How Emotional Labour Harms us all

I found an article on Emotional Labour that is a must-read! This and other articles are from researchers and journalists. I add my comments to their publications from the perspective of staff having experienced what they write about.

Emotional Labour Statesman article

»How emotional labour harms us all«
»Workers are put at high risk of anxiety and burnout, while consumers are emboldened to behave aggressively.«

From The NewStatesman by Sophie McBain.

To read the article, readers have to register, but it’s quick and worth it!

I just want to quote a few things that I underline, having survived forced Emotional Labour in Pret A Manger even during bereavement.

Quote from article:
»According to the Office for National Statistics, 80 per cent of the UK labour force is now employed in the service economy. In London, it’s 91 per cent. These days, high street coffee shops and fast food chains compete for customers by trying to offer the quirkiest, bubbliest service«

Yes, in Pret they call it having a “buzz” and it always got on our nerves how we had to pretend to be buzzy, and with a smiling cramp “happy” bouncing around all day! Pret also likes to have LOUD music in shops saying this creates a buzz, in reality it is also annoying customers who then leave the shop quicker and don’t get comfortable. And that exactly is the plan, the reason for the loud music across the Pret business everywhere.

This then brings in more customers and the money flow is faster than when customers linger in a quieter, cozy atmosphere. I got in trouble many times by managers for putting the volume down after customers and staff complained, and my head was exploding! Bottom line is, the music is loud on purpose, this creates an uneasy atmosphere and “chases” customers out faster, making room for new customers and so on. My observation often was that those who sit the longest in Pret are students on laptops with earplugs in their ears to study or play games or were chatting. Younger people often have a greater tolerance, even desire, for noise and distraction.

So, buzz? Fun? Think again! It’s always about money! And reality is, we had headaches and tinnitus from the noise and stress! We had to be like cheerleaders, pushing each other to smile yet again, after just coming out of the intense busy morning coffee rush. It felt like, no it was, suppressing your true emotions (exhaustion, fatigue, depression, grief…) like perverting your inner core.

Emotional Labour Labor

Quote from above article:

“… in The New Republic, Timothy Noah observes that the sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger aggressively monitors its employees’ displays of enthusiasm. If any worker at any particular store seems insufficiently pleased to see their customers, he and all of his coworkers could suffer the consequences. Pret CEO Clive Schlee even monitors whether his employees are making enough affectionate physical contact with each other.” Link

Customer observations:

2018-10-20 Staff cry


2019-03-22 Customer Noticing busyness Pret1


2019-03-22 customer kings cross emma observation stress


MS Cough

Mystery Shopper excerpt: “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 enough to smile that day.” (Staff are not paid for sick leave for the first 2 days, even with a sick-note!)

One customer even observed this cheer-leading and enjoyed it, while not realizing that staff pushed each other to not lose Mystery Shopper bonus and with it get penalized and fear managed. I write extensively about this in “The Truth Behind the Pret A Manger Smile” and talk readers through a typical day in Pret.

2009 Cheerleaders Smile


Quote from article:
»In a 2015 article for the journal Organizational Behaviour a group of psychologists presented the “modest proposal” that employers should abandon emotional labour requirements at work and instead focus on reforms that promote genuine well-being. The authors, led by Alicia Grandey, an expert in emotional labour based at Pennsylvania State University, wrote that “emotional labour violates basic human rights for decent work”.«

This quote gives me hope that more and more people, be it researchers, journalists, teachers … raise this issue that warps the inner core of a person:

»emotional labour violates basic human rights for decent work«

! ! !

Quote from article:
»Research has shown that workers in jobs that demand emotional labour are at high risk of anxiety and burnout…«

Yes, and Pret even puts one question in the “return to work” interview sheet when a staff member starts work again after sick leave. The question they ask is, if the employee suffered anxiety due to work. I have never seen a question like this in any previous employment, and I have worked in the catering industry and customer service all my life. At Pret I suffered anxiety, but I never ticked the box because I thought they ask this to “sieve” out staff and replace them with “fresh blood”! I thought if I tick this, even though I have anxiety issues due to work and the bullying environment, they would find a way to get rid of me. (And they did get rid of me later, my full story in the interview player at the bottom of this page.)

