Businesses should value employee satisfaction over profit

When employees don't feel as though they are respected or purposeful, they lose motivation to perform well

I’ve worked in food service for over three years and am very familiar with the phrase, “the customer is always right.” In most cases, I believe it as well. As an employee, I have an obligation to represent the company well and to the best of my ability in a way that maintains a positive image in a customer’s mind.

Recently, however, it seems as though many companies have started to value a consumer over their employees in a way that is damaging.

I worked at Starbucks for close to a year and dealt with many typical office-type costumers: people rushing frantically through their morning routines or popping into my store during their lunch breaks. Frequently, not only would I watch as a partner (Starbuck's version of a co-worker) was subjected to verbal abuse by a customer, but I also had my fair share of ugly names and threats hurled my way.

The rule was always never to talk back, never to defend yourself. I don't feel as though that policy protected me or my co-workers from abusive or manipulative customers. The defenselessness ultimately hurt morale throughout our stores because partners felt powerless to the consumer.

This is just a simple example of how too many companies are willing to put their employees’ satisfaction at risk in order to make a sale.

Not only were my coworkers and I subjected to verbal abuse, we were periodically forced to deal with low staffing to save money on labor. This led to partners across the country feeling slighted by the company.

Labor was cut at Starbucks’ across the country this past summer, and many employees had their hours slashed. Both Starbucks and ASU boast about their innovation in creating a program that allows Starbucks employees working at least 20 hours a week to receive a degree through ASU. 

The problem was that, as hours were decreasing, so were benefits. Employees found it more difficult to reach that 20-hour a week threshold, and therefore were being forced to face the possibility of having to withdraw from the program.

With less labor to go around, partners were overworked and overstressed, trodden down by insane pressure to meet profit requirements.

An open letter to CEO Howard Schultz was drafted by the owner of the online Barista Life blog and was praised by hundreds of employees online. The letter included a survey partners could complete to help further elaborate on their disappointment. 

Thousands signed a petition on coworker.org as a call of action. Creator Jamie Prater wrote in the description of the petition that Starbucks needed to understand how much the labor cuts were truly impacting employees of the chain.

"You end up taking it personally, when corporate directs your stores to understaff, and under schedule," Prater wrote. "You wonder if they realize how difficult it is to pay your bills when you work 25 hours a week?"

Andrea Morales, ASU criminology and criminal justice junior, has worked at Starbucks for over two years and said there was a great emphasis on the need to cut hours over the summer and that her store found it tough.

"We found ourselves a bit more frustrated because at one point or another we always felt busy and understaffed, but there was nothing we could do about it because we had to cut hours," Morales said. "Those who were most affected by this cut were the partners who depended on their income at Starbucks solely."

Morales said although her manager is a perfect example of how Starbucks values their employees, the lack of available hours could have proved a struggle for partners dependent on hours for education or health insurance.

"For many partners these great risks could simply be avoided by providing more hours, or finding other methods to evaluate eligibility for programs such as the College Achievement Plan," Morales said.

The Starbucks labor cuts are just one example of the struggle people are dealing with in every job sector. 

Schultz has since released a letter to partners promising a raise in wages, a change in dress code and bonus pay for employees who have stayed with the company long-term.

The changes implemented by Schultz not only helped to appease disgruntled partners but served as great examples of how putting employees first should be the primary motivation for a higher-up. 

Employees want to know they're valued and their work is appreciated. It is understandable that a customer would often be the main focus for any business, but employees should be the primary focus first and foremost. 

If you don't have employees who are excited to come to work every day and are motivated to perform, their discouragement will not only show, but spread.


Reach the columnist at sphaas@asu.edu or follow @_SavannahHaas on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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