Before I worked at The Shop, I didn’t hate arts and crafts. In fact, whenever struck by the urge to start my own fashion design company (a semi-annual event), I used to stop in for supplies. Whenever I did, I couldn’t help but notice that something seemed a little odd about the staff. They roamed the sales floor like zombies, eyes downcast. “What is wrong with them?” I used to think. “Would it kill them to smile?”
Now I know better, because at The Shop, a smile is an invitation. A smile says, “Hello, Stupid Sally! Step right up!” A smile says, “Yes, I would love to answer your questions about starting to your own jewelry business.” A smile says, “Of course, I would be happy to sacrifice my lunch break for the third time this week.”
When I first started working at the shop, I smiled a lot. I didn’t know any better. I thought I was supposed to help customers launch their own jewelry business, construct their child’s Antarctic diorama and select presents for their nephew (“His mother doesn’t like crafts, you understand. So it can’t be anything messy. And I don’t want to spend more than $5.00. Here. Talk to his mother on the phone…”).
I was so friendly that I earned my first “Praise Card” just a few weeks after I started at The Shop. Head Boss read it to the entire staff at our mandatory meeting in February, and told everyone, “Kat is always friendly. She’s always smiling. Can the rest of us please try to be a bit more like Kat?”
Then she reached into an envelope from Corporate. A padded envelope. For a minute, I thought I was getting some sort of award, but it wasn’t for me. It was for another Associate—a veteran associate who has more Praise Cards than anyone in the history of The Shop—and since she’s a single mom who is trying to keep her teenage daughter in church and out of trouble, I wasn’t even jealous. I was happy for her.
Head Boss called her up in front of the group and informed us that she had earned twenty Praise Cards. Twenty! That was nineteen more than me and twenty more than most associates. As such, she had reached not one but two of Corporate’s Praise Card benchmarks and had therefore earned herself two prizes.
We waited with baited breath as Head Boss reached into the envelope. “First, a new nametag!” she announced. “And…” pausing for dramatic effect, she beamed, “a pin!” We applauded—I mean, that’s what your supposed to do when Corporate bestows “prizes” upon one of your esteemed colleagues, right?—but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed on her behalf.
A nametag? I mean, seriously, a nametag? What is a single mom supposed to do with a nametag? Granted, it was a Deluxe Name Tag, complete with her name printed by Corporate in bold white letters (the rest of us have to make do with stickers printed in the office), and it had a series of holes punched along the bottom for the first of her brass Praise Card pins, but still. A name tag?
I should have known… this is a company that thinks popsicles are an appropriate prize for the shop who raised most money for autism (which we did not, by the way, so now I’ll never know if they were going to spring for good ones—dark chocolate Dove Bars, preferably— or the generic brand).
To her credit, Head Boss hasn’t drunk the Corporate kool-aid. Not completely. “I know that a new nametag isn’t that exciting,” she admitted, “which is why I’ve just had a meeting with the MODs and we’ve decided to offer another prize.”
I crossed my fingers, hoping my co-worker would get a Sunday off maybe, or an extra vacation day, or something, I don’t know, useful. But Head Boss had another idea.
“For any associates who get thirty Praise Cards or more,” she encouraged, “We’re going to treat you to lunch.”
Where? I wondered cynically. You only get a half hour for lunch so as far as I was concerned, “lunch” would probably consist of potato chips consumed in the Wal-mart parking lot.
Until then, I had been worried that I don’t spend much time on the sales floor anymore. But then I found out about the prizes—a nametag, a pin and a “lunch” with the MOD’s—and I stopped worrying. Despite having gotten off to a great start with the Praise Cards, my sum total remains at one. Lots of people tell me I have a very “calming” presence at the register and that I was a “huge help” with their new jewelry business/their son’s Antarctic diorama/their nephew’s birthday present. Most recently, my customers have started saying, “You have a lovely voice, just like a flight attendant.” I think this is compliment, but they don’t write it on a Praise Card so I’m not sure.
At this rate, it would take me ten years to earn lunch with the MOD’s (and I’m not exaggerating; I just did the math). I don’t intend to stick around that long. With any luck, I’ll be out before I earn a personalized nametag (and somebody, please shoot me if I’m not).