How Starbucks Retains Its Employees

High turnover of employees is a problem, plain and simple.  The down sides are self-explanatory, but even more important is the fact there really aren’t any up sides.  Retaining your best employees is important, but there’s also the matter of building a general culture of retention.

If you’re doing what it takes to retain a large percentage of your workers, you’ll be doing things that foster overall success.

One company that’s as good as any at this is Starbucks.  Not only is Howard Schultz’s baby a huge global success, but it also does a good job of retaining its coffee baristas.  Here’s how:

Taking care of them

Howard Schultz didn’t grow up wealthy.  He saw the trials and tribulations of the working class, and one problem that made an impression on him was lack of health insurance.  Therefore, when he started his Starbucks franchises, he made a commitment to give his employees health insurance.  He wanted to help satisfy these basic needs and make them feel safe, valued, and appreciated.

Treating them with respect

Schultz wanted to create a full experience for customers, which requires outstanding customer service.  Schultz understood—and it’s kind of a no-brainer—that he couldn’t expect his employees to be kind and generous to customers if upper management wasn’t kind and generous to them.

So he made it a point to put himself at the top of a respect pyramid in which he would be sure to be kind to everyone in the company with whom he interacted, with them passing on the respectful treatment, right down to the pyramid’s base.

Making them Coffee Experts

Knowledge of all the coffee and beverages is very important, not just for those on the front lines, but for everyone in the establishment.  Therefore, Starbucks is very serious about their training.  Recently, it set up an elaborate online portal offering a thorough and holistic instruction program.  There’s nothing more annoying than not receiving the necessary knowledge on the job.  Therefore, instruction programs can be considered a retention program.

From Coffee College to Real College

If offering health care isn’t enough of a display of loyalty and caring toward its employees, Starbucks has recently begun one-upping itself.  This spring, it launched a program helping its employees to achieve a college education.  It sends them to Arizona State’s online program, providing juniors with free tuition and sophomores with financial aid.  Schultz considers this kind of support to be a valuable investment.


One thing that facilitates retention is getting off on the right foot, bringing in people who stand a good chance of lasting a while.  From day one in a new employee’s life, Schultz makes it clear that he has a list of qualities he’s looking for in employees, particularly management:

  • humility
  • a trusting nature
  • an opinion that success needs to be shared

A few years ago, after returning as Starbuck’s CEO, Schultz dialogued with eleven managers directly under him, exploring their level of trust in him and his vision.  This resulted in his letting go of all but two.  Now, this might sound like anything but retention, but the idea is to start with people one is likely to retain, using weedout techniques, rather than just relying on a random draw.

These principles should be inspiring and should give a good road map for retaining your employees.