Tea Time—and Time for Great Workplaces

Posted by Ed Frauenheim on March 07 2014

ed-frauenheim By Ed Frauenheim

You’ve heard the old phrase, “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”

I’d like to riff off that question.

“What does the great workplace movement have to do with global sales of tea?”

More than meets the eye, it seems to me.

I recently heard a statistic that worldwide sales of tea were up while coffee sales had dipped. At first I was skeptical, and a bit of digging showed that demand for coffee isn’t drying up. Still, tea does appear to be on a tear. Market research firm Mintel predicts the U.S. market for tea and ready-to-drink tea—think bottles of Snapple—will grow by 18 percent to $7.9 billion from 2012 to 2017.

And come to think of it, I see more and more tea shops opening and tea drinks lining shelves.

So what’s tie-in between the tea trend and better workplaces?

I think it has to do with a cultural shift. A move away from a high-octane, machine-like mindset toward a more measured, healthy, social sensibility.

Coffee represents the old school. As I know too well—with my espresso next to me as I write this—coffee can be an addictive fuel for focused effort. Many of us rely on coffee or its cousins in the caffeinated soft-drink category to produce high-quality, high volume work. To crank things out. To motor. To get amped up.

While the language around coffee and caffeine suggests a mechanical mentality, tea is more mellow. Less about supercharged solo productivity. Traditionally, tea involves a shared pot of hot water and collective attention to keeping it warm. There’s a ritual of relating, slowing down and connecting.

The health piece—including research showing the benefits of antioxidants in green tea—is big. And that same, growing concern with health and wellbeing is at work in the great workplace movement.

More and more people are realizing they want a job that helps them thrive. And certainly a job that isn’t going to kill them. Millennials in particular are saying no to career paths that resemble rat races and often end in health problems like high-blood pressure. They value being a good parent much more than Gen Xers did at the same age. And they put a greater emphasis on helping others in need than older generations.

As with green tea coming from the East, mindfulness too is making its way into the Western workplace and bringing a greater sense of balance. That balance includes placing more weight on the welfare of those around us. Being less selfish.

This all may sound soft and new-agey. But the data suggests today’s age is softer. Consider this hard-headed statistic from advertising firm Young & Rubicam:  between 2005 and 2009, U.S. consumers expressed a nearly fourfold increase in their preference for companies, brands and products that show kindness in both their operations and their encounters with customers. The research, which involved some 16,000 U.S. respondents, also discovered that nearly two-thirds of consumers avoided companies whose values contradicted their own.

In other words, we’re entering an era where companies have to be good to their people. When people will work hard but also want to be treated as human beings on the job. A time for great workplaces. Tea, anyone?