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June 13, 2007

Frontline Fun

Well, probably, just getting more than the minimum wage would be great, but for your frontline workers--on the receiving end, remember, of the rabid, the unreasonable, and unrealistic element of your customer base--workplace comfort is elusive.

There was a Seinfeld episode that featured George on a quest to get a store security guard a chair, and it reminds me of a friend who once worked in a retail store that refused to let her sit down. No one was in the store, and yet, she had to continuously circulate on the floor, arranging and rearranging stacks of cashmere sweaters, or re-hanging pinstripe suits. I admit it wouldn't look the best for customers to find store clerks lounging in in-store lawn chairs, feet up, as irritated customers search for pink blouses, but I would trust the clerk's ability to get up at the first sign of potential business.

This retail worker horror story (a horror to a foot-lazy person like myself) begs the question: What are all of you doing to make your frontline workers lives more miserable?  You may not even realize how much discomfort you're causing for such little gain. A little thing like not being allowed to sit down (no little thing, by the way), impacts worker retention big time.

So, when I think of frontline motivation, I don't think in terms that are too ambitious. I think of offering customer service reps in a call center flex-time, so they can more easily handle child care arrangements, or avoid the early morning hours if sunrise tends to be a painful experience. In an office setting, they also might enjoy cubicles with "walls" on three sides instead of one, so they're not working on top of the people to their left and right. And, please, don't over do it on the air conditioning--especially for store-bound employees. A walk through the mall, with gusts of cold air streaming out of department stores and discount junk shops alike, brought to mind the poor shivering worker who has to brave the man-made cold to find your neon sarong.

Keeping workers who stand on the frontlines of your business happy is, realistically speaking, too much  to hope for; keeping them from feeling like they're suffering may be a matter of chairs, a non-arctic indoor climate, and enough collapsible walls to avoid watching co-workers scarf down between calls.

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