More tea please?

Having brought you cake as a management tool, here’s another interesting one for you management geeks out there.

Imagine you are a senior manager in an organisation. It has a turnover of approximately £2m. At the moment, you spend £990 per annum on free tea, coffee, milk and sugar for all staff. This amount represents the best price you can get.

You are asked to consider whether this represents the best use of your organisation’s resources.

Broadly speaking, there are 3 options available to you:

  1. Do nothing and continue providing free tea and coffee etc.
  2. Stop paying for any free tea and coffee etc.
  3. Organise some compromise system, in which staff make some contribution to the costs of the drinks, but which requires some administration

Which do you choose?

(I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – please leave comments below. You may find it useful to consider Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory in determining your answer.)


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

10 thoughts on “More tea please?”

  1. d) Spend the £990 on booze, which you then keep in your senior manager cupboard. Booze then used as a motivational tool as part of performance review/as solice when you have to sack some useless prick/when you want to kill yourself

  2. Stef – as constructive as ever. Thanks.
    Rob – cake? CAKE? Next you’ll be suggesting cake as a management tool. (Hang on: that’s a great idea!)

  3. Coincidentally, I read an article on change management in a third sector mag today, which quoted a charity chief officer who said that, in challenging financial times, free tea and coffee for staff should be the last thing to go.
    I used to work for a small charity, where (very good quality) coffee was provided out of petty cash. Now in local government, where we have to bring in our own, I still tend to buy tea and coffee…and sometimes cake…for my team, just not from council coffers.
    Option 1, every time. (The contribution option usually leads to chaos.)

  4. Free tea and coffee? This seems utterly ridiculous to me. As a poor teacher I was required to pay £5 a term for my tea (discount from the £7 taken from coffee drinkers!) or bring my own. Managers would have laughed in our faces if we’d asked for tea. Frivolous things like textbooks came first!

  5. Loving the comments from everyone so far – been a lot of interest on Twitter on this topic as well.
    Here’s an interesting question: if tea and coffee isn’t already provided for free, would you introduce it?

  6. I tweeted in response to your initial question, and I said ‘yes absolutely. I also think that yes – if you can afford it, you should introduce it.
    My experience of free tea, coffee, milk and sugar has varied across the private, public and voluntary sectors and I really think its a relatively small but worthwhile outlay – (particularly having decent coffee). Where you have contributions or people take it in turns to buy it there will ALWAYS be at least one person moaning about drinking less tea but being asked to contribute the same. they then do this begrdudgingly and moan about it. Also people who dont contribute but might have the odd cuppa, or just bring their own in will always be made to feel like they arent part of something. It’s a bit daft, but when its free you dont have any of that stuff to deal with, people are more likely to make tea and offer to make tea and take it in turns to get ‘the tea round’ – its just a lot less fuss and more of a shared interaction.
    The worse thing is when there is enforced ‘biscuit’ buying, and you have a rota for who buys the biccies. That is just AWFUL and I am so glad its been a while since I worked anywhere they did that… my view biscuits and cakes are really treats and if people are kind enough to think of their colleagues and bring something in to share then that also brings a relatively good feeling and moment of carmadarie to the team (and it doesnt have to always be management that bring in cake or biscuits).

  7. Thanks Dhara. I completely agree with your last comment. Forthwith, I shall make it an objective of all of my staff to bring cakes and biscuits to the office… If they’re not keen, I’ll say it was your idea! 😉

  8. Hey Rich, apologies for taking so long to get round to commenting. Option A every time…there are many things I’d cut before resorting to cutting out the tea and coffee.
    The first place I worked had free tea and coffee which I suppose at some level I just took for granted. Since then I’ve worked in places where you’ve had to bring in your own tea/coffee, where you’ve paid a partial contribution, where you’ve paid for all costs. When I started where I currently am and was shown the free tea and coffee stash I was elated! Not because I can’t afford a contribution but because I was delighted there would be no remembering to bring the money in, taking it in turns to buy milk, crappy mornings where there was none etc etc.
    I’m not sure how many staff there are at your place but I reckon if everyone agreed to do an extra half hour work on one occasion (annual refreshment day) you’d probably recoup the costs of the tea/coffee and the associated wasted time it would take people to organise/collect the cash. Failing all else ask your senior management team to cough up for it!!!
    Thanks for the thought provoking post…I might need to blog a follow up to this 😉

  9. Firstly, work out how many hours of time the annual cost represents.
    Second, estimate the amount of time which would be occupied by administrating any of the feasible options.
    Refreshments are an essential part of keeping humans productive. Put their cost in the same category as lighting the work space, heating and cooling it, providing chairs for people to sit on, and cleaning the loos.
    By all means encourage a community spirit in which people voluntarily contribute extra luxuries, but the basic principle is that cutting back on something like this is a false economy.

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