Occasionally, retail employees “break the rules” to help customers. However, what inspires some to do so? For example, a shop assistant who provides a refund without a docket, or a flight attendant who arranges a free meal for a passenger who is unable to pay.
One mechanism, hope, develops employees’ intentions of straying from usual workplace norms to provide benefits to the customer, themselves and the organisation. While some studies have investigated the role of hope in the context of clinical psychology, there has been little research on hope in an employee–retail/service organisation setting.
Studies of employee workplace deviance intentions generally highlight the negative impact of employees’ deviant behaviour on organisational outcomes. However, it is also possible that a competent employee may deviate from their company’s procedures, norms, and policies with the intention to provide support to their customer.
In a report by Fazel-E-Hasan, Mortimer,Lings & Drennan, (2019), the authors discuss a study in which researchers used a survey to capture responses from 270 retail and services sector workers. The study examines the relationship between:
All items were adapted to suit the context and measured using a seven-point Likert scale.
The study found the direct positive impact of hope on positive deviance intentions was significant. Furthermore, positive deviance intention was found to positively impact employee goal attainment and perceived organisational performance. This is the first study to empirically demonstrate this.
In other words, the study found that employees hope that by “bending the rules a little”, a customer will come back, spend more money or provide positive feedback on our performance.
Although, it is important to note that customer-oriented positive deviance intentions are different from workplace deviance intentions, which refer to actions with the intent to go against organisational norms and policies. Unlike positive deviance intentions, workplace deviance intentions may threaten the organisation’s wellbeing and sabotage its policies and systems.
Also important to note, customer-oriented positive deviance intentions are typically initiated by the customer and reciprocated by the employee, without interference by the organisation. For example, a customer asking for a discount, such as 10% off a product, when there is no promotion running, and the worker complying in hopes of creating a return customer and/or positive feedback for themselves and the company.
If employees perceive that they can progress towards a goal, they should attain a positive affective state of hope, which reinforces the agency and pathway thinking process to voluntarily depart from the norms of the workplace, for the favourable outcomes for a customer and organisation.
Employees with hope appear to be flexible thinkers, and are more likely to achieve their goals. However, employees with no or little hope are not likely to exhibit this kind of flexibility and could feel skeptical about straying from the norms of the workplace, as they cannot see benefit to these actions.
This research contributes to theory by providing a model for improving retail and service organisational strategies through the development of effective employee-organisation relationship marketing campaigns, which encourage employees’ customer-oriented behaviours.
The employee hope model offers a better understanding of positive outcomes of employee deviance, suggesting that retail managers should invest resources to build strong employee–organisation relationships.
After all, if a company accounts for the interests of the whole person and not just the work person, they are likely to get more value from them. This is where employees see their growth as a function of their workplace’s growth, and therefore their deviance intentions helping customers and benefiting both themselves and their employer.
Concluding their analysis, the authors identified some ways in which retail organisations could improve procedures in order to foster stronger employee-organisation relationships and outcomes. They recommended that organisations should employ hope-finding, bonding, enhancing, and reminding strategies to build and continue feelings of hope in their employees.
Hope finding strategies strengthen workers’ expectations that their employer will assist them. Bolstering employees’ expectations of help may build feelings of hope for change, and also strengthen the trust-based relationship between them and their employer. This trustworthy relationship creates a happier and more beneficial workplace, where the partnership is strong and satisfying, with shared goals.
Hope-enhancing strategies may involve the employee and supervisor visualising and agreeing upon goals, allowing them to determine multiple pathways to achieve positive outcomes. This could include options such as flexible working conditions, a variety of career paths, and allowing them to reframe obstacles as challenges to be overcome.
Hope-reminding strategies involve the consistent and intentional efforts to use goal thoughts. Reminding employees of these goal thoughts stimulates them to incorporate effective techniques that have previously aided in the betterment and progress of their organisation.
In summary, businesses should give their employees discretion to help customers by way of positive deviance and employ strategies to encourage their feelings of hope. As outlined within this article, understanding the role of hope in positive organisational behaviours and human resource strategies can be very beneficial to the workplace.
To learn more or to discover how QUTeX can work with your organisation to develop capability in your team, guide your strategy or strengthen your leaders, contact Kristy Hammond: Kristy.firstname.lastname@example.org
Article adapted from: Fazal-E-Hasan, Syed, Mortimer, Gary, Lings, Ian, & Drennan, Judy (2019) Examining customer-oriented positive deviance intentions of retail employees. International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, 47(8), pp. 836-854. View original.