As you are out and about do you engage with retail workers? I mean not just asking where the underwear section is, but actually talking to them and if they’re wearing a name tag using their name. You know, direct and personal. I’ve always tried to engage in a personal way thinking this will make them more receptive and helpful. I mean they are wearing their name on their shirt or smock or…well you see what I mean. So I may have been off base with that line of thinking. Eric Zorn had a column in the Trib. this morning that has throw me off! Here’s the gist of it:
“For many years, for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger
on, I refrained from addressing retail and service industry
employees by the names on their nametags.
Something about it seemed wrong — presumptuous, overly
familiar — even though the tag itself seemed to invite the
practice. Then I came across the following passage in Jacob
Tomsky’s 2012 nonfiction book, “Heads in Beds: A
Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called
Hospitality.” “Though people are forced to wear nametags, you should
never feel comfortable enough to actually call them by
their names,” Tomsky wrote. “Gluing a nametag to
anyone’s chest makes him or her subordinate. Using it
without permission implies that you are aware of this fact
and don’t mind rudely pointing it out. To pick the name off
a tag and use it, whatever your intention, makes employees
acutely feel they have lost their personal worth; that they
themselves are included in the price. Their mothers use
that name … What right do you have to use it? Just
because you walked into the lobby? My advice is to ask for
permission.” That put it together for me. Using someone’s name when
they don’t know yours is asymmetrical intimacy that has a
whiff of infantilization, particularly when the employee
doesn’t have a choice about wearing a label.
But am I being overly sensitive? Although I worked in
restaurants in high school and college, I never had to wear
a nametag, so I put the question out on social media along
with Tomsky’s quote. Here, lightly edited, are some of the
comments from Facebook:
• “Although the service employee’s name is on display,
that employee is usually not at liberty to ask the
customer’s name, which would be the normal
sequence in an equal social interaction. This puts the
employee in an inferior social position and so is not
the American way.” — Casey H.
• “Using someone’s name personalizes, rather than
demeans, them. I always try to introduce myself to
someone if I’m using their first name. If they take it
negatively, I’m sorry. Maybe they’re in the wrong line
of work.” — Brian G.
• “I’m creeped out when I hear a customer address a
service industry person by their first name based on a
nametag. It feels demeaning somehow, particularly
when there is a power imbalance between the person
with the tag and the untagged person.” — Debra B.
• “If someone’s doing a great job, I want to be able to
use their name when complimenting them to the
management.” — Heather W.
• “My nametag gave a stalker enough of a clue to get my
phone number and find me at home. Detestable piece
of plastic!” — Carol A.
• “When a customer feels mistreated by an employee, it
can help to use the employee’s name, calmly, so they
realize you can ID them to their bosses.” — Conrad P.
• “If done with the right tone, using a first name is a
leveler of status. It makes the employee a person and
not just your servant.” — Gregg F.
• “I hate when strangers call me by my first name
unless I first offer it to them.” — Barbara S.
• “I wore nametags in many jobs. It never bothered me
when someone used my name. I liked that better than
‘miss,’ or, worse, ‘ma’am.’ Don’t people have more
important things to gripe about?” — Mary F.
I can’t think of a more important global issue right now,
Ms. F., so, I created two unscientific click polls and posted
them to Twitter, home of rational thinking. The results
were similarly mixed.
First, I asked those who have or had jobs that required
them to wear nametags how they felt about customers
using their names. Out of 146 respondents, 24 percent said
they didn’t like it, while 21 percent said they liked it and 55
percent said they didn’t care one way or the other.
Then I asked customers about their habits: Do you tend to
address employees by the names on their tags?
Out of 198 responses, 76 percent said they seldom use the
names and 24 percent said they often do.
What’s the best practice? If you’re inclined toward first name familiarity, ask first and then offer your name in
return as a show of respect. But either way, always treat
employees with the kindness and dignity with which you’d
treat a friend or a neighbor. That’s never out of line.
I think I’ll start shopping online more!