Ground beef splattered everywhere. Hot sauce dripping thick and red across the tiled landscape. Tortillas, once filled, lay empty on the counters. There has apparently been a taco war, and Taco Bell’s food workers and cashiers must have emerged victorious over their enemies. Otherwise, what would merit the company calling its restaurant staff “champions”?
Perhaps you know that Subway’s workers are “sandwich artists,” or that Disney employees are “cast members,” but who knew Taco Bell had “food champions” making its burritos and “service champions” manning the cash registers?
A company spokesperson confirmed to The Atlantic that it calls its staffers “champions,” though it’s unclear why, exactly. A champion usually triumphs over something, right?
The trend of spinning job titles into sunshiney, positive nicknames isn’t new, the Atlantic notes in its great piece — there are “imagineers” joining the “cast members” at Disney, “geniuses” working at Apple and others. So what gives?
It could serve to make employees happier, Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business tells The Atlantic. Sure, they can come off as awkward to customers — in those cases where we’re aware of the nicknames — but it may also make jobs that much easier for workers.
“If employees identify strongly with the titles,” he says, “they may actually find them meaningful.”
And another paper on the topic of happy-go-lucky corporate trends by Stephen Fineman, a professor at the University of Bath’s School of Management, says positive psychology can help people bring out the best in themselves. In turn, all companies need to do is harness that happiness and bend it to the workplace, as he writes that “the fusing of personal identity with one’s work can create meaningfulness.”
But because those jobs that millions of people have aren’t necessarily the stuff of actual champions, pushing names that aren’t very consumer-facing (and thus, aren’t meant to affect the public perception of staff) can make it a forced fun situation. Like requiring at least 15 pieces of flair.
“Fun and humor are appropriated as tools to enhance well-being and happiness at work, but simultaneously (and seemingly necessarily) as means for greater management control,” Fineman writes.
That hyper positivity could backfire — it’s essentially another form of exerting power over someone by pushing their own empowerment upon them with things like fun nicknames and special dress-up days at work, Fineman’s work suggests.
“Positiveness is self-limiting because it is constrained by structural inequalities in power: the paradoxical process of management taking action to empower others, when that is itself an exercise of power.”
Basically — “Hey, champion! Yes, you! The champion! You better be having fun with this champion thing! Are you? Is this fun? No pressure but you’re a champion and don’t you dare call yourself anything else.”
So though might be a bit of a stretch to call assembling bread and ingredients the job of an “artist,” that makes calling someone who puts together tacos, burritos and chalupas or rings customers up a “champion” just plain confusing. Who are these champions triumphing over? Customers? That wily food? We may ever know.
UPDATE: There as no battle, one of our observant readers says. Tipster Benjamin says there’s another reason workers can call themselves champions.
“They’re called champions because of Taco Bell’s morale/team building/training program called CHAMPS. ‘CHAMPS,’ an acronym for Cleanliness, Hospitality, Accuracy, Maintenance, Product Quality and Speed,” he writes.
That sounds likely, though wouldn’t they then be called CHAMPSions? Not quite so catchy, but doesn’t Speed deserve a spot?
Why Taco Bell Likes to Call Its Workers ‘Champions’ [The Atlantic]