I Heard What You Said at Starbucks

Dear Reader,

“Guys, if you all want to leave, you can, I won’t complain. I’ll still be here.” This is the outburst that snapped me out of my audiobook (Jennette McCurdy’s “I’m Glad My Mom Died” by the way) and turned my attention toward the employees behind the café counter. I’m sitting in a Boston-area Starbucks.

According to Wikipedia, as of November 2021 the company has over 33,000 stores in 80 countries with over 15,000 of which located in the United States. Today, I’m sitting in one of these 15,000 cafes and I am witnessing something that is not all too uncommon in my Starbucks experiences — disgruntled employees.

I’ve had friends and acquaintances that have worked at Starbucks. I use the past tense, because these individuals have all left the coffee monolith for one reason or another. From friends, I have heard about the benefits of being a Starbucks employee, including the tuition coverage for a first-time Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, the (somewhat) flexible hours, the opportunities to rise through the ranks, and some free beverages. I have also heard about some of the work unpleasantries, including making Frappuccinos (apparently, those are “the worst”), the customer demands, and the general stress that accompanies working in an environment, where everyone expects things to be done quickly.

As a customer, I am a fan of Starbucks. I have memories sitting in the Starbucks many mornings in downtown Monterey, California, before attending a series of summer lectures. When I was researching in Argentina one summer, I made regular stops to a Starbucks that served alfajores (sweet shortbread-like cookies, sandwiching a dulce de leche filling). There used to be a two-story Starbucks in Harvard Square that was busy and well appreciated (by students, professionals, and homeless customers alike), however, it closed down during the pandemic (there’s a book store there now, and it’s truly disappointing; the last thing Harvard Square needs is yet another shop selling university-related paraphernalia — grr). Although the menus vary somewhat with their regional peculiarities, it’s a comfort that one can walk into any location, order a large (excuse me, a “venti”) coffee, and know what to expect.

“If you’re not going to make it to your shift, you need to give at least six hours’ notice, so the manager can find someone else to cover.” I overheard this piece of conversation on another day, as the most senior employee explained (read: complained) to her coworkers about how someone cancelled last minute for a totally foreseeable reason. “That’s no excuse! I can’t believe she’s trying to pass it off as…”. I as a nosy person with a love for reality TV, delight in eavesdropping on the conversations of Starbucks’ employees. I sympathize when someone must close the store three nights in a row and when they have to handle the rowdy homeless man, who keeps yelling to “Ben” (because this guy is on a first-name basis with the perhaps too friendly young-looking employee). I like hearing about their weekend plans and seeing them seamlessly transition between taking orders and then having conversations on the side.

According to the 2021 Starbucks U.S. Workforce Demographics, here is who works at Starbucks retail locations:

7.8% Black
29.1% Hispanic or Latinx
5.6% Asian
4.9% Multiracial
51.5% White
0.6% American Indian or Alaska Native
0.5% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
0.1% Not Specified.
72.0% Female
28.0% Male

According to Zippia.com in 2021, the breakdown of education level of employees is as follows:

  • Bachelors, 43%
  • High School Diploma, 30%
  • Associate, 17%
  • Diploma, 4%*
  • Other Degrees, 6%

* I don’t know what just “Diploma”specifies, tbh

Apparently, according to Wayup.com, 70 Percent of Starbucks employees are students or are aspiring students, which was the case for my former-Starbucks-employees friends. Do people like working at Starbucks? Starbucks has come under fire for its suppression of unionization efforts. A politically active friend of my mine who worked at Starbucks explained the convoluted and frustrating process that their franchise had to undergo to unionize (which they eventually successfully managed). Regardless, according to Comparably.com in 2022, Starbucks received a “B+” rating for employee satisfaction. Apparently, employees with over 10-years’ experience are most satisfied (which, I suppose makes intuitive sense).

Like most companies, Starbucks is complicated… but, man, am I grateful that it exists.



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