Complacency is one of the greatest threats to the performance of service workers. Employees in repetitious jobs have a tendency, regardless of the quality of their initial training, to, over time, lose their edge and give less attention to the details. Recently, we heard evidence of a serious example of this syndrome when the GAO reported testing 19 airports and concluded that…

… terrorists could use publicly available information and a few cheaply available supplies to damage an airplane and threaten passenger safety.

In response to the GAO report, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley testified before U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, saying in part:

Now the most important – the people: Our TSOs. We've trained them. We have career progression now where our employees can move up and enhance their skills. We have a pay-for-performance program. Our attrition is dramatically down. Our attendance is up. And as the people who traveled on August 10 know, our TSOs stood up that day and changed the entire security process overnight. That is not an easy thing to do. It shows a commitment by our security officers.

In addition, Hawley promised in his “Journal” the following testing policy:

Checkpoint IED drills using bomb components and simulated explosives, every lane, every shift, every day, every airport.

If TSA is doing these things, I commend Mr. Hawley. However, I believe that in addition, TSA must provide TSOs with continuous training, coaching, and opportunities for learning (in the classroom and on-the-job) that address the equipment they use, ability to recognize and manage threats, as well as customer service. They should be preventing terrorism on planes, but they also should be making us feel safe and secure and be treating us with respect and dignity. I’m sure these customer service competencies are addressed in the first week of training. But as with any job, especially highly repetitious jobs, over time, workers will pay less attention to the details and start to do things that make the job more immediately satisfying, such as having social conversations with co-workers. Any service job runs this risk. Even Starbucks, which has award-winning training programs, has employees who, over time, become less customer-friendly and less attentive to providing high-quality service. It’s a kind of complacency that needs to be interrupted periodically so that all employees continue to provide high-quality service, whether that is keeping our country secure or selling coffee.

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