If you work in the service industry, my guess is that you wear some sort of name tag or visible insignia to communicate who you are.
Over the years, these name tags have evolved to include more than just your name and company logo… they can also include your hometown, how many years you’ve worked there, special accomplishments, and in some cases, your favorite movie. Why do we do this? To identify ourselves as employees and highlight our unique qualities, experience and background – all in the name of communicating the uniqueness of each of our employees and making a personal connection with our guests, which could lead to a conversation which could lead to a better experience.
We find a name tag so important that we make it part of an employee’s required wardrobe and insist that they wear one at all costs.
Even if it’s not their own. Better to have someone else’s name tag than none at all.
Really? Let’s look a little deeper.
Our most personal attribute is our name. Our name identifies us, it separates us from everyone else, and even though there may be a million people with the same name, our name is our name, and that means something.
To strengthen the bond between service worker and guest, we train employees to use a guests’ name if they see it on a credit card or annual pass. Sales people in all industries are trained to use a persons name to show they care and that they are on their side. Networking 101 tells us to use a persons name 3 times in the first few minutes of an interaction, not only so you remember it (which is important), but they know that you know who they are.
So… names are important, but what’s the message we are sending when we allow – in fact insist – an employee wears any ol’ name tag just so they are in uniform? It’s not a good one.
First, let’s acknowledge that by telling an employee to wear the wrong name tag, we are telling them to break a rule. It’s probably in your handbook or on a poster somewhere that a name tag is part of their uniform and needs to be worn at all times. It’s hard enough to get employees to follow rules… don’t help them NOT follow your rules by being the one to encourage them to break it.
(PS – while your employee is seeing you tell them to break this rule, they are going to wonder which of your other rules are optional as well.)
Next, all that stuff about identifying the employee and starting conversations – out the window. Ever try to get an employee’s attention by calling their name (or the name you saw on their name tag), but got no response? People usually don’t turn around when they hear a different name being called. So Dan from the Bronx might actually be Joe from Orlando. A guest trying to strike up a conversation with Dan about their hometown in New York will be disappointed when Joe says, “Oh, yeah, that’s not really my name and I’m not from the Bronx.”
Lastly, and most importantly, as Joe is saying, “that’s not my name”, subconsciously he could be thinking, “they just make me wear a name tag, it doesn’t matter what it says.” (He might even say that to the guest.) It’s not a far stretch for Joe to start thinking that if it doesn’t matter who he is based on his name tag, that it won’t really matter who he is as a person. Since we told him to wear any ol’ name tag and get to work, we’re the ones who told him that he’s not important. See? I told you it wasn’t good.
While it’s easy to have some spare name tags lying around in the event that an employee doesn’t have theirs, think of the long term impacts of that practice. In the short term, you may get an employee to cover a shift. In the long term, you may be building a culture that the employee doesn’t want to work in.
Thanks for reading.
About the author: Matt is 5’9″. Matt wears glasses. Matt likes “Life is Good” t-shirts. Who wrote this blog post? Oh yeah, Matt.