Branding and dignity of labour

BL08_HOUSEKEEPING

What is takes to create professional front-liners

Meaningful work has long been one of the most important ways to feel good about oneself. For many of us, self-esteem and job value are interlinked in a fundamental manner. This is why, while sitting at our office food court, I was pleasantly surprised by the housekeeping staff. Well dressed, properly equipped and clean looking, the men went about the work of cleaning dirty tables and sweeping up trash from the floor in an efficient and pleasant manner. On being asked about their job profile, they smilingly told me they were ‘housekeeping staff’ and pointed to their company logo on the uniform. A far cry from the sullen ‘cleaning boys’ of a previous generation.

This got me thinking about the role branding plays in the dignity of work. And how training, proper equipment and a neutral designation helps people feel good about themselves. A quick discussion with my retail team led me to believe this transformation is truly a game-changer.

In our country, millions of people are looking for a better standard of living without proper education or adequate skill sets. They are likely to migrate from rural areas to urban clusters and join the ‘services’ industry in an unskilled capacity. Security guards, drivers, housekeeping staff, domestic help, retail assistants and many more ‘new-age’ jobs are the first stop for the urban migrant. With no saleable skills or degrees, this job will need to provide them and their families a livelihood. Hence, making this job worthwhile is an important part of inclusive growth.

From a retail perspective, the three elements that help upgrade the entry level worker are training, proper equipment and a well-defined job description. After these basic building blocks are in place, some marketing magic can help lift it to the next level. The points to consider on this journey towards dignity of labour are as follows:

Proper training

Training entry-level workers for a specific task is a critical part of retail operations. This is because without proper knowledge there are bound to be problems in execution. Mixing ‘on the job learning’ with systematic training (either class room or with a senior in the field) helps build confidence and awareness. By skipping training, firms may cut costs and reduce cycle time, but will face difficulty in the long run.

In quick service restaurants, which have high employee turnover, we often find badly trained staff manning the counter. They are at times slow and get confused, mixing up orders and not following hygiene guidelines. Sadly, these young people get a lot of flak and work under tremendous pressure because they have not been trained properly. With proper training and supervision they can be more efficient and productive, thereby breaking the cycle of stress, customer dissatisfaction and employee turnover.

Right equipment

Several entry-level jobs involve manual work. This work can be made easier or more efficient with the right equipment and tools. By providing staff with these and training them in correct usage companies can increase productivity and make their lives easier.

Housekeeping staff using gloves, cleaning sprays, industrial strength wipes and other such aids do a much better job than people using dirty rags. Moreover, by using this equipment, the employee experiences less physical discomfort and feels better about the job.

Proper job description

A well-defined job description helps employees irrespective of their position in the company. For people who have entered the work-force for the first time or are handling urban services from a rural background, getting a clear job description enables them to feel in control.

Distributor salesmen have a difficult job. They do a lot of physical travel, handle sales pressure and often do not enjoy job security. It is advisable to give them a detailed list of stores to cover in each market, route maps for efficiency and store specific targets based on stocking guidelines and promotions. Clear targets with incentive schemes also help ensure job clarity.

Expecting them to provide detailed updates on competitor surveillance or POP displays is incorrect – unless they have been properly briefed and asked to include it in their job description.

Branding for exponential effect

Once the basics are in place, a bit of branding helps to take it to the next level. This would involve a neutral designation, a smart and comfortable uniform with the logo placed in a prominent place, brightly coloured tools to indicate the person is a skilled worker and easy-to-use charts for on-the-job learning.

Frequent communication announcing high performers and updating them on the business leader’s perspective helps to foster a feeling of community.

Reward and recognition programmes also facilitate employee engagement but cannot help a person remain in a soul-destroying job.

It is recommended that the marketing teams avoid cutting corners (cost) when it comes to uniforms and communication collateral at the entry level. Using polyester instead of cotton may reduce the cost of a T-shirt but has an adverse impact on sweat absorption and resultant body odour. Similarly, a flimsy poster will not last more than a few days whereas a laminated document survives for longer on the shop floor.

As our services sector expands and grows, the role of the entry-level worker becomes increasingly important. Moreover, research clearly indicates the last mile – usually fulfilled by our foot soldiers, plays a big role in customer satisfaction. By providing our junior staff with proper training, equipment and a clear job description we can help them gain a degree of control over their surroundings and become more productive. Marketing inputs help in this journey as branding efforts can elevate a mundane job to the next level.

Rini Dutta is co-founder and principal, Centric Brand Advisors

Published on May 08, 2017

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