Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Leisurely lunches: the enemy of customer service?

You can hardly turn on the TV or open a newspaper without someone banging on about we’re losing the ‘work-life balance’. Apparently we work longer and harder than lots of our European neighbours getting fewer public holidays to boot. What with the added trauma of a recession causing people to fear for their jobs it’s easy to conjure up mental pictures of masses employees being chained to desks for anything up to the maximum 48 hours a week toiling ceaselessly in exchange for a few pennies to keep the bailiffs from the door.

As someone blissfully excused the horrors of working in an office I always have a great deal of sympathy for those who do. There’s lots about it to hate and everyone who endures it has their own personal favourite. Back in the days when I did have to, mine was always the totally unnecessary stress of trying to get anything done in your lunch hour. Seemingly innocuous tasks would turn into one of the labours of Hercules if you needed to perform them in that precious 58 minute window between a morning of drudgery and an afternoon of willing the clock forward.

Nipping to the bank, returning an item of unwanted or ill-fitting clothing or even attempting a spot of online booking suddenly became impossible as huge queues awaited, cashiers went on their breaks and the server crashed due to sheer volume of people suddenly checking Facebook. All the while blood pressure levels rose as I tried to simultaneously gobble down a sandwich, reply to a text and somehow not to lose my temper with the total and utter inefficiency of the world before I was back on the clock again.

Now I can be much more flexible I try organise my day so that over lunchtime I’m at a desk furiously tapping and scribbling leaving all my errands for the tranquil and civilised periods before and after. However, it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes it simply happens that stopping to make food and eat it is the stimulus your brain needs to remember those little things you need to do- popping to the post office, booking a dreaded doctor’s appointment and so on.

So when I realised sometime around 12.45pm that I had to send a letter recorded delivery that day, I cursed. Of course I could wait until later but then I ran the risk of getting engrossed in what I was doing, forgetting it and before I knew the Post Office would be shut. Far better to strike while the iron was hot I told myself pulling on shoes and coat and setting off.

If only the Royal Mail’s super helpful website had told me under the section entitled ‘Opening Hours’ that my local branch was shut between 1 and 2pm. Stood waving my arms at 1.02pm there was nothing to do but go back home, wait and then return later wondering if this was the last place in the greater London metropolitan area to still close for lunch.

But I bit my tongue. Think of someone else’s work life balance and the fact they are allowed to eat in peace and digest for more than three and half seconds. I can’t begrudge them that. It’s only an hour after all.

Then it came to arguably the most irritating act of life admin: booking a doctor’s appointment. We’ve complained about it before- long and hard and all with good reason. However it’s made even more difficult by the fact that my local surgery is closed over the time when most people are most likely to make that phone call. From 12.30 to 2pm all you get is a curt message telling you that the answering machine does not even accept messages. Wonderful.

During this busy time the three, or four, receptionists who are usually on duty (and by that I mean discussing their personal lives and ignoring the queue of patients) all stop simultaneously to have their lunch break simultaneously for a leisurely hour and a half. Well I mean, that’s just a basic human right isn’t it? Surely someone with such a high profile, life-and-death-in-the-palm-of-the-hand sort of job of booking appointments needs a full ninety minutes each and every day to feed and rest so they can get through the long stretch until five o’clock.

Then, just when I thought that the business of lunch breaks couldn’t get any worse- or more ridiculous, I rang the vet to schedule a routine appointment for the pooch. Here the middle of the day madness has reached new heights when they informed me they closed for a whopping two and a half hours from 11.30am until 2pm every day. Unable to hide my shock I asked if this meant they stayed open late into the evening. You know so that people who work 9 – 5 can still get their sick pets seen. Apparently not. They close at 6pm sharp.

Now, granted I’ve never worked in one of those establishments so I can’t pass comment on how much behind-the-scenes stuff goes on while the door is locked and the shutters are down. Nonetheless, I find it incredible that in the 24 hour world we now live in that businesses and moreover, public services, continue to operate in such an antiquated manner making life a great deal harder for those engaged in the daily grind of running the rat race. Read more by Rosie.