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Are Starbucks Employees Just a Bunch of Complainers?

Over the past decade, there's been a shift within the company's culture that favors profits over people — despite a marketing push that suggests otherwise.

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Being a barista at Starbucks isn't easy: Long hours, impatient customers, and an endless menu of drinks to memorize is no ones idea of a comfortable job. According to CBS news, an increasing number of former and current employees of the coffee mega-giant are coming out against Starbucks' management approach. Says Liberte Locke, a barista at a New York City-based location: "Starbucks' attitude is that there's always someone else who can do the job."

Starbucks' own messaging is to blame

Even after Starbucks announced that it would eliminate 'clo-opening' shifts — in which an employee both closes late into the evening and then opens the shop early the next morning — many employees are asking for more. CBS news interviewed several former and current baristas and found that while some employees like their jobs, they often feel underpaid, and think that the business "enforces work rules arbitrarily, and too often fails to strike a balance between corporate goals and employee needs." Interviews also revealed that employees are skeptical about Starbucks' recent pledge regarding better scheduling of staff, suggesting that it was merely PR spin meant to "cool the flames" brought on by the NYT article that unveiled poor working conditions at the coffee company.

But why are employees of a chain this large even surprised at working conditions? Certainly, a job at Starbucks must be cushy compared with a job at McDonald's. It seems that Starbucks' own messaging is to blame. The company recruits job-seekers by asking them to "become a part of something bigger and inspire positive change in the world." They describe a job as a barista as a chance to discover a "deep sense of purpose." That's a big promise to make.

Baristas who had worked for the company for over five years also noted that changes in the company's leadership had toned down its employee-focused attitude. New attention to profits and "cost-cutting... increasingly led its leadership to tune workers out." Employees that were interviewed remembered a culture of sympathetic management and co-workers who supported each other.

That such a culture ever existed in a company so large is impressive. But will Starbucks yield to employee (and union) demands and go back to its old, better, ways? Or are shareholder demands too great? The company is currently listening to workers' requests, but a need for sweeping change — besides the recent supposed scheduling shift — has not been announced.

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