". Thus the employees are being actively placed, by the employers, in a situation where they lack "a certain amount of freedom from interference and coercion". We are pointing at this situation and making an ethical judgement, saying that in instituting (new, in many cases) policies requiring employees to appear to authentically feel prescribed emotions, the employers are causing (new) harm to their employees. You seem to be arguing that we are making an incorrect or inaccurate ethical judgement in this situation. Is this actually your opinion?


Would you mind re-explaining why you think state violence is worse than non-state violence? I am not finding your earlier explication.


You seem to be arguing that the only valid, ethical way to improve society as a whole is through purely locally-harm-improving methods. There's a mathematical theory that could be applied here: that of fair division methods from game theory. What you are arguing for is maintaining Pareto optimality (aka pareto efficiency). The problem with this is that you can get stuck in situations that are objectively unethical and distasteful to most people: a feudal state or a dictatorship, for example. Additionally, real life is much more complicated than a mathematical model, and in real life certain paths are disallowed; so, for example, there is arguably a state where total harm for every individual is less than our current state, but getting there from here may require temporarily increasing harm to some specific individuals (eg. via income redistribution; accepting temporarily that we can define that as harm, and that we don't make judgements about relative levels of harm to different individuals).

An additional problem in using subjective valuations of harm is false reporting by individuals to game the system. It's not unheard of, for example, for businesses to claim financial exigency and threaten to lay off local employees if they don't get some new tax break or regulatory concession in situations where they have a new opportunity for lower taxes or labor costs elsewhere (a gain to them). The companies claim that they will experience harm if the concessions are not made, when actually lack of concessions would merely preserve the status quo. How do you deal with this, without referring to any objective or external valuations of harm?
posted by eviemath at 7:06 AM on February 5, 2013


I'm increasingly convinced that there's a stronger gender component to this than many acknowledge. Men can clear the bar by being professionally courteous; women have to flirt, or at least behave such that their customers can perceive their courtesy as flirting.

From Sarah Jaffe's Grin and Abhor It:

So-called “pretty girl jobs” are often seen as exploiting women's bodies, but in fact it's the emotional labor, the stress of feeling obligated to smile through humiliating comments, that marks this work. Would Noah have found this Pret A Manger employee's smile so compelling if she were not slender and blonde—if she were not attractive? Yet would he have thought she was interested in him if “radiance” wasn't required of her?

It is asking more of those employees who are more likely to be interpreted as flirting, who are more likely to be harassed, who are more likely to have to deal with aggressive sexual attention at work.
posted by daveliepmann at 8:37 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


your perceived middle ground is not a middle ground to me. It generally relies, not on the majority voting to take on themselves suffering to right the wrongs they see, but on the majority voting to put suffering and harm on the minority to right the wrongs they see

Hm. But setting tax rates, requiring basic standards of public education, or establishing universal single-payer health care is, indeed, the majority voting to take on themselves "suffering" to right the wrongs they see.

But again, why is your morality different where the state is concerned? Why make exceptions for a minority to behave differently - business owners and managers? Why do you not object to employers putting suffering and harm on the third parties who work for them -- who don't even have the opportunity to participate in creating those structures via a vote?

You keep avoiding this point which many are asking you to address, but really, it's something you should deal with. Why have a different moral standard for the state than for other coercive institutions? On what do you base the distinction between the two?

I also don't think it's possible to really compare harms with any quantitative measurement.

You may find it not to your taste, but our legal system has a history extending milennia of comparing harms. It is, in fact, possible to develop frameworks and uncover evidence which can recognize varying degrees in the severity, intensity, and lasting impact of various kinds of harms. Would you prefer, for instance, to lose a leg, or to get a paper cut on your thumb? No difference? Would you prefer to be denied a job because you're female, or because you're unqualified? Is murder the same as physical assault, assault the same as verbal abuse, verbal abuse the same as fraud, fraud the same as a small lie to maintain politeness?

It seems childishly naive to me to claim that you do not recognize any difference. How would you make any moral decisions if you were unable to make this distinction? If you really believed this, you'd be as likely to say you're busy so as to get out of a dinner you didn't want to attend as to bludgeon the person who invited you to death. In other words, you would necessarily be amoral.

Do you really embrace this idea, that all harms are the same?
posted by Miko at 9:15 AM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


> At the Walgreens pharmacy near my place (and I assume all over), they end each sale by saying "Be Well!

They don't do that at the one near me, which I'm in at least once a week. But they do have two other qualities I find amusing / awkward / annoying, depending on my mood.

1. Whenever I buy tampons, the cashier points to the chocolate bars by the counter and points out they're on sale. She doesn't do that when I buy, say, shampoo.

