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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