Over the weekend, a friend asked me to meet her at a certain restaurant in one of the malls around Karen shopping centre. It is an Italian restaurant that specialises in Italian fare and is popular with quite a number of Italians.
As you can imagine, based on just location, it is not a place that can be described as cheap.
When I arrived, I stood at the periphery of the outdoor space, trying to spot my friend, but didn’t have to stand there for long because an attentive waiter immediately came to my aid.
“Any particular place you’d like to seat?” He politely asked.
I explained that I was meeting someone, and he immediately pointed to where my friend was seated alone and asked whether she was the one I was meeting. To cut a long story short, he led me to the table and took my order.
During that short interaction, I had noticed his old and washed out work uniform – yellow polo t-shirt fast turning cream due to many months of repeated washing and frayed at the collar, washed out brown trousers coming apart at the hems, and on his feet, black leather shoes whose heels had been eaten proper on one side by the tarmac.
His colleagues, all men – I counted five, wore similar uniforms, all in the same state of disrepair, some wearing ‘rubber’ shoes that had seen better days. Poverty in the midst of wealth. Standing there, they were a stark contrast to the affluent-looking, expensively dressed guests they had been employed to wait on. And they looked misplaced, out of depth in that swanky place among the well-to-do patrons and the rich food they were serving.
It was a sorry sight that said a lot about these men’s employer. First, he didn’t care about their welfare – I mean, the least you can do for your employees is ensure that they looked presentable if they wear a uniform to work. When it begins to wear out, replace it.
My observation also suggested that he probably did not pay them well. Simply put, he was not a good employer and there are many things that bad employers don’t do for their workers besides not paying them well.
It also told me that the owner of the restaurant was not an enlightened business person because if he were, he would understand that his employees are the face of his business, the brand ambassadors, if you like. I could go a step further and say that one’s employees reflect how healthy or how ill a business is.
Being a conscientious person, I felt uncomfortable being served by the waiter that had shown me to my table, and even felt guilty partaking of the expensive food and drink he had served me, aware that, perhaps, he was struggling to feed his family at that point. My friend and I tipped him generously even though we knew that it wouldn’t change his circumstances at work. We also knew that we would not return there again.
I have said it here again. It makes no sense to invest millions in your organisation’s structure: offices in an affluent neighbourhood, the latest technology, state-of-the-art décor, prosperous-looking reception, but fail to invest in your employees. Your business will fail. It might not fail today or tomorrow, but eventually, it will come tumbling down, because employees are the backbone of any organisation.
The writer is editor, Society and Magazines, Daily Nation. Email: cnjunge@ ke.nationmedia.com