Most of us have had a job we hated. One that makes even a damp, muggy rush-hour tube carriage seem like a better place to be than the office itself. One that makes every Sunday night anxiety-filled and sleepless, and filled with frantic LinkedIn job searches.
And more often than not, the reason you hate said job so much is because of how you’re treated as an employee.
It seems like common sense, but it pays to look after your team. And that’s for a whole host of reasons: preventing expensive turnover rates (which cost $11 Billion annually), maximising profits (as companies that engage their employees have “operating margins of 27.4 percent” compared to 9.9% for those that don’t), and meaning you have workers that care about customer experience as much you do. Better treatment, better business. It’s simple!
Swap the office for a field of coffee trees, and a desk job for manual labour - big differences, but the same principles of employee engagement still apply.
On Colombian coffee farms, cherry picking is a seasonal job. That means employees come and go every year, meaning maintaining steady job performance is a struggle. It’s not like a summer job working in your local café - you might have gone back there for three years straight, despite barely scraping minimum wage and routinely getting shouted at by grumpy locals, but that was because you didn’t really have any other option. Jobs are scarce in your town.
Not so in Colombia. Coffee farms line the mountains, back to back, so cherry pickers are always in high demand. So how do you A) ensure you have staff to pick your cherries when you need them, and B) make sure you’re getting the right staff coming back?
For José Ramone and Maria del Rosario, the answer to both was obvious - by treating them well.
Every picking season, 80 workers flock to Buenos Aires to be greeted with warm, comfortable housing, three hot meals a day (a hot breakfast and dinner in the dining area, and a tiffin tin for lunch), a DVD break-out room, garden area, and newly renovated wet rooms. And that’s on top of above-market-rate wages, of course.
“I want it to feel like a holiday for them”, José says - even holding a party for them all at the end of December!
And while that may seem excessively good treatment, it’s not without reason. As it’s a seasonal job, good treatment ensures the best pickers come back year-on-year - which means coffee quality stays very high. It’s a skilled job to know exactly when to pick the cherries - you’d need a paint chart to identify the right shade of red, and there must be no hint of green where the stem attaches - so it’s a job that’s very hard to do quickly and accurately.
Perfectly ripe cherries ensures a much, much better flavour - and therefore, a higher price for the whole lot of coffee. So happy, talented cherry pickers matter.
- Know that bells and whistles are not enough, but they help: perks are great - whether its company-funded team lunches, early Friday finishes, or breakroom ball pits (for accessing your inner child, of course). But they should be the cherry on the top, not the only thing keeping them working for you.
- See investing in them as an investment into your company: whether perks, pay, or personal development, putting money into your employees makes sense. Not only will it make them more committed to helping your business succeed, it means they’ll end up a brand ambassador - boosting internal morale and upholding your reputation.
- Give them purpose by challenging their skillset: no-one likes being bored. Challenging your team with new projects is motivating, and shows you recognise their potential - it also means their ability will improve, and consequently so too will their performance. Just like Buenos Aires and its cherry pickers!
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