Pret A Mourir — Stasi-like Surveillance at Pret A Manger

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I found a brilliant article on Pret’s enforced emotional labour practices. This article is next to Timothy Noah’s article “Labor of Love – The Enforced Happiness of Pret A Manger” my favourite article on this subject. Having worked at Pret experiencing this abuse as I call it, I more than underline both articles. I’m grateful for true journalism compared to the majority of media people sucking up to Pret.

The article is from 2011 but worth the read to take a peek behind Pret’s smiley facade. Some of the things mentioned, like “shooting stars” and other brainwashing, micromanaging things Pret has stopped now, especially since private equity came in, wanting faster money than already squeezed out of low-wage staff.

Link to the text below: Pret A Mourir

By Rob Horning

I borrowed the title for this post from my friend Anton of Generation Bubble, who forwarded me a link to this NYT article by Stephanie Clifford about Pret à Manger, sort of the Target of sandwich shops, assuming Subway is the Wal-Mart. If you want to see a horrific application of all the principles of immaterial and affective labor, Virnoesque virtuosity, lateral surveillance, obligatory reflexivity, emotional management, gamification and so on, you need look no further.

How does any company encourage teamwork? At Pret a Manger, executives say, the answer is to hire, pay and promote based on — believe it or not — qualities like cheerfulness.

There is a certain “Survivor” element to all of this. New hires are sent to a Pret a Manger shop for a six-hour day, and then the employees there vote whether to keep them or not. Ninety percent of prospects get a thumbs-up. Those who are voted out are sent home with £35 ($57), no hard feelings.

The crucial factor is gaining support from existing employees. Those workers have skin in the game: bonuses are awarded based on the performance of an entire team, not individuals. Pret workers know that a bad hire could cost them money.

All the joys of tournament labor markets like those that exist in academia, with none of the “life of the mind” rationalizations. And instead of solidarity against management, each worker becomes the face of management, another Stasi spy for the happy police.

But that is not nearly enough surveillance to allow Pret’s management to discriminate among workers:

Pret also sends “mystery shoppers” to every shop each week. Those shoppers give employee-specific critiques. (”Bill didn’t smile at the till,” for instance.) If a mystery shopper scores a shop as “outstanding” — 86 percent of stores usually qualify — all of the employees get a £1-per-hour bonus, based on a week’s pay, so full-timers get around $73. “There’s a lot of peer pressure,” said Andrea Wareham, the human resources director at Pret.

DARE sessions in school taught me that peer pressure was bad, but I suppose peer pressure, in this context, is good. It is the vaunted power of worker collaboration and cooperation turned inside out and made into a coercive management tool. One’s very ability to get along with others is alienated and quantified, made into something you would only do for money rather than from basic human solidarity. Pret rejects the sort of human sociality that might thrive outside of capital, that is possible in environments where making a profit by selling commodified service experiences isn’t the overriding goal. Instead Pret chooses to incentivize human feeling and turn the point of exchange into an explicit, quantified moment of affective labor while turning worker cooperation into a reified shadow of itself. That policy is carried out all down the line, apparently, with no sociality left unincentivized and thus unexploited:

Pret reinforces the teamwork concept in other ways. When employees are promoted or pass training milestones, they receive at least £50 in vouchers, a payment that Pret calls a “shooting star.” But instead of keeping the bonus, the employees must give the money to colleagues, people who have helped them along the way.

There are other rewards. Every quarter, the top 10 percent of stores, as ranked by mystery-shopper scores, receive about £30 per employee for a party. The top executives at Pret get 60 “Wow” cards, with scratch-off rewards like £10 or an iPod, to hand out each year to employees who strike them as particularly good. Pret has all-staff parties twice a year, and managers get a monthly budget of £100 or so to spend on drinks or outings for their workers.

“Rewards, through bonuses or ‘outstanding’ cards, affect behavior,” Ms. Wareham says.

Wow cards, I suppose, are the Scooby snacks of the service industry. It’s always nice to be recognized, but there seems to be something backhanded about making even that a lottery scenario. And in the end, it’s just Pavlovian manipulation, not genuine recognition of the worker as a human. The incentivizing of feeling leaves no space for the employees to be recognized in and of themselves. Everything about them as feeling creatures has been subsumed by the wage relation. That’s what is so creepy about going into a Pret — you know they are being forced to be nice to you and are being carefully watched by other fake-nice bosses and informers. It feels like those moments in movies about people in a mental asylum, where the patients try to maintain a facade of controlled politeness in hopes of demonstrating their newfound sanity. This sounds sort of insane to me, anyway:

Every new employee gets a thick binder of instructions. It states, for example, that employees should be “bustling around and being active” on the floor, not “standing around looking bored.” It encourages them to occasionally hand out free coffee or cakes to regulars, and not “hide your true character” with customers.

