Working at a coffee shop might sound like a mindless job that has nothing to do with professional organizations that want to engage employees and foster productive, collaborative work environments. However, one author noted the surprising humanity in this job.
In a piece for The Atlantic based on his best-selling book, Brian Christian wrote:
One of my best friends was a barista in high school. Over the course of a day, she would make countless subtle adjustments to the espresso being made, to account for everything from the freshness of the beans to the temperature of the machine to the barometric pressure’s effect on the steam volume, meanwhile manipulating the machine with an octopus’s dexterity and bantering with all manner of customers on whatever topics came up. Then she went to college and landed her first “real” job: rigidly procedural data entry. She thought longingly back to her barista days—when her job actually made demands of her intelligence.
Christian’s article and book is about artificial intelligence, a field of computer science devoted to making machines “think” like human beings. Yet this passage helps to explain how some jobs that might seem menial actually require intellect and problem solving. The job of a barista is actually quite technical and extremely social. Not only does it require managing a finicky machine and the taste buds of countless customers, but the role is only suited for people who can hold their own with the personalities of the general public.
Most of us can probably remember a job which was wholly characterized as a sequence of tasks. And although we might try to reduce a position to an operations manual which will certainly affect employee productivity, the most interesting parts of any work are those that cannot be written down. Instead, the exciting stuff at work is that which requires creativity, ingenuity and the opportunity for invention. We all crave to matter at the workplace. Ensuring that we can do something which engages our brain is the best way to drive productivity and employee satisfaction.
If you lead a team or own a company, perhaps it’s time to consider the degree of personal freedom you grant your employees and the impact it has on employee retention. It may be time to trust your employees to takes risks and innovate, which may actually increase workplace productivity. You can empower employees at any level, even minimum wage baristas at the coffee shop. And as Brian Christian’s article shows, you can inadvertently treat anyone like a computer and ask them to blindly execute instructions. The difference will soon become clear. Employees who are empowered will be the ones who are most productive and the most successful.