Some of the many staff reviews shows this as well (more in the slideshow, also at the bottom of this page):

2018-10-02 Modern day slavery depression

Link “Depression. Anxiety. Dread to go to work

2019-04-16 Depression Toxic

Link “If you want to know what Depression is work at Pret A Manger is the best place for that…Toxic environment”

One of the most poignant Pret staff reviews, where a former staff member went out of their way after giving everything they had, now almost writing a book, describing the inhumane work environment, fake smiles, having to take pills and drink to cope. They mainly share about the kitchen, but also doing customer service. Nothing needs to be added to this review, every dot and comma I underline! This person certainly cares a lot, and those people are many in Pret, but Pret doesn’t care for them, they lost immense quality and caliber of people that Pret really doesn’t deserve, and these people don’t deserve Pret and what this reviewer describes. Pret can be summed up in this one review.

It is like a film or a book that’s starts:
»This job can annihilate every piece of humanity inside of you.«

And ends:
»You will lose everything that makes you human.«

Annihilate Humanity 41


Another recent review from a Hot Chef (the hardest job on the shop floor) mentions, quote, I started taking antidepressants and having to see a therapist because of this job. The stress and mental anguish is definitely not worth it. May 2019 review on Indeed

Or another review from April 2019, quote, Physically, emotionally and spiritually draining. I would never recommend any young person to work there. Like seriously mate, DONT DO IT! You will get sick like i did and lose valuable months of your young life. Team Member on Indeed

A Glassdoor review, quote, I’m mentally sick of Pret A Manger and then I have to change to many things on my life” Glassdoor Feb. 2019

The above reviews mirror another research paper on “Emotional Labor and Alcohol Use

EMotional Labor Alcohol

Paul Spector

UPDATE July 2019

Clive Schlee leaves Pret with this overall score mid July and Pano Christou starts before the September handover, probably to avoid more negative scoring. But Christou won’t be different towards low-paid and demanding work conditions, having been longer in Pret than Schlee:

2019-06-30 44 staff 50 Clive

2019-07-22 43 staff - 0 Pano

Glassdoor July 2019 overall rating.

I can recommend to everyone to register with The Stateman and read the full article. Take a closer look into Pret or any company at that, where you see staff smile ALWAYS, EVERY TIME in high stress, noisy environment. Ask yourself if low-paid workers really are happy or WHY do they smile so much under intense stress?!

Some customers’ Tweets on this can speak for itself. But it is disheartening how most are fascinated by the “mandatory” smiles by “contract”, which is enforced via weekly Mystery Shoppers in cash incentives and fear management. I explain in detail in the “The Truth behind the Pret Smile” and “Emotional Labour” articles.
Just few people look deeper:

2018-12-14 Customer recognizes forced friendliness happiness

2013 Low Wage Exploitation Smile


2013 Continous weird smile


2013 Authentically happy smile low paid

Link (It’s £8.65 now obviously 6 years after this Tweet)

2012 Doesnt matter which Pret always smile


2014 Smile by Contract


2013 Mandatory Smile


2015 About Mystery Shopper


2013 Mystery Shopper Group Incentive


2018 Emotional Labour Labor Quota Smiles2


Mystery Shopper report excerpt:

04 MS

Pret: “We aim to connect with every customer with eye contact, a smile and some polite remarks. Rate the engagement level of the person who served you at the till.”

Mystery Shopper: “I was not greeted at the till or given a smile …”

Line Manager to the person having served the MS: “I need to see you in the office!”

PAMSU Dismantle MS


End MS


Pret Uniform2

The Pret A Smile Uniform Cupboard.

Take your pick Team Member, any of those will do.

JavaScript required to view slideshow. May not work on mobile devices without Wifi.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Slideshow can be paused

The above slideshow is just a selection, the list goes on in Pret Staff Complaints

Two Pret Staff have DIED recently
One is said to be a suicide. It’s not the first suicide in Pret.
I survived. If I would have gone over the edge, mine would be #3 and it would be in connection to Pret!

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 two articles in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.



Unless otherwise stated or linked to, this website and all writings within this site are the property of,, and are protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. Reproduction and distribution of my writings without written permission is prohibited.
©2017 – Present:,, unless otherwise stated. All Rights reserved. Disclaimer.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s