Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Smile - Damn It !

I was recently reminded how prevalent this issue is for many domestic workers, as I noticed a new online job advertisement requiring all candidates to be prepared to exhibit a smile at work - as an instructed duty. Nowhere in the advertisement did it mention if this is a household where anyone employed there actually wants to smile.

One of my strongest memories while attending University of San Francisco, ironically during a class in interpersonal communication, was to witness a co-worker at a catering service being instructed by her supervisor to smile. But not just to smile, yet to "smile - damn it!" 

The look on the supervisor's face as she unleashed this fury was that she was just about ready to beat this server with a stick - and the look on the server's face was that she'd already gotten it so many times, one more beating really wouldn't matter, so, go ahead, and let's just get this one over with also.

This memory often surfaces while I'm shopping at DuaneReade drugstore and must hear the excruciatingly painful, barely audible muttering of Thank you and be well, as the cashier hands me a few cents change from the peanuts, magazine, or whatever else I've popped in for on my way to work. 

It's a nice thought... Thank you, and be well; the kind of thing you hope someone who loves you would say, and say often. However, coming from someone programmed to say it or get beaten with a stick, well, it just hurts so much to hear, I find myself sprinting away from the counter so fast that I won't be able to notice.   

I found an article in which the corporation explained about how this parting shot to the customer is for the purpose of aligning the employees with the corporate values of wanting their customers to be thanked, and wanting them to be well. Yet, if that be the case, how come it just comes out, consistently across time and space, with the tone of the cashier about to break into tears, scream, or otherwise fall to the floor and lose it altogether, while forcing these five words out across their teeth? 

Research on the matter suggests there can be real, clinically observable damage to the psyche of those required to fake their emotions in any endeavor.

Work, home, or play - it doesn't really matter where; simply uttering affirmations is no substitute for actual feelings. Certainly no one is fooled, especially those who must witness the display. Or, do they just not care, and maintain the illusion that a fake/forced smile has some sort of positive value?

I sometimes wonder if the upper management of such organizations actually shop at their counters from time to time, incognito, to see the effect that forcing people to act like they care about other people has on them. And I sometimes wonder if, in our own industry, instead of instructing domestic workers to smile damn it, Estate Managers instead created the environment in which good employees could align themselves, they'd realize these types of behaviors such as being thankful and wishing others well would, naturally, come to the surface, and create their own, genuine smile.

From another angle, much has been spoken in our own domestic service industry about "service heart," the proposal being that good service delivery must come from deep within one's being, altruistically; a special and rare ability held only by those who
possess this capacity. But I don't think so. I think good service is not an inherent talent, nor otherwise special capability limited to a chosen few; I believe that anyone can - and also that everyone wants to - be of reasonably good service to others, given the appropriate 
I bet she was never told to smile damn it.
environmental conditions and authentic motivators to do so. I propose that good service providers can, credibly and proudly, have ulterior motives - a desire to spend their day within an environment that's also of service to oneself and one's own very natural, human need to feel valued. Even Mother Teresa, I propose, enjoyed her gig. 


Maybe it's time to put down the stick.  

Maybe taking the time and thoughtfulness to create the conditions in a domestic staff workplace... those in which your service team won't need to fake it, or to smile damn it, but will truly want to -- Thank you, and be well -- could actually work.