I’m guilty of this. When I’m in a hurry, or stressed to the gills, or really hungry, I tend to snap at people. This means people who work in restaurants and coffee shops — especially coffee shops — don’t always see me at my best. First of all, I apologize to anyone I’ve ever metaphorically kicked in the shins.
Second, I know I’m not the only person who does this and we need to stop for a multitude of reasons.
To begin with, we need to stop because these people matter — whether you realize it or not.
It’s easy to dismiss fast food workers’ feelings as unimportant, for some reason.
But really, where would you be without the people who fix your food? I know where I’d be — in trouble. I know how to cook. I enjoy it and I’m pretty good at it, but I don’t have a lot of time. If not for restaurants and grocery stores selling precooked food, I’d have to make time or, more likely, eat peanut butter sandwiches all day — which would grow really old really fast.
Food, for some people, is easy to come by so we don’t think about cooking or growing food as important skills.
But it is, even if we don’t always pay the people who produce and deliver our meals — be they farmers or the pizza guy — very much, they’re vital to our society if it’s going to keep functioning the way it currently does.
Which brings me to my next point.
People in this society have a bad habit of assuming if someone isn’t paid much, they must not be worth much. This is just plain wrong. I don’t know when we started thinking of money as a measure of character, but it’s not. It never has been. You can’t tell me someone who works three minimum wage jobs or spends their entire 12-hour shift on their feet is lazier than someone with one job who, say, works a marketing job where they come in at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. and make $100,000 a year.
I’m not passing judgement on the 9 to 5 worker. In my opinion, any job someone’s willing to pay for is not necessarily easy and probably something worth doing because if it wasn’t no one would pay so much as a dime for it.
But it would be a mistake to assume just because they’re not being paid six figures a year for something that they’re expendable.
Which brings me to yet another point.
There are a lot of people out there in need of jobs and sometimes I think people feel this means workers are expendable. If one quits or gets fired, it doesn’t matter because ten more will come in to take his or her place.
But the thing is, even if you view people as a resource rather than as human beings with thoughts and emotions like yours, those people aren’t an unlimited resource. There are plenty of jobs available, but many of them aren’t ones people want to do and if people don’t want to do a job, if it’s literally unbearable, a company will find itself short on applicants.
This applies to both bosses and customers.
Some customers seem to think they’ll receive better customer service by being unpleasant.
There may be some truth to this, at least in the moment. If you’re being a jerk, some customer service people will do just about anything to get rid of you and consequently offer you what you want quickly.
However, keep in mind what I said about people being a limited resource. If you’re working long hours for low pay, and you have people coming in every other day to curse you out or gripe about how their sandwich only had two pickles instead of three, after a few months you’re probably going to quit.
As soon as they find something else — literally anything that pays well and doesn’t involve dealing with grumpy customers — most people will jump ship and do that instead.
There’s a real possibility this is going to lead to bad customer service at places you like to eat and shop in the long run, because many of the best employees are going to quit.
Some people enjoy working retail and food service — because they like the people they meet, the food they serve, or a variety of other things. But if the good parts no longer outweigh the bad parts, those people will quit. Many of them are qualified to do other things. These things might pay more or involve less interaction with people who put hair in their own soup just so they can yell at the server and maybe receive a free meal into the bargain.
But the sales clerks who know everything there is to know about their product and who love their jobs so much they’re willing to go above and beyond to help you find what you need may not last long.
They may be replaced by someone who doesn’t have the skills to do the job well and, more than that, the new person may not care enough to want to learn. Disregard breeds apathy in the workplace.
Even if they do care, if they keep having people scream at them or “forget” the tip, or if their bosses treat them with contempt, they won’t stay long enough to figure out how to do it well.
So being mean doesn’t benefit anyone — not you, not me, not anyone — in the long run.