Liquid investment at work
May 16, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

Some business analysts (and members of the proletariat) have suggested employers should provide free, good coffee as an investment in productivity and office morale.

Critics might object on the grounds that they don’t enjoy coffee, and would rather have bottled water or soda. Our only response to those people would be to remind them that life is not fair, and we must get over it.

It should be noted that the goal is not to deprive the many fine coffee shops in the area of customers. Perhaps employers could somehow enlist these businesses in their coffee programs.

We should also clarify the difference between good coffee and what passes for coffee in some quarters.

The beverage that is provided in some offices bears about as much resemblance to good coffee as the scrawling on the restroom wall of a bus depot in a particularly seedy neighborhood does to the more enlightened works that adorn the walls at The Louvre.

Good coffee is an elixir that is brewed using fresh, high quality coffee beans that have been carefully stored in an airtight container, and ground just before they are used. It is made with chilled spring water, not with nasty tap water that tastes like rusty pipes and chemicals, or like stagnant pond water.

Once brewed, good coffee is immediately decanted into a serving vessel, or into an insulated container to preserve its integrity.

Most office coffee, on the other hand, usually begins with a sort of industrial, pre-ground, desiccated abomination, often of a brand that claims to be mountain-grown, was for many years doled out by an annoying woman called “Mrs. Olson,” and is, contrary to marketing assertions, not the best part of waking up.

Furthermore, this nasty concoction is often prepared in dirty pots, which adds to its unpleasant character. The final kiss of death is that once prepared, it is often left on a hot burner until any redeeming qualities are lost.

This careless treatment results in a vile and bitter liquid that tastes like a combination of hot mix asphalt and used motor oil that has traveled too many miles in the engine of a 1971 Ford Bronco.

Drinking this acrid swill is not so much a perk as a punishment.

The reasons why employers should provide free, good coffee are three.

First, and perhaps the most compelling from a business perspective, is that coffee improves productivity.

Not only does coffee help to keep people alert and moving, it is a miracle beverage. It can bring the dead (or those who appeared to be dead) back to life.

Coffee may not make people smarter, but even if people are doing mediocre work, coffee will help them do more of it.

Second, coffee is healthful.

According to WebMD, a growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are:

• less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia; and

• have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes.

“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” said Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The Mayo Clinic concurs. According to mayoclinic.com, “Newer studies have also shown that coffee may have benefits, such as protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver cancer. And it has a high content of antioxidants.”

Third, coffee contributes to a happier and more harmonious workplace. This comes not just from drinking the coffee, but from being around others who are drinking coffee.

The good doctors at Mayo Clinic caution us that heavy caffeine use — on the order of four to seven cups of coffee a day — can cause problems such as irritability, particularly in susceptible individuals.

Well, I have some news for the doctors: if they are worried about people becoming irritable from consuming too much caffeine, they should try working with some people I have met when they have not received their daily dose of coffee. Irritable just doesn’t cover it.

To say certain people, when deprived of caffeine are irritable would be a gross understatement of the facts.

I have known mild-mannered young women who, until they get their first cup of Joe, are as pleasant to be around as a hungry tigress with a thorn in her paw and a toothache.

Giving these people their coffee is a perk for them and anyone who has to work with them.

Some will argue that budgets are tight and employers can’t afford to be dispensing free coffee to the rabble.

One might suggest, however, that in view of the fact that many companies have cut staff, reduced hours, and frozen wages, not to mention the fact that most employers expect their workers to do more with less these days, ponying up some java for the troops would be an inexpensive investment in a company’s human resources.

Of course, coffee can lead to some friction, such as if some crafty devils always manage to take the last cup and leave an empty pot (presumably the same people who refuse to refill the paper towel dispenser in the loo), so that the same people always get stuck making a new pot.

This last problem could be eliminated by adding a cheerful, fresh-faced barista to the staff, but perhaps that would be asking too much.

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