I had a bad experience in Tesco recently. I was in my local branch of the huge UK supermarket, at the checkout, when my checkout operator was approached by a supervisor who proceeded to reprimand her for not giving customers the blue charity tokens and for not being chatty enough.
I was close enough to hear every word of their conversation, and the supervisor attempted to draw me into the chat, on her side.
This was no informal pep talk; reprimand paperwork was handed to the checkout operator, together with a pen. It was clear.- she was expected to sign the paperwork, which would no doubt be added to her HR folder.
I was able to read some of the paperwork; she was being written up for the two mistakes that had just been verbally explained. She wasn’t giving out the charity tokens, and she wasn’t being chatty enough with customers.
The supervisor made eye contact with me and smiled, and I couldn’t hold my tongue.
I told the supervisor that I was a frequent customer in store and nobody had offered me a charity token for several months. It wasn’t an issue with this particular checkout operator, it was a store-wide issue, at least.
I went on to tell the supervisor that I found it unfair and unprofessional that she was giving feedback in such a public way. The supervisor quickly disappeared after that, and the checkout operator expressed her gratitude. I joked that not everybody wanted to chat.
The conversation had clearly made an impression on her, and she ran through her thoughts aloud, considering whether she had in fact been less chatty.
After a few moments it was clear that she was becoming emotional.
“I guess I haven’t been myself,” she confided. “It’s been hard, this being the first Christmas without my mum.”
I tried my best to reassure her, and confided that it was my own first Christmas without my mum as well. I urged her to take care of herself.
I left the store, frustrated with the whole episode, and have since lodged a complaint with Tesco.
It strikes me as utterly unfair that a member of staff would be given a reprimand in public. How humiliating. Not to mention – where is their ability to respond?
It was clear that the checkout worker was expected to sign the paperwork. What she was agreeing by signing, I have no idea – agreeing that she had been spoken to, or that the concerns were accurate? Presumably said signed paperwork is then added to her HR folder where it can be used in future to substantiate claims of behaviour being an ongoing issue.
And yet, how could she have done anything other than simply sign the form? She had no privacy, was afforded no discretion, and likely wanted the whole sorry episode over with as soon as possible.
As a one off incident, it was awkward and embarrassing, and I hope that Tesco takes the opportunity to train their supervisors about the appropriate way to carry out a disciplinary meeting.
But it also made me consider a wider issue. This lady was being told off mainly for not being chatty. She’s in a public facing role, sure, but she’s also human. She has bad days like you and I and everyone else do. She seemed to be in the middle of several bad days when this incident happened, and yet she had gone into work and was managing to serve customers. She had greeted me with a ‘hello’.
Isn’t that her job? Or do Tesco believe that for her hourly wage, they are also buying her personality? Or, at least, the shiny happy part of a personality.
I was also troubled by the fact that the supervisor clearly had no idea that the checkout worker was recently bereaved. There was no care being taken for this woman who had just survived her first Christmas without her mother.
No, it was pretty clear that she was expected to turn up, smile, and act happy even if she was anything but. Are we really so detached from each other that we can’t allow a colleague to have a bad day, a quiet day, a day when it’s pretty hard to raise a smile? Or that we see a colleague having a day like that, and instead of offering them a break or a chat or a mug of tea, we’re instead by their side ready to publicly reprimand them for, in essence, being human?