Employee dis-empowerment can cost you money

I experienced yet another example on how not empowering employees can cost you real money. Or perhaps from a different point of view, how Singaporeans are so engrossed on “doing things right” instead of “doing the right things”. This particular event occurred with a couple Subway baristas in Raffles City basement.

It was an ordinary morning and I just came out from City Hall MRT and segued my way to the office to get my breakfast at Subway. When I got there it looked like nobody was tending the counter. I tapped the bell twice and an old lady barista came up and then I place my usual order of “Sub of the Day” with Honey Oats and Yellow Mustard.

Sub of the Day

After about a minute afterwards I was unpleasantly surprised when I was charged S$4.90 for it instead of the usual S$4.50. The cash register was attended by a younger, bulkier male barista with earrings on his ear. Then I asked, “Sub of the Day”? He said that I ordered Tuna Sandwich and the Sub of The Day was Egg Mayo. I replied that I ordered “Sub of the Day” and didn’t really know what it was supposed to be. Apparently the auntie made a mistake and forgot what today’s sub was supposed to be.  Then the he threw away the perfectly good sandwich, ordered the much older barista-auntie to make Egg Mayo and gave me the S$0.50 change that I wanted.

If he instead asked me whether I could accept Tuna Sandwich as Sub of The Day and price it accordingly, it would be fine with me. It doesn’t have to cost the company a perfectly good sandwich and I’ll just continue my day merrily. I for one just want a nice S$4.50 sandwich to start my day, whether it’s Egg Mayo, Tuna, or even Tempeh filling, doesn’t really matter for me.

I’m not sure whether the barista throwed away the sandwich because of Company Policy, not enough empowerment, or simply was too focused on “doing things right”. But having been an employee for a few large multinational companies, I can understand his position. In companies like these, people and “higher ups” will question you if you don’t follow instruction “to the letter”. Even if you did what you feel right at the time, it can as well be audited and questioned later on. Which is of course safer to stay “behind the yellow line” and play “by the book” since that’s the entire point of being an employee and working for someone else.

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