Counterproductive Measures

I used to work at a grocery store as a bagger. When I worked there, it was always busy, always bustling. There was very little down time, except for between customers. This time, collectively, got to be draining because it felt like you always had time to look at the clock. You were constantly waiting for your break because already the work itself, gave very little intellectual fulfillment.

Let’s talk about those breaks though. 2*15-minute breaks is what we were afforded for our 6.75 hour shifts. That’s right, 6.75 hours. Not 7, not 6 and a half…six and three quarters. You might be asking yourself, why on earth would they be scheduling shifts so haphazardly? The answer to that is two-fold: labour laws, and unions.

See, the grocery store’s administration was forced to give an extra 15 minute break, paid, if the employee’s shift reaches 7 hours in total length; there was no buffer. So why give an extra 15 minutes of pay if your employee gets to sit on their butt with that extra 15 minutes?

Nevermind scheduling them for 8 hours either though! Because then you have to give them a half hour break midway through their shift. This means that you can only schedule your employees so tightly in a given workday, meaning less hours of productivity! Can’t have that now, can you?

Here’s the catch: These tactics, along with forcing cashiers to close a cash to send upstairs the cash in the register every $1000 (at a grocery store in an affluent neighbourhood), and forcing cashiers to call on a manager to be able to remove an item from a customer’s bill, make employees feel like crap.

When you treat an employee like they’re a thief, like you’re trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity from them, like they’re just a number in your chequebook, they tend to hate you. Then tend to not want to work there. They tend to want to call in sick more often unannounced, they tend to quit without giving advance warning. They tend to want to take more time during a break and make excuses.

This isn’t because they’re lazy, this isn’t because they’re unproductive. It’s because they don’t owe you a single fucking thing. When you nickel and dime them by rounding down every 15 minutes worked to on average pay employees less, they don’t owe you that extra 2 minutes they need to finish their smoke. When you force them to stop their momentum on cash, just to be able to remove an item they accidentally scanned twice, they tend to want to pretend to scan an item to save the customer some money.

When you treat your employee like a thief, constantly watching over their shoulder, they tend to want to steal the moment you turn your back because, “well, if I’m going to be treated like a thief, then I might as well get the benefits of being a thief!”

The formula is simple: Generosity begets generosity, on average. Sure you can gather anecdotal evidence of the worst types of people that took advantage of you. Sure you can make a case for the lazies, and the actual thieves, and the people who really try to screw over their employer. But it’s much harder to prove that your treatment of the employee didn’t cause that behaviour.

When you treat employees like responsible adults, show them trust, transparency, and honesty, and pay them what they’re worth, a surprising thing happens: they reciprocate with the same (on average).