Everyone who’s ever devoted a piece of their lives to serving others across the retail divide—and there are almost two million Canadians working in the retail sector at any given time—has a story of fielding rudeness directed at them from across the store counter or restaurant table.
CBC Manitoba explored the phenomenon recently in its series, The Loss of Civility. In it, Cella Lao Rousseau told reporters of encountering “people who were very, very harsh, very mean” during the four years she spent working in retail.
“Two women came in and they made me cry on the floor.”
In her book, Revolutionizing Retail: Workers, Political Action, and Social Change, K. Coulter writes that “shoppers can believe they have power and superiority over retail workers. This can translate into rudeness and even abuse.”
She feels strongly that respect and civility need to become more integral to the working-in-retail experience. “Policies and laws that prevent harassment can and should not only be written, but enforced,” she opines.
“In my view, managers have a responsibility to actively shield staff from customer rudeness, by clearly establishing a commitment to a supportive working environment that does not automatically defer to customers and by directly intervening when and where needed.
“But some of what will improve retail jobs is dependent on people more broadly to show a little kindness.”
For a start, customers might consider shelving their cell phones during interactions in shops and restaurants. The practice is loudly condemned for being demeaning to the store employee, to say nothing of the delays it causes for other customers.
Still, an argument could be made that the rudeness stream flows in both directions.
A couple of years ago, the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business published a study that revealed that sales reps at high-end stores could actually boost sales by behaving rudely. Consumers who were treated poorly by snobby clerks, their research showed, demonstrated an enhanced interest in buying pricey goods.