On a recent TODAY show episode, Hoda and Kathie Lee shared their experience with strangers on the street calling out: “You’re so pretty. Why aren’t you smiling?” The discussion centered on the sexism of this (men rarely- if ever- get these comments) and the expectation that women should perpetually smile.
A similar phenomenon occurs for women (and occasionally men) in customer service positions. Bartenders, food and cocktail servers, cashiers, front desk employees, sales personnel- are expected to SMILE at all times when they are working. Not only is this not physically possible, it is not natural, and assumes a superficial “cheerleader” presence. These employees are working- focusing on the task(s) at hand, managing interactions, responsibilities and stress. The question: Why aren’t you smiling? puts unfair demands on the employee- 1- Answer the question 2- Smile. In the midst of a busy stressful shift, this is distracting and feels patronizing and offensive. The question/demand to smile implies that the job is easy, carefree and fun (not the case) and that the customer has the right to dictate facial expressions (of course not).
Think about this the next time you’re in a restaurant, bar, hotel or store. Evaluate the employee based on job performance and behavior, not the smile (or lack thereof). You’ll see competent customer service employees effectively assisting customers in a variety of ways. Smile included? Maybe, but not always. More on smiling in future blogs.