Coffee woes

Some time ago, a company I know caused an uproar among its employees. The subject wasn’t insurance contributions or job changes or paychecks. It was coffee. That’s right, coffee.

It seems that the pay-by-the-cup honor system used to fund the coffee pantry had left the java books in the red. The dimes and quarters didn’t add up to the current coffee consumption. Several threats, a couple of video cameras, and a lot of talk later, the company replaced the Bunn pots and warmers with vending machines. Coffee fraud be darned! (And taste right along with it.) More importantly, the whole ordeal left everyone feelingĀ frustrated and under suspicion.

Eventually, nobody won. Individual departments brought their own coffee makers into the office and java drinkers funded their coffee habits by bringing their own supplies. Almost no one used the company-sponsored vending machines. That entire exercise brought the company no revenue, a hit to morale, and a couple of untouched vending machines. I can’t imagine it was worth it the cost.

On the other hand, I think this situation could have been turned into a positive experience for everyone. The company could have done one of two things. First, it could have simply left things as they were and made a conscious decision to fund the deficit. We’re not talking about a lot of money here. The solution I advocate, however, goes a step further. Assuming the company had already embarked on a path to make changes, I would have recommended a complete about-face when the groundswell became apparent. It should have stopped charging for coffee altogether and used this action as an employee relations tool. In fact, there’s a good chance that it could have even funded a chunk of the cost by asking employees to bring their own mugs. That would have eliminated the expense of thousands of styrofoam cups every year. This alternate solution–free coffee for the masses!–would have turned a petty, frustrating situation into a morale boost. This small action would have gone a long way. Live and learn.

P.S. Personally, I think much of the deficit was likely the result of growing mug size. While a quarter might have covered a 12-ounce mug, today’s bowls-with-handles euphemistically labeled as mugs probably merit a larger contribution. I don’t believe most people were intentionally dishonest; I think it’s more likely they didn’t make the connection. A cup’s a cup, right?

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