Since two customer deaths in Pret, with a third nearly fatal, several in hospital and continued warnings regarding labelling and cross contamination, customers seem to raise more issues via Twitter, even though these issues always existed. More customers seem to feel bolder to publicly complain about poor products and service.
I am writing from my experience having worked in Pret for 10 years. After 7 years I lost my brother and was bullied on top of my bereavement from my line managers and area managers (OPs) under the watchful eye of HR. I was a Team Leader and a very good one. No, I’m not floating my own boat, I just know how well I performed, know the feedback I received from colleagues, customers and Mystery Shoppers on my leadership and my teams. I had to go so low to even keep Mystery Shopper reports because one area manager was targeting me for 6 months straight while I was in my first year of bereavement and in extreme trauma, but on autopilot. Even during the darkest times I received good comments from customers, while my line manager under the guidance of this area manager (and HR) tried everything to get rid of me. Every little comment on my service when it wasn’t the best was used, every tiny mistake I found myself in the office or called out via group emails… For my protection I started collecting the positive Mystery Shopper and regular customer comments. And it helped. But it was sad to have to do this.
One card I received about 9 months after my brother died and I was in hell emotionally, but the customers didn’t know the inner state I was in, this card helped me out of dark pits at times when my managers were looking for the smallest issues. This dark time felt like I was going through an emotional war zone, being shot at from different angles, stumbling through a mine field, where I would never know when the next blow comes. And then out of the blue I received this card with £20 inside, but the customers did not know my traumatic bereavement and the added ordeal in Pret.
I read the card later after closing time in the office and just sobbed:
Some excerpts from Mystery Shoppers where either I served the MS as my name was mentioned as the server, or I was the responsible Team Leader for the shift, having trained and supervised my teams when the MS visited. Every excerpt is from a different MS visit, different time/year and different shops:
Other more neutral or difficult comments:
Quote in larger print: “Team members should smile at customers and may not work when ill, as team member was coughing whilst serving me and was therefore not feeling cheerful to smile that day.”
We received a lot of good to neutral comments, and at times fair as well as unfair negative comments. But no matter how well you did, it was never good enough for the line managers. And it didn’t help me from getting more traumatized and held low by insecure “leaders” who are often not well trained, overwhelmed, don’t have people and leadership skills, and easily feel intimidated when they work with Team Members who have skills and emotional intelligence. The Mystery Shopper scores count towards the biggest chunk of the managers’ bonuses, so managers were never happy unless it was a 100% perfect score, every time. One tiny point missing and the team got a telling off in the kitchen until I drew the line and said enough is enough!
I cannot describe how discouraging it is but you just kept going until you broke and many left.
Dear Pret Customer and Mystery Shopper,
much of the issues with the quality of products, missing ingredients, low portions, cross contamination, lack of smiles from staff and rude staff even… a lot these are boiled down to labour being cut to maximize profits, staff calling sick or leaving as they can’t take it anymore, including managers throwing in the towel and leaving without notice (or were fired).
Yes, rude service is unacceptable. But from my experience as a former Team Leader (by the way I was fired just when my dad came out of a coma still in intensive care, but I share this in another post), but as a Team Leader I have had some challenging Team Members, especially Baristas who often work with an electrified temperament, as they have to get the coffees out fast. But when you treat your team with respect, support them, encourage them as well as making clear where the boundaries are, they mirror that because they feel respected.
Team Members are over stressed by team leaders and managers who often prefer to sit in the office having a chat while the teams sweat it out in the kitchen and shop floor. As a Team Leader I was out with my team helping them, encouraging them, while also working to the highest standards. But I didn’t leave them abandoned while sitting unnecessarily in the office as many “leaders” like to do.
During my traumatic bereavement, trying to improve work conditions I would write in to Pret repeatedly, which later turned into ill emailing which I explain extensively why this happened in this blog entry. But I’d write in to Clive Schlee, CEO if he could do what Pret calls a “Buddy Day” where staff from HQ work for 1 day per year in a Pret shop in order to get a glimpse on how stressful working in shops is. The idea is great on paper, but HQ staff mostly come in at 8 or 9am, start their “shift” with breakfast, fiddle around on their mobile phones during the shift, especially if they are higher up in their positions. Managers and Leaders kiss their butt and don’t dare to ask them to leave their phones in the locker like all the other staff are required to. The Manager and Team Members behave very well, suddenly treat all staff respectfully and calm until the HQ staff is gone. And then the usual stress continues.
I suggested to the CEO for the HQ staff to come in and start their shift at 5am ready in uniform like the rest of the team. Pret A Traviller, ready to get their hands dirty, their fingernails cracked and their backs broken, just like the regular shop staff. And I suggested for Clive Schlee to do a Buddy-Day himself, preferably in a shop where no-one knows that he is the CEO, except of course the GM knows.
Schlee likes to do his rounds in the shops and all the staff and managers get nervous and who-haa around him and his delegate, because the big boss is around. I asked myself often how much Schlee and the senior leadership enjoy staff ducking down like this, and kissing butt. I always cringed when the big bosses were around and the managers were suddenly super nice. I usually went the other way not wanting to be part in this hypocritical game. I preferred to stay with my team with whom I worked shoulder to shoulder from early morning on. What do I want with the big bosses who make their millions on our backs, walking around like celebrities! Give me a break!
Before and after the big bosses and “Buddies” were around the usual tone was this:
“The training should be more about encouraging people than shouting and shaming them. … it has been the most stressful job I have had in a couple of years.” (Staff Review)
My own story is spread throughout this website and will turn into a chronological book as it is quite complex and has involved the heart of Pret, HQ, HR, the CEO, and most disgracefully, a Development Manager who was used to manipulate and gaslight me. She was used because she supposedly had a brother who died alone in his flat and was not discovered until days later, just like my brother was. But this complex story is in several other blog posts.
