Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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BARISTA WORK IS INTENSELY PHYSICAL, and the effects of the job add up over time. Beyond the physical demands, barista work also brings with it emotional and mental strains that add to the overall stress load. Between physical, mental, and emotional stressors, many career baristas face periodic or chronic burnout and a series of typical physical ailments, leading to long- and short-term harm for them and reduced productivity, not to mention increased turnover for business owners and managers. Just because these issues are endemic, however, doesn't mean they're inevitable. With a thoughtful and varied wellness strategy, even the smallest coffee companies—the ones that can't necessarily afford to provide top-notch health insurance—can invest in baristas' long-term well-being, and that ounce of prevention can often be worth more than a pound of cure, leading to a healthy and seasoned team. In this piece, I'll run through key areas of barista wear and tear, along with tips from some of the industry's most seasoned trainers and man- agers on how to prevent and mitigate harm, injury, and burnout. WHY YOU SHOULD CARE Aside from the fact that baristas are humans who need their bodies to work for their entire lives and whose physical resources shouldn't be squandered, there are countless benefi ts to mitigating physical, mental, and emotional wear and tear. These benefi ts include increased morale, productivity, and retention. Morale It's almost impossible to bring positivity to the workplace if you're in pain, be it physical or emotional. Mitigating wear and tear helps workers bring their best self to each day. "Staff are not only human beings who matter and have inherent worth, they are also your biggest brand ambassadors," says Maxwell Mooney, managing partner at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Wash. "Cof- fee business is people business, and so many of our businesses are built on relationships within the community. Keeping the folks who tend to those relationships in a healthy place is just good for business." Kendra Sledzinski, trainer and education coach at Joe Coffee Company in Philadelphia, agrees. "Taking care of your employees in all ways helps them take care of your customers, which ultimately takes care of your business," she says. "Happy baristas means happy customers, which is a win-win for all involved." Productivity It's hard to do your best work while in pain, and the less pain baristas are in throughout their shift, the more skill and effi ciency they can bring to the table. Everyone involved—from owners to managers to teammates—benefi ts from workers being able to work at their ideal pace rather than being hindered by pain or fatigue. Retention Possibly the most important fi scal benefi t of keeping your team healthy is increased retention. As workers get burned out physically, mentally, and emotionally, it gets harder and harder for them to occu- py their jobs long-term. While most coffee companies don't calculate their turnover costs, they should: Turnover costs can constitute a giant hole in the pocket for otherwise profi table shops. Between lost productivity from an employee as they're burning out and planning their exit, the cost of covering gaps in the schedule with other em- ployees once they leave, the cost of the time it takes to interview new hires, the lost productivity of other employees as they train new hires, and the burnout it can create in other employees to be understaffed and overworked—often causing the cycle to repeat—most coffee busi- nesses would benefi t more from a wellness-based retention strategy than they realize. "When training a workforce, longevity and good hospitality are only possible if we don't make employees feel they have the choice to wake each morning feeling like they've been hit by a truck or fi nd another job," says Marcia Polas, an occupational Pilates instructor who works- specifi cally with baristas, bartenders, and other service workers. "It shouldn't hurt to do your job." "Any employer and business would benefi t from their employees being physically, emotionally, and mentally ready, willing and able," says Kendra of Joe. She notes that while not every barista is a career barista, if they feel good coming to work, they can have a long, positive tenure. ERGONOMICS: LONG- TERM PHYSICAL SAFETY Industry veterans and occupational-wellness experts see a specif- ic slate of injuries resulting from the barista profession, and they pointed me in the direction of the specifi c moments in the job that tend to cause the most trouble. They also identifi ed some strategies for avoiding them or changing habits for the better. Tamping Over time, tamping can cause long-term issues in the wrist, hand, elbow, and shoulder. Training is critical here, and technology can also play a helpful role. "Teaching good technique where the wrist is vertically supported by the physical structure of the arm bones, and tamping pressure is gen- erated from the shoulder, goes a long way," says Maxwell of Narrative. "Many of our baristas are musicians or artists, and I almost always relate the importance of good tamping technique to their future ability to practice their art." In addition, technologies like the Ona Coffee Distributor (OCD), the PUSH tamper, and the Puqpress can do a lot of the work for your staff, so it might make sense to save up for these and invest in them when possible. Locking in portafilters Over time, the pulling motion you go through when you lock in porta- fi lters can cause hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain. "When locking in portafi lters, it's really helpful to maintain a rigid wrist and lock in with the full use of your arm rather than just using your wrist," says Maxwell. While a new espresso machine is a large expense, La Marzocco's new KB90 machine is equipped with portafi lters that go straight in, rather than twisting into place. While this expense would only be possible for some, this machine hopefully represents a greater shift toward healthy ergonomics and a focus on mitigating this long-term strain from the tech side. Turning steam wands on and off Steam-wand usage can also lead to wrist and arm issues, but the fi x for this one is simple and effective: Simply fl atten your hand when turning the steam wand on and off—as if you were petting a cat— rather than twisting it in your hand. 80 barista magazine

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