Ethnography: Employee Behavior at Cafeteria

Introduction

Ethnography is a systemic analysis of people and their cultures (Richardson, 2013; Fine, 2013; Kottak, 2005). For our ethnography assignment, we decided to study life at the cafeteria cited three blocks from our resident building. To ensure anonymity, this paper refers to the cafeteria as “The Point” and assigns fictitious names to the characters. The ethnography compares the employees’ values when the manager is present at The Point and when he is not.

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Values refer to traditional standards of conduct upheld in society (Gerber & Rogers, 2009). There may be a relationship between the manager’s presence and the employees’ values. Although the purpose of the ethnography is the employees’ values, gender and responsibility also contribute to the activities at The Point. This paper investigates the relationship between manager availability and employee dedication. Thus, the study will respond to the question: “How does a manager’s absence affect employees’ performance?”

Methodology

The working environment of The Point cafeteria will be used for the study. The Point is a small cafeteria established to satisfy the daily coffee necessities of the students’ community by offering drinks, snacks, and small chops. At the entrance of The Point is a table behind which workers stand and serve customers. A sandwich pub is located after the buffet and provides all the items necessary to prepare a sandwich.

The adjoining room has a cappuccino making machine and contains the salad and soup parlor. The Point also provides a banquet room for customers to eat in. The banquet hall drapes around the base of the building and has a glass pane that looks onto the school, which gives customers an interesting view of the basketball court, football field, monumental fountain, and the recreational park. One of four televisions installed in the diner was close to the table from where the ethnographic observations were made.

The ethnography was performed by observing the employees of The Point at their workplace from 18th to 22nd October 2015. I assumed the role of the observer during the study. The observations for the project covered five days. I took four days to observe the employees when the manager was not present, and the last day is when the manager “Trisha” was back from her holidays. The first items I noted were the various tasks and special assignments the workers are required to perform. The Point has many employments, which include, five cooks (in the basement), janitors (main floor and basement), three entry waiters, one soup/salad waiter, three sandwich makers and waiters, one clerk, three plate washers, one order runner (moves orders from the basement to the main floor), and five part-time managers.

Findings/Conclusion

The tasks are delegated differently among the genders and the female employees are assigned jobs that involve attending to customers and distributing food, such as the entry servers and sandwich makers. Thus, females were restricted to tasks that typically involve slicing food to give specific appearances, such as sandwiches that need to be folded in certain ways. The male employees seemed to be assigned to tasks that require physical strength, such as, lifting, mopping floors, and dishwashing. For example, the diary and drink employee was required to lift gallons of beverages frequently and carry bags of sauce used in the drink-making machine.

Male employees were also mostly food runners because the activity requires heavy lifting at various times. Floor tasks, which comprised sweeping, lifting waste, mopping, and moving heavy cooking utensils, were also assigned to male employees. It appears that gender role significantly contributes to the decision of what each worker’s task should be for the observed period.

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The Point may be viewed as a type of bureaucracy because it satisfies the definition. A bureaucracy comprises job delegation, hierarchical categorization, and stipulated rules and standards that guide the work process (Wilson, 2009). Similar to any bureaucracy, a hierarchy means that each job level is supervised by another hierarchical level (Jacobides, 2007). At The Point, there are three hierarchical levels, which include the employees, the supervisors, and the manager.

On the days when the manager was absent and The Point functioned within two hierarchical levels, and the effects of the manager’s absence on employees’ performances and conformity to organizational norms could be observed. The management of The Point has set various rules that must be adhered to by the employees. For instance, all employees are restricted from using iPods, texting, or making phone calls during work periods. Employees are required to keep standing provided there are customers in the cafeteria.

The employees’ actions and behaviors appeared to remain the same in the four days of the manager’s absence. When there were few consumers, or sometimes when there were many consumers, the entry staff would sit on a table behind the entrance and move towards the buffet when the customer requested an order. Employees were also seen sitting in different groups on the break table. These employees sat for hours and operated their iPods and Smartphones notwithstanding the presence of customers. The employees freely watched the television and loudly discussed the contents of the airing shows.

It seems the employees chose to watch a different show every night and some of the shows including House of Cards, Empire, American Idol, and Game of Thrones. The employees who mostly watched the shows were the janitors, food runners, and the salad/soup bar waiters.

For this aspect of the ethnography, we interviewed “Mark,” the janitor. During the interview, I asked him to narrate his job description, and if he thought he did his tasks differently when Trisha was present. Mark explained that the day was “quite slow.” He further narrated that he usually stood by the corner with his cleaning materials watching to ensure that any spills were quickly cleaned. We asked Mark why Trisha’s presence would make a difference and he explained that she was “really keen on ensuring that nobody left our post and she always made us adhere strictly to meager twenty minutes break… She’ll go crazy if she saw me texting on my Smartphone.” When I asked Mark if he will have such liberty after Trisha returned the next day, he replied “Not at all! She will definitely come back nagging about every other as she typically does,” and then the remaining employees giggled and nodded in concurrence.