Can a boss really force you to display your “true character” without driving you into an insane spiral of endlessly recursive reflexivity? And is one’s “true character” nothing more than picking random lottery-winner customers to hand a cake to? Are human interactions so conditioned by the imperative of exchange that giving and getting something for nothing is the best way to simulate genuineness, or sincere benevolence? Perhaps the looting in London was just a big expression of love.

The article should put to rest any ideas that the implementation of such concepts as gamification and the general intellect are inherently benevolent or subversive. Instead, they can be deployed by management to create a kind of affective Taylorism, where emotional experiences are assembled under hurry-up conditions and energetically concealed duress. Unless you believe that it’s more fun to be forced to pretend to be having fun while working a deli counter — maybe the findings that people who are forced to smile report being happier apply here also. Clifford notes that Pret’s “annual work force turnover rate is about 60 percent — low for the fast-food industry, where the rate is normally 300 to 400 percent.” Stockholm Syndrome is a powerful management tool.

The emotional labor being extracted from Pret employees exemplifies the way tight labor markets give employers the chance to cement expectations of a more pliant disposition from workers. The new normal is a grotesque sycophancy sugarcoated as a fun, cheerful workplace where “teamwork” rules. In an email, Anton says Pret’s approach elicits an “unprecedented self-relation — instrumentalization of mood and affect as a way of producing surplus value. It can only end in a psychotic break.” I’m inclined to agree.


I’ve put a YouTube slide together with a real Mystery Shopper report where a staff member received £100for giving the Mystery Shopper a freebie, while the whole shop staff lost bonus because there was some selection of products missing.

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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 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.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
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.

©2017 – Present: expret.org
Interview:

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

Former CEO of Pret A Manger Clive Schlee

has withdrawn from public social media incl. deleting his Twitter account in July 2020 after I kept confronting him. He withdrew from press interviews and remains in the background of Pret as a non-executive director and mentor of Pano Christou. I call Christou Panocchio as he lied in an Evening Standard interview and beyond. Clive will be back to tell his sorry story after I kept and keep confronting his lack of leadership and steering Pret full steam ahead into an iceberg.

Clive, I will never stop addressing your lack of leadership which shows in your prodigy Panocchio, until you own up to your greed and exploiting those who are the true heroes of this economy.

Clive, you, HR and the OPs/Group Managers picked on the wrong person. You got away with customers having died and getting injured. You get away with amazing people being exploited and bullied. You just about got away from allowing me to get bullied after I buried my brother. But the conversation of Pret’s toxic ways will go beyond me raising it. Keep working on your story, and others will tell theirs.

And this is your legacy, Schlee. And mainstream media suck up to you because they are as weak as you are. We low-wage workers are vulnerable, but we ain’t weak.


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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 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.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
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.


Interview:


Unless otherwise stated or linked to, this website and all writings within this site are the property of expret.org, poetrasblok.com, LateNightGirl.org and are protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. Reproduction and distribution of my writings without written permission is prohibited.


©2017 – Present: expret.org, poetrasblok.com, LateNightGirl.org unless otherwise stated. All Rights reserved. Disclaimer.

The Pret A Manger Tränendrüse

A very clever Pret A Manger marketing strategy with the help of mainstream media.

Well, where do I start! For one dear reader, do your homework on what “Tränendrüse” means. It’s a word that came to me when I pondered on the recent Pret A Manger articles in the New York Times and The Guardian regarding Pret’s dealing with the Covid 19 crisis. Mainstream media journalists play into Pret’s pocket as usual. What I found particularly interesting are the photos that were shot and used for these articles, especially in the Guardian article.

The best translation for Tränendrüse I can find is “tear jerker”, but I’d rather go with “crocodile tears”.

In the German when someone tries to get pity in order to gain or get advantage of something, we say “der drückt auf die Tränendrüse”, loosely translated “someone’s squeezing out tears” … or best translated: producing crocodile tears.

