Ensuring dignity for staff is not difficult!

“Treat others with dignity and respect (Ho‘ohanohano): One way to honor the dignity of your staff is by equipping them well for the job at hand.” — Managing with Aloha Chapter 13

There are unbelievably simple hiccups which can be corrected in workplaces so easily, yet they are not addressed. When I see employees caught up in these transgressions it hurts my heart.

Ho‘ohanohano is the work value in Managing with Aloha which beseeches managers to respect and honor the dignity of others. Significant within this, is putting your staff in situations where they are rarely embarrassed or made to look foolish, ill-equipped, and unprepared.

On my way home from the airport today I stopped at Wal*Mart with my two children for some sundries, and this was the scene that played out.

Our cashier and checker was a younger gentleman (we’ll call him Sam) who seemed to be a good picture of efficiency until the woman in front of us paid him with a 100-dollar bill, catching him without change to give her. Just as he said to her, “I’m really sorry, someone right before you paid me with a large bill too, and I’ll have to call for change” another employee swooped in and picked up the phone Sam started to reach for. We all waited as this second employee (we’ll call him Buddy) completed his call on something unrelated, while Sam timidly stood behind him and waited, not able to give the woman the $62.14 he owed her.

As Buddy hung up the phone, he asked Sam, “Hey, why are you keeping everyone waiting?” Sam responded that he needed to call for change, and now deciding to be helpful, Buddy picked up the phone again and dialed, saying to the person who answered, “Yeah, this is Buddy. I’m at station — hey kid, what station is this? — station 14, and the kid here needs change. Okay wait. Hey kid, how much change do you need, and what’s your name?”

Sam answered him, and Buddy relayed, “His name is Sam, and he needs five twenties for a hundred dollar bill.”

Now by this time there are about four more people in line waiting, the woman in front of us is growing visibly more impatient, and Sam is flushed and embarrassed, studying the floor so intently that he has not noticed something. My daughter Ashley is standing less than three feet away from him waiting to pay for about $40 worth of stuff with another 100-dollar bill held in her hand.

Listening to Buddy, Ash turns to me and quietly says, “I think we better pay with something else mom; can we use your charge card?” A second later, Buddy turns to Sam and says, “You’ll just have to wait kid, she says she has 2 other stations waiting for change before you” as he hangs up the phone, turns and walks away.

Knowing we’ve heard Buddy too, Sam withdraws into himself and just prepares to wait, straightening the insufficiently few dollars in his cash drawer, and doing his best to avoid eye contact with anyone else.

My son, my daughter and I all reach for our wallets and see what we can come up with, and I volunteer, “Sam, can you do another transaction before you give her the change? I can’t give you five twenties for the hundred dollar bill, but if you ring us up, we can probably pay you with enough cash to take care of her.” With immense gratitude breaking over his face, Sam rings us up, we pay him with our cash, and the first woman is able to get her change and walk away.

As we collect our own bags and leave Sam and Station 14, my son waits until we are safely out of earshot, and says, “I guess you don’t have to know the other people you work with or learn how to read nametags, or talk quietly and have some class when you work at Wal*Mart.” My daughter says, “Poor Sam, I’m glad we were next in line mom.”

My children weren’t alone in continuing to think about the whole episode. Sam could not have been older than 19 or 20, and I hated the thought that this was his introduction to the wonderful adult world of work.

All the missing elements are so obvious I know I don’t have to list them here for you. Yet managers in countless workplaces will continue to put employees in situations similar to Sam’s.

Please, please, do not be one of those managers. Manage your own work operations with aloha: Ensuring that your staff can work for you while keeping their own dignity intact is not difficult.


  1. says

    A Wal-Mart story from Rosa Say

    Business coach, Rosa Say, has a really interesting story about shopping in Wal-Mart. The gist of it is that supermarket retail can be a pretty grim work environment sometimes:

  2. says

    Ah, Rosa, poor Sam. But, poor you and your children. One must ask…why did you stop at Wal-Mart? This is merely another true example (unlike the commercials which are orchestrated so carefully) of the true Wal-Mart attitude. Perhaps there is another store you might visit…next time. The more business we consumers give Wal-Mart, the more of the world they try to control.
    My hats off to you and your rescue of Sam. And, we can hope that he moves on to a more pleasant working environment…with the memory that a customer in line took the time to reach out and offer him some help — freely and openly, with — no doubt — a smile. Another demerit for Wal-Mart — and a flower to you and your children. With an extra pat on the back for Sam.
    (one wonders…were you steered to Wal-Mart that day to show Sam the goodness in people’s hearts, when he clearly wasn’t getting it from his co-workers? There is food for thought.)

  3. says

    Aloha Yvonne, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
    Why did we choose Wal*Mart? Convenience on this particular day after some particularly tiresome travel, and as a whole I do admit to having mixed feelings about shopping with the retail giant. While their entry into our neighborhood did result in other unfortunate small business closures, today the fact remains that they have become a community fixture and many here depend on them for employment – so I want to see them get better as an employer who learns to manage with aloha, and makes more significant contributions to the community that supports them.
    They aren’t going away, and so we need to hold them to a higher standard.
    I also chose to share this story on my blog because this doesn’t only happen at Wal*Mart: situations such as these escape the notice of managers everywhere in many different work environments daily. We need to get better at watching for them, and more than that, being proactive so that they never occur. Sam should have been given better training and better tools (his cash bank was very insufficient – so obvious since he himself was in line for relief, and such an easy fix!) and he deserved to be treated with much more respect by his own peers.
    I do like your final thought, that perhaps we were steered to Wal*Mart that day for a good reason. I’m hoping Talking Story helps spread the awareness that managers matter big time, and we need to get it in gear.
    We can all make a difference :) Rosa