Pret A Manger Requires Employees To Act Happy All The Time

Are you happy at work? More to the point, how would you feel if your employer required you to be happy -- or at least act happy at work? Such is the case at Pret A Manger, the fast-growing food chain, according a recent essay in the London Review of Books. It discussed a genuinely creepy set of employee rules at the fast food chain.

Pret, founded in London, and expanding fast across the United States, requires employees to adopt "Pret behaviors" which includes being "enthusiastic," "genuinely friendly" and "happy to be" themselves. (The rules, initially listed on the company's website, have since been taken down.) Not only that, says British journalist Paul Myerscough in the Review of Books piece, but the company enforces Pret behaviors with a "regime of surveillance and assessment."

It purportedly sends a "mystery shopper" to each branch so as to gauge each worker's emotional status. If the report that comes back from the company's agent is positive, which is the case about 80 percent of the time, all the workers get a bonus. If no positive vibration is reported, the investigator is likely to name the responsible workers.

The firm's CEO has reportedly said that whenever he visits a branch, the first thing he will check is whether staffers are touching each other. Friendly, high-fiving employees are encouraged. "I can almost predict sales on body language alone," Britain's Daily Mail quotes him as saying.

As customer service continues to take on an increasingly central role in the economy, some say more workplaces are likely to prize so-called "emotional labor" -- or the constant broadcasting of cheer.

The drive to please customers, clients and patients is not new, of course. Caregivers, waiters and even prostitutes probably have been making a living from such friendly service since division of labor began. And companies like Disney and Walmart, among others, are famous for prioritizing good cheer in the workplace. But what is new, argues Timothy Noah in the The New Republic, is the premium on happiness in jobs where it wouldn't seem to make much difference:

Why must the person who sells me a cheddar and tomato sandwich have 'presence' and 'create a sense of fun?' Why can't he or she be doing it 'just for the money?' I don't expect the swiping of my credit card to be anybody's vocation. This is, after all, the economy's bottommost rung.'

What do you think? Should employers expect their workers always to be cheery? Share your comments below.

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I think employers should expect their customer service/sales reps to treat people with respect. That's what's missing. The cheeriness is nice, and it should be there (I have to act cheery in phone tech), but at the same time, my big problem is when they act like you are there to make their day miserable. Watch how slowly I can prepare your food because I'm miserable. THAT is what people are complaining about. I once tried to get a girl fired for telling me to go F* myself because she gave me the wrong food and I told her so. that's not respect. Moving as slow as you can to get people's food, that's not respect. Respect is important, and if they teach their workers to do that, I'd be happy. I do my best to treat ALL customers with respect, and they should do the same. I make not much more than they do, either.

April 18 2013 at 10:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It seems pretty oppressive if you ask me. Better yet, ask Orwell. George, that is. Or, at least read "1984."

April 16 2013 at 2:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Pret sounds like a bad dystopian nightmare. Maybe somebody took the wrong message away from Demolition Man.

April 15 2013 at 10:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Lol I love how they note walmart next to disney for wanting cheer. Walmart employees are the rudest, laziest of workers. When was the last time anyone ever got help when they asked at walmart?
My last response to asking for help was, 'mayn I duno what the fux dat sh%t is mayn'.

April 15 2013 at 4:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I give a high five to the pharmacist when he hooks me up with vicodin.

April 15 2013 at 2:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Kelley main

I find that during shopping or food excursions, MY (as the consumer) attitude affects the attitude of whomever is waiting on me. If I am pleasant, they tend to respond in kind. If they are less-than-chipper, I use humor and sarcasm to change their outlook (if only for a short while). Most of the time, this works! Put forth the kind of attitude you hope to receive back.

April 15 2013 at 1:24 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

how about just acting like an adult, like a professional, and just not being rude? I hate it when some poor person has to adopt that phony friendliness. it makes a situation awkward. "presence" isn't needed to buy a sandwich.

April 15 2013 at 12:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Normal: "Hi!" with smile on face. "Please, thank you." Normal.
Abnormal: High fives, etc.

It's a sandwich, people. A sandwich. It's creepy when you expect your employees to act like they just won the lottery when someone orders at the register. The last time I was there, no WONDER I was thinking, "What's WRONG with these people? They're just waaaaaaaaaayyy too perky."

April 15 2013 at 12:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

How about giving them something to be cheery about? Like a living wage.

By the way, whatever that name is, it ain't French.

April 15 2013 at 11:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to monsieurboo's comment
chun mingyuan

yes it is. well it's missing the diacritical marks, but it's perfect french. [i guess by your measure this isn't english either because i did not capitalize. pedant!]

April 15 2013 at 10:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't find it creepy at all. I'm a frequent Pret customer, and it's a real pleasure to be treated in such a friendly way by the cheerful employees. In a city like New York, where you don't often get that kind of attitude, the Pret employees consistently make my day.

April 15 2013 at 10:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to craiginnyc's comment

Just so you know that the cheerful and friendly behavior you are experiencing from the employees is contrived and inauthentic, a condition for them to remain employed and earn a paycheck there.

April 15 2013 at 3:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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