2. There's sometimes a greeter there who is the slowest... speaker... in... the... world. So slow that it takes him probably a minute, of me standing there after we've made eye contact because I know that he's supposed to greet me and I feel bad if I run on by. And I don't want to be rude and just brush him off, but on the other hand I'm just stopping in for dental floss and I don't really feel like talking to anyone and no I don't need help I actually know the layout of the store pretty well by now but it's only a minute and I don't want him to get in trouble for not greeting people and argh.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:44 PM on February 5, 2013


1. Whenever I buy tampons, the cashier points to the chocolate bars by the counter and points out they're on sale. She doesn't do that when I buy, say, shampoo

Same cashier, or different cashiers?
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on February 5, 2013


Same cashier. (I'm willing to admit that this could be a coincidence or confirmation bias.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:55 PM on February 5, 2013


I asked because I was trying to guess whether it's something she personally thinks is funny, or some sort of marketing thing. I'm sure it's the former in this case.
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on February 5, 2013


There's not a trace of humor about her, but I can't imagine it being official policy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:42 PM on February 5, 2013


I think the only way to understand Corb's argument is to realize that she only thinks she is a libertarian; given a few more decades she will probably realize she has reinvented Jainism.
posted by localroger at 4:51 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jainism without any of the empathy, compassion, or altruism, maybe. Also, I'm pretty sure the Jainists would think the guy who came up with the singing-for-tips policy is in for a rough time in his next incarnation, but not being one myself, I am open to correction on that front.

Yes, I appreciate that the law forbids the rich and poor alike to beg in the streets, and steal bread. Because all of the following are public nuisances, and no one should be doing them, regardless of their societal status.

Really? So, the State is out of line to prohibit employers from treating their employees in unsafe or undignified ways because hey freedom of choice, but people shouldn't be free to solicit donations in the street (which solicitations the solicited are free to reject), and should in fact suffer the full violence of the law, because you find it annoying?

Hmm.
posted by zjacreman at 10:42 PM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]



1. Whenever I buy tampons, the cashier points to the chocolate bars by the counter and points out they're on sale. She doesn't do that when I buy, say, shampoo

Same cashier, or different cashiers?
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on February 5 [+] [!]


Same cashier. (I'm willing to admit that this could be a coincidence or confirmation bias.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:55 PM on February 5 [+] [!]


I asked because I was trying to guess whether it's something she personally thinks is funny, or some sort of marketing thing. I'm sure it's the former in this case.
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on February 5 [+] [!]


This has happened to me when purchasing tampons at my local Walgreens.
posted by asockpuppet at 5:46 AM on February 6, 2013


It happened to me once at a Rite Aid - that's part of why I asked. I was buying tampons and wine and she suggested adding the chocolate.

I think it's much more of a 'Ha ha, amirite sister' thing and not a marketing strategy. Really. It's a joke thing. There's a lot of "period + chocolate" humor out there. It's just one of those repeatable jokes, like when a waiter picks up your empty plate and you say "That was terrible! Ha ha."
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on February 6, 2013


KathrynT: "OTOH, the employees at my local Costco are always friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, without being weirdly forced about it. "

It suddenly dawned on me that this is the exact same distinction between Flight Attendants and Amtrak conductors.

The artificial cheerfulness of flight attendants has always creeped me out, and made the process of flying that much more alienating.
posted by schmod at 3:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


desjardins: "Protip: whenever your server at a chain restaurant says "Have you dined with us before?" lie and say yes or you'll get a five minute spiel "explaiining how things work." It's a restaurant. I look at the menu, I tell you what I want, you bring it to me, I pay you. Not that complicated. I really don't want to talk to you beyond that."

I feel like you get that at every tapas place too. Like otherwise the customer will start screaming about the tiny portions and all the plates being set in the middle.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:45 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's much more of a 'Ha ha, amirite sister' thing and not a marketing strategy. Really. It's a joke thing. There's a lot of "period + chocolate" humor out there. It's just one of those repeatable jokes, like when a waiter picks up your empty plate and you say "That was terrible! Ha ha."

I really don't think this is correct. There are signs all over the counter at Walgreen's checkout that if the cashier fails to offer you the "candy of the week" or whatever, you get it for free.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:12 PM on February 8, 2013


In Defense Of Soviet Waiters
In a 1984 dispatch in the New York Times, John Burns reports that “faced with inadequate supplies, low salaries and endless lines of customers, many Russians in customer-service jobs lapse into an indifference bordering on contempt.”

One can find numerous explanations of this phenomenon, from the shortcomings of the planned economy to the institutional structure of the Soviet service industry to the vagaries of the Russian soul to the legacy of serfdom. But one factor was clearly that Soviet workers, unlike their American counterparts, were guaranteed jobs, wages, and access to essential needs like housing, education, and health care. The fear that enforces fake happiness among capitalist service workers — culminating in the grotesquery of Pret a Manger — was mostly inoperative in the Soviet Union.
The Politics Of Getting A Life
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really don't think this is correct. There are signs all over the counter at Walgreen's checkout that if the cashier fails to offer you the "candy of the week" or whatever, you get it for free.

Ah ha. Well that is a piece of information that definitely changes the context. But in that case, it would not matter whether or not you were buying tampons; everyone should get the offer. So it was the connection specifically between tampons and chocolate (as a sales strategy) that I was questioning.
posted by Miko at 2:03 PM on February 8, 2013


> There are signs all over the counter at Walgreen's checkout that if the cashier fails to offer you the "candy of the week" or whatever, you get it for free

Oh, I haven't noticed them -- there's so much clutter around the counter, my eyes tend to glaze over. I suppose I could start keeping track of tampon vs non-tampon shopping trips and seeing what I'm offered and when...
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:11 PM on February 8, 2013


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