With 55.2 percent of employees in the service industry being students, we must rethink how we view service workers.
“Have a nice day,” – a sentence I have already said about sixty times today, only sixty minutes into my eight-and-a-half-hour shift. Four words that every customer service worker says without fail to each customer.
“Have a nice day,” to the customer that thanked me earnestly and profusely for rushing their print order, even though the print shop I work at has been understaffed and overworked.
“Have a nice day,” to the capable couple, who despite being shown more than fifty times how to copy, wanted a worker to print their job out for them without paying the service fee to do so.
“Have a nice day,” to the rude owner of a business who gave themself one week to design the product but didn’t understand that the workers needed more than a twirl of a wand to produce it.
No matter the input given, like robots, customer service workers respond with politeness and operate efficiently.
Many of us are coming back to school after a summer spent working, trying to earn some cash to help cover tuition, rent, groceries and thousands of other costs that come with being an adult. A lot of those jobs would have been in the customer service industry. It’s time we rethink how our society views customer service workers.
We live in a society that not only accepts, but maintains the status quo of a culture where customer service workers are treated without respect and humanity. Research from the Institute of Customer Service shows that more than half of service workers reported increased incidences of abuse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This problem has been exacerbated with current staffing levels in the industry. The accommodation and foods sector has the highest job vacancy rate in Canada at 7.8 percent. Workers are often expected to take on more responsibilities and roles to meet the businesses’ demands, without a pay increase. Expecting a human to not be affected mentally by the abuse, and the physical toll of doing more than one person’s job, is like perceiving them as a robotic grocery store employee or restaurant server.
Over the summer, I got to experience the real-world implications of these statistics firsthand when I went to grab a bite at a fast-food restaurant. Walking into the restaurant, I noticed two incredibly long lines. One line was for people who had placed their order and were waiting for it to be made, while the other was for people who were waiting to place their order. The former line included a service worker of a food delivery service. There were only two workers in this establishment and one of them was evidently still in training. Most people, realizing that only one person was able to do most of the tasks, were patiently waiting. After waiting for 15 minutes and moving to the other line as my order was being made, the individual from the food delivery service started to berate the two young workers. The individual yelled at them for how slow they were working and their incompetence in completing basic tasks. The individual went so far as to say that the workers were getting paid during this long wait while they themself weren’t, cutting into potential profits that they could have made by taking on other deliveries.
While I am sure we can all empathize with the food delivery worker about the wait time and importance of money, I find it incredibly sad that they turned on their fellow service workers in times of need, all because some multi million-dollar companies decide to not pay their workers a living wage. It was impossible for these two employees to work any faster than they already were—with no manager on site, and evidently no other workers coming in to bust the line, that was the speed that it was going to be if human beings were taking and making the orders.
Even as someone who has worked in this industry for more than two years, experiences like this make me feel powerless. What can we possibly do?
We can choose to be respectful people who understand the person behind the counter is a human being, and not a robot. We, as employees, must advocate and demand better wages and support from our employers. As supervisors and individuals who hold management positions, we must create supportive and encouraging work environments for our employees to prevent a space of beratement with disrespectful and inappropriate HR behaviors. As future entrepreneurs and business owners, we must create companies that prioritize their workers and most importantly pay them a deserving living wage.
We create the society we work in. Let’s live in a society that treats all its workers, no matter the occupation, with respect and kindness. Oh, and next time you order that Starbucks drink in the Murray library, don’t forget to thank the worker and say:
“Have a nice day.”