Sustainable Motivation: Filling the Barista’s Cup [part one]

Sustainable Motivation: Filling the Barista’s Cup [part one]

Mike Tan

250-500 cups later and the pearly red curls that brand the face of the workhorse used throughout the day are waiting to be scrubbed and taken care of – you’re expected to close the entire shop and diligently clean a machine using nothing but the passion of pouring to fuel you. Working in coffee can be the least bit motivating, especially after a day spent in a one-way conversation with the occasionally demanding customer.


How do we motivate our staff to remain enthusiastic about their involvement in the specialty coffee industry?

In the Handbook of Motivation Science, Shah and Gardner define motivation as “the forces within us that activate our behaviour and direct it toward one goal rather than the other” (Shah & Gardner, 2013).

A barista’s goals are difficult to understand; they range from personal to situational. Situational goals are short term and are linked to activities that directly affect a given task. For example, the task might be to complete a shift. Situational goals of that shift might be to serve beverages quickly or ensure all customers are served politely – avoiding a breakdown or simply surviving the shift is another example of a situational goal for the overall task.


The forces within us

Emotion: “An emotion is a complex psychological event that involves a mixture of reactions: (1) a physiological response (usually arousal), (2) an expressive reaction (distinctive facial expression, body posture, or vocalization), and (3) some kind of subjective experience (internal thoughts and feelings)" (Nairne, 2000).

Emotions activate motivation. Given the nature of how complex emotions are, there is unfortunately not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to motivation.

In a recent study posted on Harvard Business review, it was reported that teams perform better in emotionally sensitive environments. Laura Delizonna writes, “Psychological safety is both fragile and vital to success in uncertain, interdependent environments. The brain processes a provocation by a boss, competitive co-worker, or dismissive subordinate as a life-or-death threat’’ (Delizonna, 2017).

Cups are slamming against plates as the dishwasher spins to the beat of high frequency sound waves leaving a massive speaker; customers are impatiently waiting for their fix of caffeine as a barista wars against a sea of endless dockets passed on by the captain of the POS system – I think it’s safe to say that most café spaces are ‘’uncertain and interdependent’’ and need psychological safety.


Herzberg’s Motivation Hygiene Theory

Frederick Herzberg theorized that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction act independently of each other – his understanding lead to him developing the Motivation Hygiene Theory.

The fundamental principles of the theory include the study of two factor: motivators and hygiene factors – I felt that these were necessary and applicable given the complex nature of emotions and motivation.

Motivators: “(e.g. challenging work, recognition for one's achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, sense of importance to an organization) that give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth’’ (J. Richard Hackman, 1976).


What should business owners focus on?

 ‘’Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization’’ (McCleod, 2018).



Psychological safety

 In simple terms, psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished when you mess up.

Dockets. I never thought that they’d have such a massive impact on my ability to successfully complete a given task.

My first couple shifts working in Melbourne were probably the hardest I have ever worked – the volume of coffee was almost triple the amount I was comfortable with and the pace followed suit. I was too slow behind the bar and made many mistakes – I recall being pushed aside one or two times because nobody had the patience to bear with an inexperienced barista.

It's hard, I know. But what is the solution? Train your staff and treat them with respect. Far too many baristas are thrown into the deep end and expected to rise to the occasion – there’s no motivational music playing in the background and this is not Rocky.



Mental health

It’s 06:45 and a flock of deadline driven customers are knocking on the doors with determined eyes. The grinder’s blades are still cold, and someone is already nipping at your heels – this is enough to give the most confident and strong barista a hit of anxiety.

The environment we work in is incredibly tough; a survey conducted by Talor Browne found that 38% of coffee professionals considered leaving their post due to emotional issues experienced from their working environment. 

It’s impossible to control completely, but be aware of your staff and their needs – when last have you asked your staff about their emotional well-being? The bags underneath their eyes aren’t always the result of an early start.


Career progression

Slangin’ shots for a lifetime might seem cool when you have a couple month’s experience on your curriculum vitae, but baristas need to be sure of where they’re headed – despite their chilled-out viewpoints, they need a stable path. Humans need security.

Hygiene Factors: “These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary’’ (J. Richard Hackman, 1976).

Examples of hygiene factors include job security, status, benefits, work conditions etc.



Working agreements

Baristas need security. The best place to show that intention is by drawing up a simple working agreement – your staff need to have a clear outline of what their roles and responsibilities are, helping in an unfamiliar role is a favour, it’s unfair to expect your staff to sacrifice their lives to your business.


Company policy

Make sure your staff know what company policy is on certain things: the customer isn’t always right.

The most crippling thing when competing is being told you have lost when you weren’t even aware of the rules – it’s incredibly difficult to have an opinion on something when an employer has provided no grounds for one. 

If you care about your business, you’ll care enough for your staff to know what your identity is.

 This is part one of a two part, possibly three-part article that aims to address motivation in the coffee industry. This is simply an introduction, the points referenced will be addressed further in the coming posts.


Stay tuned,

Written by

   Jacques Van Wyngaard

Jacques is a content manager, writer and coffee professional.  As an enthusiastic barista, his love for computers is close to being on par with coffee.

You can follow @cfc_jacques















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