But I want to share again about my former colleagues and how much they struggle and suffer under immense pressure, underpaid, “motivated” under fear management, openly or subtly threatened with their job security etc. I’ve been through it all and more, and have seen this countless times. Sure, the pay is a little more and some other perks are thrown in than in competitive companies, but that is because the work in Pret is hellish! And Pret cannot afford to pay minimum wage as staff would not stay long.
Some customers are quick to tweet, quick to come to conclusion, quick to judge, but have no clue how hellish it is behind the scenes, especially before opening time while the teams get the shops ready in a very short amount of time and little manpower. And not to mention the coffee and lunch rushes that are visible, and all the pressures in-between that the customers don’t see. They work like for 2 or 3 people as Pret loves to cut staff to increase profits. The pressure is on managers to make sure the targets are reached, so they can get their huge bonuses and slaps on the back in huge managers’ meetings.
CEO, Clive Schlee’s special technique for these managers’ meetings, from 0:39 on, is to recognize a few out of hundreds of managers by making sure they are aware he knows them, a clever strategy to keep his managers in check, so they always feel watched, not only from the hidden camera in the offices. They are all nervous to see if they will be picked!
And that is why he has no excuse on how the shops are run by harsh managers and the teams that struggle and suffer under immense stress and mistreatment. He knows, he is aware, but he is not concerned to have a truly “happy” workforce, but only the facade of a smiley culture to have rising profits under what many experience as “Modern-day Slavery“. He also knew about two customer deaths and plenty of allergy reactions and complaints, but no concern there.
A blunt review from a former IT Analyst from HQ:
Managers and Leaders love to sit in the office and just come out to shout at Team Members. Sure, you will think that you are a paying customer, and yes you deserve the best product, the best service, a safe environment and just plainly a good time. But why would you expect from others what you could and never would give yourself. Smiling for 8, 9, 12+ hours straight in a high intense, ungrateful and unrealistic environment. I wrote it in another blog post, breaking it down for the reader, that I myself easily dealt with around 800-1000+ people EVERY DAY from customers on the tills, by the fridges, on the phone, even during my break and my teams and bosses.
And customers want to believe the facade that staff are happy. And dare they not smile after having just come out of the coffee rush where they may have served around 300 people within 2 – 3 hours straight! In the heat, where the air conditioning doesn’t work well! Without being allowed to drink water behind the counter and during service! Where they have to listen with a smile, small-talk, complimenting customers while also listening to the barista behind them shouting at them to grab the coffee! Where Team Members have the task via the Mystery Shopper to have the coffee ready in a minute from the time the customer orders, serve the customer within 1 minute of them joining the queue, clear and clean tables within a minute of customers leaving their seats! Checking the toilets, checking the fridges that no items are missing for the Mystery Shopper so as not to lose bonus and get in trouble with the boss!
Team Members who often have to chase their pay as the managers often “forget” to pay them the correct amount of hours worked…
Yes, you can easily say why they do this job and should find another one. I used to think like this when I experienced bad customer service or saw unhappy faces of restaurant staff. But it isn’t that simple just because I may be in a pleasant job with a good reward at that time. Many customers look down at the Teams, because they are fast-food workers. First of all this arrogance will eventually catch up on people. Secondly, many staff members in the kitchens and shops have degrees.
I worked with a person from Finland who has a PhD, another from Spain who is a lawyer but her degree was not accepted of course as British law is different. I worked with a colleague who is from a small town in Brazil and used to be the secretary to the mayor of that town. Another Brazilian lady was a bank manager in her town. Many are artists, musicians, IT people. I myself am a writer and have published a book in 2013 etc. etc. etc.
Whatever the reason is that people work in these stressful jobs, one thing is reality, that many have to feed kids, pay bills, University or plainly need a fast job to concentrate on their real passion in life, be it art, studying, writing etc.
And even just working and going home to watch TV all night, to shrug the shoulder and say that people should just leave if it’s so hard is very ignorant and arrogant to be blunt! Because most people don’t give a toss how employees are treated until they themselves are treated like crap! My approach is for the employers to change their attitude and greed and really be fair in the light where Clive Schlee pockets £30 Million. I’ve been writing about this since May 2018, before the press got interested because of the deaths.
Staff get their peanuts and get broken. I already confronted Pret on this and will continue to confront them on a staff suicide last year. I almost ended my life, others become depressed if not suicidal and the mental, emotional and physical strain is immense.
My plea dear Pret Customer is for you to pause and think if this is really such a “happy” environment. And I only scratched the surface. Maybe one day I will go hour by hour to talk you through an average day in a shop and kitchen. But I’m sure most people don’t want to know.
Some of your Tweets, dear customers.
Most of you customers who quickly tweet publicly without having spoken to the shop staff first, don’t know how many times I at least left work, especially during bereavement being bullied and went straight to the bridge. And I know others who have become suicidal, depressed, discouraged and don’t care anymore.
Some Tweets from recently:
UPDATE 31.12.2018 Another customer who just runs to Twitter naming the staff member. I have no respect for these kinds of people anymore. They don’t even give a reason for the complaint and can’t get their spell check and hashtags right, but naming hardworking people in public. God knows what the staff member is going through…
A customer who has no boundaries to call hard-working people the C-Word:
A customer, instead of asking shop staff if they could turn down the volume has to tweet his annoyance publicly in a tone where Pret even apologizes regardless:
Reasons for all these complaints:
I worked at Pret A Manger and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote an article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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