Dear Mystery Shopper,
I hope you forgive me for calling you the “Misery” Shopper. That is how I often experienced you: merciless, unrealistic, arrogant and plainly non-caring. You gave us often very good comments, recognizing my hard working teams and with it also my hard work with my teams. Thank you for that. But many times I suffered deeply under your unfair comments, especially while going through bereavement with equally merciless bosses who only cared about their bonuses and reputation.
I can forgive you as you didn’t know what I and colleagues were going through, but my bosses knew and had no consideration nor care. The Mystery Shopper results count for the biggest chunk of management and OPs Manager’s bonuses, so this was the greatest pressure as well as torture, and the rewards were just too little for us teams. One manager said to me once when I was new in his shop that he closes his eyes to anything but the Mystery Shopper. In other words, he was happy for any mistakes or shortcomings, be it in the finances, health & safety etc. but was not willing to accept poor MS results. I just came from a branch where I was bullied for tiny things, and I responded to him that he should not close his eyes to anything! Of course that did not make me favourable towards bosses like him, but I wasn’t concerned! I had the loss of my brother on my mind.
And yet, even if Pret would have canceled the Mystery Shopper scheme, I would have worked exactly the same, as I love quality and giving customers the best service they deserve, not just because they pay money, but because I love people. Full stop!
You can only be a Mystery Shopper if you have never worked in retail or the food industry, so you would not empathize with the staff, but judge as a “proper” customer not understanding the pressures of the business. You are being instructed to be fair but firm, whereas I often looked at it hoping you would be firm but fair. You often choose to be firm. I have had outstanding comments throughout the years, including twice being commented on as having the best team yous have ever experienced. That was very kind for you to write, it didn’t help with my bosses, though, as it was never good enough, what we as the teams achieved. But that aside, it is about you in this open letter.
I and my teams received many comments like this throughout the years, but they have not helped me against the harshness of my line managers. It was never good enough. Towards the end of my employment in Pret I would even submit 4 pages of ideas on how to improve the Mystery Shopper and passed it on to my OPs manager. I had another 4 pages of ideas, but never submitted those as that OPs manager promised me as the Team Leader extra incentives if the Mystery Shopper results would improve (as if we needed improvement with almost always perfect scores!), but she never lived up to her promise. I delivered, but as usual left empty handed with broken promises. Another typical Pret “behaviour”, suck everything out of your staff and leave them stranded.
As with any other job, every Mystery Shopper is different, there are those who really take it serious at the same time have an eye on fairness. Others of you don’t really care too much, you come in and out so fast to just finish that job and within minutes you decide for the team to not get the bonus for whatever wasn’t right for you. Never mind them working and toiling since 5am or earlier with an angry manager giving them a good telling off later, because their bonus got even a bigger dip down.
Your job is to judge, no matter how long or short your visit. I hope you forgive me when I re-name you as the Misery Shopper as many times when the scores weren’t so good, even when we still had the bonus, the manager would give us a harsh telling off, because the managers and OPs rely on the scores to increase their bonus and competition in the areas. The Misery Shopper contributes most to their bonus and the ranking, that is why the teams get the most pressure from it.
It was particularly hard when I served you and your feedback was that I didn’t smile or that team members should not work while sick because I coughed during service. I am sure you are under the impression that the teams get paid when they are sick at home. But they aren’t paid sick-leave for the first 2 -3 days depending on age regardless if they have a sick note. Thus forcing them to go to work, cough, receive negative ratings for it and the manager gives them a hard time.
It’s a complete 100% lose-lose situation. If you stay at home because you are sick, you won’t get paid after your “well-being days” are used at the sole discretion of your manager. Also, your manager doesn’t like you being off sick, especially if you are a leader, like I was. They doubt your illness, I had that even while depressed and with a panic attack on sick leave, my manager didn’t believe me, but that’s another blog entry in itself.
If you do go to work because you need to pay your bills, the danger of serving you and receiving a bad report, and with it a telling off from your boss in the office, nothing is ever in your favour, no matter what you do.
Quote: “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.”
I didn’t feel cheerful to smile as well after the telling off from my line manager afterwards. You got told off in the office because you didn’t smile, and while the boss is telling you off (who by the way does not smile themselves, just as a side-note!) and then the non-smiling boss orders you to smile! You go out extremely humiliated, discouraged, with low motivation, and yet forced to smile if you don’t want to find yourself penalized or losing your job.
Another example of a Team Leader who complained on Twitter about being sick:
Link to tweet plus, I responded to Pret’s saying sorry, but my tweet has been deleted or is hidden somehow. But it is still on my Twitter as well as a screenshot in one of the “Quotes of the Day“. Pret of course keeps any of my tweets they may use later against me. That’s fine with me.
But I can more than relate to this Team Leader’s “review”. You are made to feel guilty when you call sick, because when you are off sick as a leader, the manager has to pull up their sleeves and work instead of just sitting in the office!
So, dear Misery Shopper, what exactly would be a cheerful occasion to smile? And you probably think that this is an exception and that surely if a team member goes through bereavement there would be empathy and understanding. Wrong again. Having to smile NON-STOP especially for 8 – 10 or more hours a day, in an intensely, excruciating and brutal work environment, and on top of that just having buried a loved one…
This is nothing short of developing either superhuman abilities or mental illness!
I wrote it to the real Pret customers already, that I wished sometimes I would have been able to wear a badge like a pregnant woman does with the “Baby on Board” badge, or a disabled person with a “Please offer me a seat” badge. I would have needed a “Please bear with my grief” badge, as my manager was merciless when I didn’t smile, even during bereavement. When I did smile and this feedback was given in your report, my manager never acknowledged it either. Never a word of, “I know you are going through a terrible time with the loss of your brother, and you still come to work and even smiled, well done, I don’t know how you do it, but you are doing good, if you need anything, a little break to take a breath, just let me know.” … Nothing of the like. Just a telling off and you go home later wanting to end your life.
I would do this with my team members once I was aware of problems in their lives. I’d encourage them, offer them some extra break or if they need to disappear for a few minutes when I saw them in tears. But for some reason I did not receive this common human kindness from my line managers, except from only one I worked only for a few weeks when she then went on maternity leave.
I wonder, dear Mystery Shopper, if you would also be so harsh with a team member if you knew they had a loss in their life preventing them from smiling. Would you be as merciless as the managers?
I survived the bullying and harshness, I became ill and at times suicidal when I couldn’t take this brutal treatment anymore. And I know of others who became depressed, ill, suicidal. But I survived and live to tell my story, and I tell it so bluntly because the thought that I may be dead now, jumping of a bridge because of the turmoil I went through, my body still freezes when I think of the close call I’ve had!
You will continue to do your job trying to be fair but firm, I would just want to ask you to rather be firm but fair, or better even, kind and fair. The people in HQ who come up with these rules and penalties don’t care about the stress on the shop floor and in the kitchens. They know very well how difficult and cold it is, but it is not of their concern.
Your job is to feed back if the team smiled amongst other things you check on, no matter what hell they are going through. I hope you won’t be judged so hard when you go through tragedies.
Thank you for reading.
Ex-Employee of Pret, or as I call us “Ex-Prets” 🙂 ( <<< now that’s a real smile!)
A compiled list of staff complaints from various review sites, YouTube and Twitter. Selected reviews as Quotes of the Day.
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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