Pret A Manger has always been smart in their marketing strategy, giving free coffees to look generous while it’s been the main marketing strategy to get people into shops spending more money. I write about the freebie marketing in detail on my blog: Pret A Manger Free Coffees.

Another clever move has always been to give vouchers and freebies after customers complain. Pret customer service staff call this to “kill people with kindness”. That way they stop complaints going further, getting people off their backs and winning them over, plus new customers, as people do free advertisement on social media and beyond on Pret’s “kindness” and “generosity”. And also since 2018 the new endeavor to collect customer data via social media DMs and now subscriptions for future marketing.

The first “Tränendrüse” article came from The Guardian and how new CEO Pano Christou is approaching this rather “positive”, seeing Covid as a chance. Never mind hundreds of thousands having lost their lives, their loved ones, their health, their jobs, their livelihoods … The tragedy turned into a strategy for Pano Christou. A tragedy that now hit millions of people worldwide is being used by Christou as a “strategy” for business. He even takes it further and puts on a sorry, but determined face, to persuade the loyal British higher middle class customer to feel sorry for Pret and risk their own lives to “save Pret”.

By the way, the term as in Pret having become the “Symbol of the Highstreet” came from me on Twitter after some people wondered why Pret is being mentioned constantly to save the economy. Journalists took that and wrote their own articles on it. My blog has become the source for lazy journalism’s copy & paste writing. Nothing new under the sun.

Link to 29. August 2020 Tweet

Link to 31. August 2020 Tweet … and many more on Twitter before Journos took that term from September 2020 onward.

The reader can go through the Guardian and New York Times articles to scrutinize the marketing strategy here. I want to draw the attention to the photos being used for Pret’s subtle and gentle, smiley “propaganda” to get customers to spend money.

From The Guardian, photo by David Yeo:

Pano Christou sitting in the shadow in front of half empty shelves … alone … looking out somewhere into uncertainty … his Tränendrüse about to burst, yet looking with hope like a puppy trusting to get what those who hold the treats in their pockets are ready to give.

Aw! Cute puppy!

The puppy’s promise behind to his right, with the false advertisement of “endless” drinks on the monthly coffee subscription (I write about the false advertisement in detail on “Smoothie Operator“). And the intense shadow of his (seemingly) sorry self behind him with a high wall overwhelming him with the shadow of challenge-turned-opportunity … Puppy Christou looks hopeful. After all, smiling is Pret’s main marketing strategy. Smile through the crisis, smile through grief, smile through mental health issues, smile through Pret customers having died, smile through it all … and keep smiling to the bank.

Link to The Guardian article and photos by David Yeo.

Link to NY Times article and photo by Tom Jamieson.

No shadows here, just a look of getting hit by the pandemic, but determined somehow, yet disappointed and clueless what to do like a little puppy that’s still waiting for its treat and strokes. Mixed view here, left open for interpretation.

The NY Times article is titled as “Pret A Manger Will Try Anything to Survive”

Yet, what exactly is Pret doing? Anything? How is Pret turning a deadly virus into opportunity?

Sacking 3000+ people is one opportunity where Pret does anything to survive, while owners JAB in tax-haven Luxembourg via second richest secretive German family Reimann, sit on billions. Sure, they lost a few billions as well. A recent German article in the Handelsblatt dishes out the numbers.

Some more numbers in bullet points:

  • Pret A Manger front-line employee under £10 per hour, below the Living Wage, not paid for sickness the first 2-3 days depending on age and length of service no matter if having a GP sick-note.
  • JAB/Reimann 2019 worth estimated 25€ billion.
  • 2018 Pret’s annual turnover £710 million which steadily increased into 2020 before lock-down.
  • JAB/Reimann donate $11 million (~ £9.5m) to charity over Nazi past.
  • JAB/Reimann pay former CEO Clive Schlee £30 million on BONUS upon acquisition of Pret. And here it’s clear where their priorities lie. £10m in “repairs” to Jewish charity versus £30m for ONE man alone in Bonus! Well, Pret is doing ANYTHING to survive.
  • etc. etc.

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Link to Daily Mail article.

The “few” millions Pret loses and the billions JAB loses hardly crack any teeth in their unsatisfied, hungry jaws! They can EASILY afford to keep their workers and INVEST by doing ANYTHING they can to “survive”.

Yet, Pret will not only survive, Pret will thrive again. And in order to thrive and keep accumulating millions and billions, Pret needs to cut at the bottom and “sacrifice” those who already lose everything anyway.

