It’s not You, It’s Your Job:
The Story of How a Female Entrepreneur Created Better Work Design
by Starting a Café
Beck scores her job (ten being the most enjoyable job you can imagine).
by MK Ward
It’s open, airy and bright as we sit in the modest space that Pearth Organic Kitchen uses to serve the West Leederville neighbourhood. We met with Beck Brown, the owner and founder of Pearth Organic Kitchen which has been open for a little over two years.
“All my earlier jobs forced me to be there from 8:30am to 5pm no matter what. I know that I wasted heaps of time because I used that time to research health rather than sitting there with no work to do.”
Imagine what it’s like to be in a job that isn’t letting you use all your skills, your vision and creativity, keeping you on hold, like a tool on a shelf. This is characteristic of work design with low complexity, skill variety, and autonomy.
That’s how Beck felt, and like so many of us, she thought that it was something wrong with her, not the work itself.
“I thought I was just the type of person who would never be satisfied because I never liked my jobs.”
Over time, her research about health, food tastings at cafes, and obsession with healthy eating, she developed a few recipes, got feedback from friends and considered returning to school to study nutrition. Then she wondered, why go back to school for nutrition when she already knew heaps? Instead she wanted to open a business and serve the products she most wanted to eat and drink, but couldn’t find anywhere else.
So, has Beck created her dream job in the café?
Well, it’s not easy. Part of the recipe for success involves physical, repetitive tasks that need to be done starting early in the morning. Some tasks like setting up the till, writing the menus, tidying and housekeeping are not the most enjoyable but they are necessary to keep the café looking good and operational at all times.
Beck also finds it hard to get employees to make the café a number one priority like she has. Being realistic, she has decided to accept that it may not be the number one priority – and that’s okay, as long as her employees are not slacking and are happy. Still, as the owner, it’s challenging to care so much.
A common consequence of high work engagement in people like Beck, is that there can be spill over from work to life and vice versa. Since becoming a café owner, Beck’ social life has definitely changed:
“Our regular customers are like friends now because I talk to them and see them more so than I do my actual friends. I’m introverted and at the end of the day I have to be alone because in this work I give my energy to other people all day. That affects my social life, forcing me to prioritize outings.”
Social contact all day does not necessarily equate to social support, something the work design literature would describe as a resource. Even contact with beneficiaries (i.e., customers) can be energizing or energy depleting. It depends on the person, that person’s relationship to their work, and the other person or people involved in the social interactions.
I’m intrigued by Beck’s reflections on whether she’s doing enough. This is the core of the stress in her work, and this is the flipside of caring about what you make and trying to maintain a quality café experience.
“Sometimes I still wonder why they chose us rather than the guys down the street.”
Although this work is certainly demanding than her earlier jobs in marketing, it’s clear that Beck loves her work.
“I’m proud of the people who work here and the things we make. My work feels satisfying, especially at the end of a busy day when I feel a certain sense of accomplishment. “
Bad work designs of earlier jobs helped Beck along this path of work. Beck now knows that if you’re unhappy with your work, chances are there’s something wrong with the work design, not you.
a little more...
Behind the Scenes
Despite the mid-afternoon “lull” there are people eating at a few tables, and several with their coffee of choice, filling up 75% of the seating area. The window wall is folded back to create an indoor/outdoor space separated by a standing bar where you can look outside, or in to the back of the kitchen because there are virtually no walls inside the café. The place is hip, and has service that’s friendly, not fake. There’s an authenticity you can sense in the materials, space, place and people. In architecture, they call it “truth in materials” to use real wood rather than composite made to appear to be wood.
The founder and owner of Pearth Organic Café has glasses with clear frames, blonde hair, and a presence that give you a sense that she’s present, friendly, and grounded. Customers, who’ve had limited interactions with her, will frequently will say things like, “My friend started this café on Cambridge Street.” Although this seems odd, in a weird way, it makes sense.
Beck gets at least one request per day from people asking for a job at the café because they like the vibe of the place. We can’t confirm a perfect work design for such a café, but if people want to work somewhere, then the work design is probably better than the crap jobs Beck experienced in the past.