Leadership Mints Series Sampler on Reprimanding Idle Employees

Busy cashiers finally got a breather.The long lines of customers in the checkout lane finally disappeared. Two cashiers on adjacent lanes capitalized on the respite. They began chatting.

A third employee joined the conversation while both cashiers visually checked to be sure no customers needed to be served. All three were engaged in a business-related conversation during the lull. Until they weren’t.

“Hey is anybody here on break or what?” barked the supervisor who seemed to suddenly barge into their threesome with a force of a bowling ball.

All three employees stopped chatting. One noted that they were discussing an important business issue regarding  safety.

The supervisor shook his head from side to side and walked away as the three employees halted their hugfest and went back to their posts even though no customers were yet in line to be served.

The three employees felt devalued more than deflated, discarded more than simply discounted. And the business no longer could count on the three employees to do their best work. They settled for going through the motions. 

The supervisor had
won the battle and lost the war.

What would a loving leader have done in the same situation to be sure idle employees stay focused on the job even when they have no customers to serve?

A loving leader might consider the ACT intervention process to help their employees remember they are on the clock, getting paid to work together not chat together: ACT stands for Acknowledge, Clarify & Teach.


A is for Acknowledge: Acknowledge the situation from the employee’s point of view. “Nice to get a chance to visit with each other when business slows down like this,” the supervisor could have said.


C is for Clarify: Clarify how the situation looks from the customer perspective. “Customers get frustrated when they sense that we see them as an intrusion in our conversation,” the supervisor could have noted.


T is for Teach. Establish the perceived tension between the customer and the cashier and teach the value in a change in behavior that first and foremost meets the employee’s needs and secondarily supports the organization’s profitability.

Of course we all know the customer is our life-blood: fewer customers , fewer sales, fewer new hires which means more work for us,” the supervisor could have said. “Thanks for staying at your posts even in slow times so we keep those customers feeling like we want to serve them and we are more able to control how hard we have to work. Otherwise, we would have to do the same amount of work with fewer employees since we would stop hiring if it begins to look like business has slowed significantly.”

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