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Pilfered Lunches Point to a Bigger Employee Problem

The Napkin, the Melon and the MonkeyStealing lunches from the office frig could be a symptom of a more serious problem — low employee engagement.

“Hunger does crazy things to you,” was the comment made by an employee interviewed on the Today Show segment, “Pains in the Office.” While physical hunger is one reason employees pilfer lunches, I suspect that employees who steal from each other have a different kind of hunger.

If your office is experiencing a rise in the number of stolen lunches, you are not alone. Recently several call center managers told me that they’re getting a lot more “stolen lunch” complaints. It’s no coincidence that these are the same managers who are plagued by low employee morale.

Low morale can have disastrous effects. When employees are dissatisfied and chronically unhappy they are less committed to delivering great customer service. Low employee engagement translates into sub-standard productivity, too many customer complaints, low customer satisfaction scores, negative turnover, and high operating costs.

If you have an employee morale problem, you have an employee engagement problem. Start by measuring engagement with a survey. I predict that one of the things you will learn from the survey results is that your employees yearn for a different, more personalized type of support from their immediate supervisor. When supervisors provide each employee with the right blend of coaching and mentoring, they feel more valued. When front-line employees feel valued, they make their customers feel valued.

I guarantee that once you satisfy your employees’ hunger for quality face time with their supervisor, they’ll have less reason to pilfer lunches from the office frig.

According to research by the Gallup Organization, only 28% of the 80,000 employees surveyed considered themselves fully engaged in their work. Even more troubling, many call centers report employee engagement levels of less than 20%. When 80% of the workforce is delivering sub-par performance, operating costs rise, efficiency drops and customer satisfaction suffers.

Supervisors play a pivotal role in driving employee engagement. In 2008, Vertex, a leader in business process outsourcing, conducted an innovative project that demonstrated that when supervisors get the correct training in coaching and mentoring skills, employee engagement improves dramatically. The ground-breaking project involved 250 reps from two call centers and included 21 supervisors. The results were impressive. Within three months after the supervisors completed training, the engagement survey scores jumped an average of 10%.

Five important lessons were uncovered by this project:

1. Supervisors required four things in order to improve the engagement and commitment of their employees:

  • Time. Internal surveys revealed that what the reps craved was more “face time” with their supervisor. Supervisors discovered that they could easily increase the amount of time they spent with their employees if they let go of “low-value” tasks and activities.
  • Accountability. Supervisors were accountable for employee engagement scores so had an incentive to acquire the necessary coaching and mentoring skills.
  • Training. The design of classroom training included ample opportunities for supervisors to NMM new cover onlypractice their coaching and mentoring skills.
  • Tools. The shared experience that came from reading a fable book that illustrated solutions fortypical work and life challenges, opened the door for meaningful conversations.

2. Employee morale improved across the board when supervisors focused less on enforcing performance standards and spent more time forging a positive, supportive relationship with individual employees.

3. Culture change takes time. To create a positive work environment in which employees are honored and valued required a sustained effort by the supervisors and upper management.

4. When employees have a positive relationship with their supervisor and feel appreciated for their contributions, they have fewer reasons to look for employment elsewhere.

5. The most valuable employee engagement surveys measure the quality of support employees receive from their immediate supervisor. That data helped supervisors measure their effectiveness and make adjustments as necessary.

Their secret to success was training supervisors to utilize a fable book, The Napkin, the Melon and the Monkey, as a tool for engaging customer service reps in “conversations that matter.” When trust increased, so did engagement. If employee engagement improvement is a goal for 2010 or 2011, let’s have a conversation.

Pilfered Lunches Point to a Bigger Employee Problem

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Barbara Burke

Barbara Burke has spent the last 24 years as a customer service consultant, workshop leader and keynote speaker. She is the author of THE NAPKIN, THE MELON & THE MONKEY: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Changing Your Mind. Known as an international expert and thought leader in employee engagement, Barbara is passionate about helping customer-facing employees discover and use their personal power. Learn more about Barbara on her website.

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APA Reference
Burke, B. (2018). Pilfered Lunches Point to a Bigger Employee Problem. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Feb 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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