The Great Resignation: How staff shortages are affecting coffee businesses
Brand and marketing director Graham Hadaway speaks with Jenna Gottlieb about how HoReCa businesses – including coffee shops – have battled with staff shortages and what can be done to remedy ongoing issues.
Any customer walking into a café expects to encounter several things: a modern espresso machine, the smell of freshly-ground coffee, and several frantically busy baristas. These days, however, it could be just one, lone barista running the entire coffee bar.
The Great Resignation – a term coined in mid-2021 after record numbers of workers left their jobs since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – has had an enormous impact on coffee businesses around the world.
Many coffee shop workers, especially younger professionals, have begun seeing their work-life balance differently, leading many to seek career fulfilment elsewhere. This hasn’t just been limited to coffee professionals, either.
According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears survey, one in five workers plans to quit their jobs in 2022. The consultancy firm surveyed more than 52,000 workers in 44 countries and territories earlier this year, so this issue clearly isn’t limited to one or two markets.
The report established that wages were the top motivation for employees seeking new job opportunities, but other “intangible” factors also ranked highly.
For instance, it says, compared to people who are extremely or very unlikely to seek other employment, people in this specific category are less likely to find their jobs fulfilling.
This comes down to several restrictive factors, including not being able to be themselves at work, not being rewarded financially, not being cared for by peers, and not being heard by management.
Furthermore, younger employees – specifically between the ages of 18 to 24 – have different motivations for why they get up and go to work. The survey suggests they are more concerned about the impact of technology on their jobs over the next three years, more concerned about being overlooked for opportunities, and less satisfied with their jobs overall.
Additionally, they are more likely to ask for a raise or promotion and more likely to alter some aspect of their working life, such as switching jobs, changing working hours, or leaving the workforce altogether.
However, it’s not just young workers who are feeling disgruntled. In the wake of the unprecedented damage seen in the past few years, skilled and experienced workers are feeling disillusioned, too.
How is the Great Resignation affecting coffee businesses?
It’s no surprise that the Great Resignation has hit the hospitality industry hard.
Workforce issues have been further compounded by the economic and psychological aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving many coffee businesses scrambling to find ways to hold onto their most valuable employees.
“We have found this has meant that more skilled positions – especially on the back of house side – haven’t returned to the industry,” says Graham Hadaway, marketing and brand director of multiple businesses, including The Cranleigh Boutique Hotel, The Fizzy Tarté, and Lake View Garden Bar.
“Also, as we all know, where people were forced to find alternative work, they have chosen new directions in life.”
He explains that in the case of younger workers, few feel any sort of satisfaction after “grafting 40-60 hours a week for the love of people and service”.
“This said, with the increase in living costs, this has made people show more commitment, and so people are looking more for work,” he adds. “However, those with experience and industry knowledge haven’t come back.”
Because of staff shortages, some businesses have been forced to close or change their hours. Other adaptations for coffee businesses have included the adoption of automated technologies, as well as drive-through, takeaway, and delivery services.
Graham explains that even in his case, where the businesses he works with have managed to survive, there has been significant damage.
“We haven’t been forced to close but alter our operating hours in certain businesses and not open certain areas/bars due to staff shortages,” he explains. “I feel we have been lucky with staffing, but this has come at a cost with very competitive wages and staff perks.”
These are exactly the kind of issues that are alienating younger members of the workforce. As such, it’s become an increasingly tricky situation for coffee businesses to navigate.
In many cases, companies have had to go to extreme lengths to find staff. Some have instituted referral bonuses, extra pay, and shorter working hours, all of which have major financial implications.
Naturally, this impacts small companies the most. However, the Great Resignation has forced large companies to adapt, too. For example, last year, Pret A Manger launched automated self-service coffee machines in response.
What can businesses do to mitigate the impact of staff shortages?
For coffee shops, automating certain parts of the business, like milk steaming, grinding or tamping, has certainly helped fill some of the gaps.
“We have looked at automation and robotic solutions for certain parts of the business, but currently only gone as far as using bean-to-cup machines,” Graham says.
Superautomatic espresso machines are becoming more and more dependable, and the best modern examples can produce excellent coffee, shot after shot.
“The positives are less training being required and an amount of control which reduces wastage,” Graham adds.
Naturally, some in the industry have concerns that automation may have negative effects on the customer experience. What may be good for the business, Graham says, may not appeal to coffee shop customers.
“I have constantly been asking people if they wish to be served by a robot bartender, and it’s just not something which seems to sit well with people,” he elaborates. “I think first where we will see this technology come in is in kitchens. I am not sure how it is going to work in the barista world.”
However, when utilised correctly, automation can serve to empower baristas rather than replacing them. For example, machines with automated grinders can speed up barista workflow. Others are now able to steam milk with complete consistency, allowing baristas to focus their time on pulling perfect espresso shots and engaging with customers.
More and more baristas are getting on board with this idea. In fact, three-time Polish Coffee Champion and four-time Polish Latte Art Champion Agnieszka Rojewska recently said she believes the role of the barista will evolve with technology.
Ultimately, though, there is still work to be done in this regard. According to the PwC report, only 40% of employees feel their company is upskilling and increasing wages, and only 26% say their employer is automating or enhancing work through technology.
Both aspects are required if businesses are to overcome the Great Resignation. At the moment, says Graham, cafés should take a closer look at how innovation can address staff shortages.
“I think chains are going to be better placed than smaller operators to innovate as they have the capital to do so,” he notes. “That said, independents are more in touch with the changes in trends, and some may be able to keep ahead through this.”