Series Part 4: Keeping Your Staff Happy at Work

Illustration by  Alabaster


Happy baristas matter. Happy people, in any profession, matter. Happy people are nicer, happy people get along better with others, and happy people stay at their jobs longer. And perhaps you’ve hired some really wonderful, energetic, and high-energy folks ”but what happens when they actually work for you in the café?

There’s this idea ”it’s not necessarily from one place or another ”that people are generally always the same. Happy people are generally always happy, and if someone isn’t, it’s their fault. So if you hire someone you liked who had a great demeanor in the interview, they should always be that way. But that’s not true. Once you have a staff, especially if you value them and want them to stick around, it takes active and positive reinforcement to make sure they feel supported. Here are five ways to ensure your staff stays happy at work.

  1. Build Ownership

It’s hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around this, but there’s a lot as a manager and a boss you don’t need to do. For example, you might not need to run the Instagram account for your café or create the tea menu. Let your staff take responsibility/ownership for some of these jobs, especially if they express interest.

  1. Provide Tools

If you run out of almond milk, or if you can’t give a customer the blueberry muffin they always order, your customers will take it out on the baristas. Credit card machine broken? Out of cup sleeves? Your baristas will hear about it, and they’re the ones who have to answer to that angry patron. It’s hard to be happy when customers aren’t, and as a barista, it can be difficult or embarrassing to tell customers that they can’t have the thing they’re used to getting. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a late delivery on a milk order, or maybe a change in the menu, so talk to your baristas before this happens to ready them for tense situations, and arm them with responses that will keep them feeling empowered.

  1. Recognize Employees

Customer service is hard. Many of you know exactly how it feels to hear from customers more what you’re doing wrong than what you’re doing right. Baristas and other customer service professionals often fall into a category of people whose work habits suffer from a ˜recognition deficit,’ or a lack of acknowledgment for their accomplishments and milestones. As their boss, it’s your job to be aware of this. Take the time to say a thank you or congratulations for a job well done. And don’t just limit it to big achievements ”small victories are also important. This article cites a survey that indicates œ82% of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions ¦40% say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often. 

  1. Don’t Disparage The Lives of Your Staff

I once had a job where my bosses couldn’t spell my name right. My name is the second most popular girls’ name of the year I was born. Ironically, they spelled my name wrong in an email where I was asked to correct a typo, which was even more embarrassing. I could have told you the names of my bosses’ partners, where they were from, and what their regular drink order was, and yet they couldn’t take the time to learn the correct spelling of my name. Not only did this make me feel unimportant, it also made me feel disconnected from the bigger picture the company was building. If your staff feels like you don’t care about them, you give no incentive for them to care about you. It’s as simple as knowing what their lives look like outside of the café. If someone is in school, ask how classes are. If someone’s moving, ask how their new neighborhood is. This isn’t rocket science.

  1. Create Value

Barista work is hard and it’s easy to forget that. But remember, your baristas are the front lines of your store, and without them showing up everyday, your store fails to operate. Treat every barista with that idea in mind, and make it known that you find them and their roles in your café incredibly important. Sure, there are some days where you have to remind people that hey, it’s just a café and we’re just making coffee, but for the most part baristas don’t need or want to hear that their jobs aren’t important. And they especially shouldn’t hear that from their bosses. There’s nothing more important to your business than being open and busy everyday, so let your baristas know that their roles are important and vital to the success of your store.


Some of this may seem obvious, and it is, but it’s still not happening at a lot of cafés because this kind of behavior on the part of the owner/manager involves active participation at all times. Take a moment and make a list of things you can do, today, right now, to help your employees feel good at work.

A lot of these suggestions are easy to implement, but you also have to think about the long-term goals and growth of your staff. Next week in this series, we’ll talk about how to push and engage your long-term staff.  




Ashley Rodriguez  thought that she’d take a break from teaching middle school science and putz around in a coffee shop for a few months. She ended up digging it way more than teaching (and was vaguely better at it). After spending 5 years making coffee in New York, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she worked for Sightglass Coffee for three years. She recently decided to give full-time coffee writing a go, though she can still be found working bar shifts now and again in Temescal Alley in Oakland. Follow her on Twitter at @ashisacommonname

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1 Comment

  1. Really impressed by this article, your writing style is entertaining and informative. Elaborate and to the point. Also, you talk about coffee! This article specifically hit the mark for me because of the leadership questions it raises “how do employers keep their employees happy?”.

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