With businesses trimming expenses more eagerly than a conservative politician cuts welfare programmes, one of the first workplace appliances to get abandoned (or “requisitioned” by the boss) is the company coffee machine. But if your boss knew what financial destruction could result from sleepy, inattentive, unmotivated employees, he’d probably upgrade the POS office coffee maker to a Nescafe Dolce Gusto in a heartbeat.
Coffee is an office “perk” that’s not only convenient and affordable, but acts as a morale and awareness booster for employees. In addition, coffee keeps your employees from losing their minds – I’m not kidding, coffee drinkers are more resistant to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. So before you remove the coffee maker for good, think about the disaster you might be inviting to take its place.
Here are three cautionary tales companies should keep in mind when considering office benefits that help people to keep alert.
Submarines Are Supposed to Sink Right?
What comes to mind when you think of Spain? Is it the running of the bulls? Do you think of matadors or ridiculously good football teams? I’m willing to bet that world-class navy doesn’t exactly come to mind. That’s what Spain wanted to change when it invested $3.45 billion into its advanced S-80 submarine programme.
As the first submarine neared completion, Spanish officials noticed that the submarine was too heavy. That’s a problem that can be fixed with the removal/replacement of some equipment with lighter materials right? Wrong! Officials said it was 70 tonnes too heavy – meaning it would sink to the depths faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career. Apparently, some overworked and probably fatigued engineer mistakenly put a decimal point in the wrong place – an error that was missed by the engineer’s supervisors as well.
Now Spain is paying a US Navy contractor $17.7 million to save the project, which includes lengthening the submarine by an extra 6 metres, delaying the launch by another two years. While mistakes were made at many levels, this case illustrates how an engineer with a $2 cup of coffee could have saved the Spanish government millions.
Dream of Losing Millions
Sleeping on the job always hurts a company, whether an employee is weary due to working late, all-night partying, or family obligations – costing the company profit from lost “productivity”. According to a study in 2007, fatigued employees cost US companies an average of $170 billion annually, mostly due to reduced employee performance.
One recent example occurred when a sleepy bank employee in Germany decided to doze off on his nice, comfy keyboard. While he was dreaming (maybe of becoming a millionaire?), he accidentally turned a simple $103 transfer into a monstrous $370 million mistake. The employee’s manager committed the same blunder as the Spanish engineer’s supervisor by not catching the error and was subsequently fired for letting the transaction go through.
While it’s not clear whether the bank had a coffee maker – it’s safe to say that if the employee had a strong cup of coffee, he wouldn’t have dozed off, his supervisor would still have his job, and his bank wouldn’t have suffered profit sapping damage to its brand.
A Meltdown of Epic Proportions
It’s a medical fact that fatigue and sleep deprivation negatively affect your cognitive and decision-making ability at work. The risk is especially pronounced in shift work, where a person’s normal day/night sleep cycle is disrupted. In these jobs, the availability of coffee was shown to increase awareness and reduce human error.
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation was the cause of one of the most expensive mistakes in history, the Chernobyl disaster. After working more than 13 hours, the engineers running the nuclear reactor were so fatigued from their shift that they made poor decisions, a contributing cause to the reactor’s meltdown. This preventable disaster caused thousands of radiation-related deaths in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, a 30 kilometre uninhabited “exclusion zone” that’s still highly radioactive, and a really bad horror movie.
This is the worst kind of mistake, because it leaves a condition akin to financial herpes – because you’re going to pay for it throughout your lifetime (or in this case, several lifetimes). In total, the catastrophe has cost Ukraine and Belarus about $600 billion since the incident in 1986, with Chernobyl-related expenses continuing to be included in the annual budgets of both nations. Coffee isn’t a magical cure that will turn a dead-tired worker into Superman, but it will boost awareness and help a person concentrate better. In this situation, it could have made all the difference in averting this disaster.
A coffee maker with decent coffee won’t bankrupt a company, no matter how bad things are financially (unless it’s Kopi Luwak we’re talking about). So before your boss takes away your right to free workplace coffee, challenge him with this article and say “If you want to avoid another Chernobyl, don’t take away our coffee!”
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