Hardly is JAB/Reimann nor Pret struggling. Pret even was one of THE FIRST companies to try and cut hours of low-wage workers back in March. What was so vile was that Pret announced the cuts a day after starting the NHS coffee freebie and 50% food rebate to NHS workers to divert away from the cuts. Pret used NHS staff two-fold, PR of course and as a smoke screen to hide how Pret really treat their own employees DURING a pandemic, let alone in general. And this was pre-lockdown and at the start of the pandemic becoming obvious to us all. I also write about this extensively in “To NHS Employees” after I was contacted by Pret employees with the news of Pano Christou’s email to all shops about the cuts. I then immediately tweeted to the press and all hell broke loose resulting in Pret to revert the cut decision for a while until the big job cuts were announced in July 2020 after I was leaked a video by a Pret staff … and so it keeps continuing with doing “anything” to survive.

Link to Tweet by an NHS worker.

Pret has also been one of THE FIRST businesses to open shops DURING lock-down and was THE ONLY business open at Stansted airport in July 2020 when ALL food outlets (apart from Boots and WH Smiths) remained closed.

Pret open at Stansted July 2020

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Another clever strategy Pret seems to be using is to close 6 more shops now (October 2020) after the 30 shops they closed already. Now laying off 400 more employees (400 staff of 6 shops?). This puts pressure on the Tränendrüse of loyal customers who feel extra sorry for Pret now. Yet, many fail to see the strategy behind this. Pret CAN afford to stay open! Pret CAN afford to keep people employed! And mark my words (today 17. October 2020) that in a short while Pret WILL OPEN shops again. It takes just a few days for Pret to set-up a new shop! Even on Twitter the Job-center is advertising for new Barista etc. opportunities in Pret. Closing 6 shops is nothing for Pret. They will open in a heartbeat when grass has grown over this drama of pushing on the tears of customers’ purses.

Pre-pandemic, the average low-wage worker earned £8.65 an hour. If the shops did well with Mystery Shoppers, they earned an extra £1 but all still BELOW the Living Wage.

Now Pret has cut jobs, hours, benefits, bonus and even paid break. I’m sure Pano has lost count on his millions sitting in his bank account, being busy putting people out of jobs, some of whom will lose everything.

Pret always prides itself to pay a little more than the competition with the brainwashing psychology and their slogan of: “Pay people what you can afford, not what you can get away with”. And yet, Pret fails to mention that 1. staff have to work DOUBLE for it and 2. it takes YEARS to get a pay-rise in Pret! It is Pret luring low-wage workers in with a few pennies more from the start of employment, and then they have to labour for years to earn a few more peanuts. Staff chase that carrot just to be left high and dry. The backbreaking work that I have done and witnessed hardworking colleagues, is not worth the peanuts that Pret claims to be what they can afford. By the time a regular Pret worker is ready for promotion or a pay-rise, they are so exhausted and disheartened, they don’t even have the strength to look nor find a new job.

Link to Indeed review. of a Manager.

Staff get so worn out, they stay in Pret for years because they have no strength to move on. I write extensively about the reality of Pret A Manger behind the smiley facade in “Caught in the Act at Pret A Manger” with its systemic bullying culture that Pret top leadership were involved in my own ordeal.

So while former CEO Clive Schlee is in the background as a non-executive Director, quietly being Pano Christou’s mentor, puppy Pano pushes on the Tränendrüse with the help of big newspapers to squeeze even more pity and money out of customers who fail yet again to support the small independent businesses that really suffer to the point of losing their livelihoods.

So, you mainstream journalists from the New York Times, The Guardian and others, keep sucking up to Pret and wipe their crocodile tears. Nothing new under the sun.

God help us if we aren’t screwed enough yet, we love to get screwed some more by multinational private equity leeches.

Just a few of the countless reviews by Pret employees on various sites.

P.S Here’s a visual of Puppy Christou howling on the belly of mainstream media with a shadow and all the pity he needs. DO feel sorry for this puppy, they need money:


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 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.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
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.


Interview:

Unless otherwise stated or linked to, this website and all writings within this site are the property of expret.org, poetrasblok.com, LateNightGirl.org and are protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. Reproduction and distribution of my writings without written permission is prohibited.


©2017 – Present: expret.org, poetrasblok.com, LateNightGirl.org unless otherwise stated. All Rights reserved. Disclaimer.