Underpaid & Overstressed: 4 Things Starbucks Baristas Say Is Wrong With The Company

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Millions of people count on Starbucks baristas to provide them with a jolt of caffeine each day, but those employees might be the ones truly in need of a little help: Baristas around the country are spilling the coffee beans on their employer, claiming they are overworked and strained thanks in part to the chain’s endless stream of pilot programs and new services. 

Business Insider reports that those behind the counter say they are feeling the pressure from the company’s attempts to bring in more customers via mobile ordering, testing new initiatives, increased food offerings, and limited-time drinks.

While Starbucks says it is striving to improve the working conditions for its partners (the company’s name for employees) and regularly engages with these workers to make their experience better, those actually wearing the green apron say things aren’t improving quickly enough.

From discouraging conversations with customers to understaffing locations, dozens of current and former Starbucks baristas shared with Business Insider just what they think is wrong at Starbucks. Here are 4 things we learned.


One barista says that in the seven years they’ve worked for the company the relationship between employees and customers has changed.

Whereas customers used to be like family to baristas, the employee says it is now frowned upon to stop and have a conversation with a regular.

“And it has sapped just about every last ounce of my energy to know that I am now a hindrance to the Starbucks (corporate America) agenda,” the employee tells Business Insider.


Several baristas say that while they’re often referred to as the most important aspect of the chain, they don’t always feel that way.

With Starbucks offering more and more ways for customers to order drinks and food — from mobile orders to delivery tests to drive thrus — the employees say they are “running around like crazy.”

This is only amplified, employees say, when the stores are understaffed.

“I’ve had people call the store to complain that we seemed rushed and upset. The stress is overwhelming, a current employee told Business Insider. “A four-hour shift is too exhausting at this point, because there’s nobody to help us.”


While the chain offers employees several benefits, such as 401(k) matching and tuition assistance, one barista says employees are just looking for enough money to pay for a place to live and groceries.

One employee tells Business Insider that if given the choice between college achievement programs and high pay, nearly 90% of partners would choose the increased pay.

Another employee referred to the companies as “a cult that pays $9 per hour.”


Despite running the registers, the hot and cold bars, the drive-thru, and making connections with customers, some baristas tell Business Insider they don’t feel like a valued member of the company.

But they don’t feel comfortable voicing those opinions on the company’s surveys of partners for fear of retaliation.

“I and so many other baristas don’t feel secure in our [roles] enough to tell them how we actually feel, because it is not anonymous,” one current barista tells Business Insider of the system that collects partner numbers.

A rep for Starbucks tells Business Insider that the company’s strengths come from its connection to partners, and it knows there is work to be done.

“We know when we exceed the expectations of our people, they, in turn, exceed the expectations of our customers. To us, every voice matters,” the rep said.

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