As anticipated by Mark, the following day was significantly different. Trisha had returned and spent most of the time going around the rooms of The Point, to ensure that the pots were packed, the warmers contained sufficient food, and the ground surfaces were impeccably clean. The break time table had only two employees per time, none of whom spent more than fifteen minutes. Employees stood behind the entry bar all through the night and the janitor continually swept and mopped the floor the three hours I spent at The Point.

From what I witnessed, I concluded that the standards and behaviors of the employees were reduced by the manager’s absence. Employees appeared to be unperturbed, mostly because the supervisors were younger and approachable. Even though all necessary tasks are accomplished, the employees are not serious with their tasks when Trisha is absent. The supervisors are negligent with the standards and employees perform restricted activities, such as texting and using Smartphones. However, Trisha’s presence puts pressure on the employees to perform their assigned tasks and eliminates all forms of play in the workplace.

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Conclusion

The research question was answered by observing the change in employees’ standards in the presence and absence of their manager. The results of the ethnographic study showed that standards change if nobody is present to impose them. Trisha’s absence reduced the work standards of The Point’s employees. The phenomenon of lower standards in the absence of supervision is common everywhere, for instance, not using a seatbelt when driving, children not doing their chores without parents’ supervision, and students being truant when there is no teacher.

Interviewing one participant was a limitation of the research because it restricted the primary data to one person’s perception. Thus, the perceptions of the other participants were eliminated, which may have affected the results of the project. If the project were to be repeated, I will get a wider perception of the employees by generating information from more participants.

References

Fine, G. (2013). Ten lies of ethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 22(3), 267-294.

Gerber, A. & Rogers, T. (2009). Descriptive social norms and motivation to vote: Everybody’s voting and so should you. The Journal of Politics, 71(1), 178–191.

Jacobides, M. (2007). The inherent limits of organizational structure and the unfulfilled role of hierarchy: Lessons from a near-war. Organization Science, 18(3), 455-477.

Kottak, C. P. (2005). Window on Humanity: A Concise Introduction to General Anthropology. New York: McGraw Hill.

Richardson, L. (2013). Evaluating ethnography. Qualitative Inquiry, 6(2), 253-255.

Wilson, J. (2009). Bureaucracy. New York: Basic Books.

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Appendix

Coded Project Field Notes

Day 1

  • Time: 5:00PM to 7:30PM
  • Absence of Trisha
  • The cleaner is more reactive than proactive because he cleans only when a client spills a drink.
  • Employees spent more than twenty minutes on the break table.
  • Employees watched a TV show from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
  • Waiters behind the buffet sat on the table and attended to customers only when they placed their orders.

Day 2

  • Time: 5:00PM to 7:30PM
  • Absence of Trisha
  • Employees’ behaviors and conformity to standards were observed.
  • Employees spent more than twenty minutes on the break table.
  • Waiters behind the buffet sat on the table and attended to customers only when they placed their orders.

Day 3

  • Time: 5:00PM to 7:30PM
  • Absence of Trisha
  • Employees’ behaviors and conformity to standards were observed.
  • Employees spent more than twenty minutes on the break table.
  • Waiters behind the buffet sat on the table and attended to customers only when they placed their orders.

Day 4

  • Time: 5:00PM to 7:30PM
  • Absence of Trisha
  • Employees’ behaviors and conformity to standards were observed.
  • Employees spent more than twenty minutes on the break table.
  • Waiters behind the buffet sat on the table and attended to customers only when they placed their orders.
  • Interview with “Mark”
  • “There are no spills today and the place is quite clean and I do not have any work to do for now so I’m just chilling with other workers and watching Empire … I am aware that we wouldn’t be doing this if Trisha is here but we are taking advantage of her absence ” (Mark’s Interview).

Day 5

  • Time: 5:00PM to 7:30PM
  • Trisha was Present.
  • Employees’ behaviors and conformity to standards were observed.
  • Employees spent less than twenty minutes on the break table.
  • Waiters behind the buffet kept standing whether clients were present or not.
  • Employees’ generally conformed to workplace norms and standards.
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StudyCorgi. (2021, March 31). Ethnography: Employee Behavior at Cafeteria. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/ethnography-employee-behavior-at-cafeteria/

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1. StudyCorgi. "Ethnography: Employee Behavior at Cafeteria." March 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ethnography-employee-behavior-at-cafeteria/.


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StudyCorgi. "Ethnography: Employee Behavior at Cafeteria." March 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ethnography-employee-behavior-at-cafeteria/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Ethnography: Employee Behavior at Cafeteria." March 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ethnography-employee-behavior-at-cafeteria/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Ethnography: Employee Behavior at Cafeteria'. 31 March.

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