Some jobs require a great deal of emotional investment, such as being front of house with the necessity to be perpetually polite and perky. But what does it cost the said staff member to put up this façade day in and day out? Are they simply soaking up negativity like a sponge with long-term impacts upon their wellbeing?
Engaging with customers can cost employees emotionally. An employee may start a job with a store cupboard stocked full of ‘emotional produce’, and with each negative reaction from a customer they give something away from their cupboard to calm and appease them. Unsurprisingly, the employee starts to think, well if I give everything I have to you, what will I have left for me?
A subconscious self-preservation occurs and the staff member starts being more wary about the customer, and more protective of their store. This is the basis of Conservation of Resource or COR theory, attributed to Hobfell and the basis of much discussion into workplace wellbeing.
Without adequate attention to COR theory, employees can quite quickly end up with bare cupboards and a large dose of emotional exhaustion.
Protecting the things that people value
Like in our example, COR theory is all about a person’s resources and their desire to protect the things that they value.
Perhaps they get mistreated by the customer and this causes resource loss. In many ways the employee-to-customer relationship can be like a giant game of tug of war, with the customer pulling at resources and the employee attempting to pull them back. The results of which will be an erosion in service quality- but dealing with customers should never feel like a battle that needs to be won.
Dealing with customers should never feel like a battle that needs to be won
Shao and Skarlicki produced an interesting study which found that the natural instinct to protect resources alongside customer mistreatment often led to sabotage behaviours on the part of the staff member, things like ending customer calls or delaying their orders.
So what are an employee’s resources?
Hobfell suggests that resources are objects (tools for work), personal characteristics (self-esteem and pride in ones work), conditions (supportive work relationships) or energies (energy, time, skills and knowledge).
Having a happy customer visit the front desk who thanks the staff member for their efforts will most likely make the employee feel happy with their efforts, building self-esteem, similar to how an upbraiding for getting something wrong can negatively impact upon it.
Ensuring that employees can manage their emotional investment and thus offer the best service to their customers and clients is all about helping them to manage their resources.
One of the most valuable ways you can assist staff is by equipping them with the techniques to deal with difficult or demanding customers. This skill is as essential as a telephone to a call centre operator or a computer for an executive and will additionally boost personal characteristics.
Dropping resource levels are akin to getting sick; once you’ve had one bug you are more susceptible to come down with another
Ongoing and regular training helps staff to hone techniques and can be beneficial for both employer and employee to monitor resource levels.
Dropping resource levels are akin to getting sick; once you’ve had one bug you are more susceptible to come down with another because your immune system is weakened. Being consistent with training also keeps employees engaged with the organisation, providing optimum working conditions and positive relationships with colleagues.
To deal with customers and provide them with the optimum experience requires significant emotional investment from the employee, they need to be engaged, responsive and ready to interact. And when we as employers ensure that they go out there with fully stocked resources, we are enabling them to create not only positive employee to customer interactions, but positive experiences for the employee also.