What is coffee badging – and what you can do about it
Get on top of the "coffee badging" phenomenon, a modern twist on workplace presenteeism. Learn why it reflects deeper issues with rigid return-to-office policies and how embracing flexibility, open communication, and outcome-focused strategies can create a more balanced, productive work environment.
Coffee badging is the latest in a long line of new terminologies that have surfaced in the work world recently – joining quiet quitting, quiet hiring & firing, resenteeism, bare-minimum Mondays, lazy girl jobs, rage applying, and other linguistic hallmarks that point to how much has changed at work since the advent of COVID-19.
As an employer or hiring manager, you’re really at the heart of this new coffee badging phenomenon. While novel, coffee badging is actually just a modern echo of the old “clock in and clock out” systems of times past, with a modern twist that points to the rise of flexwork and autonomy in the modern workplace.
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Back in the day, it really was just about showing up for work (or not):
But things have evolved since then. And besides, that video is mostly in jest. Your workers aren’t necessarily partying when they’re remote working, just for the record.
That said, the message is clear: if your workers are checking in just so you can “see” that they’re working, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Before we get into all that, let’s understand the whole trend of coffee badging and where it came from.
Unpacking coffee badging
What is coffee badging? It’s a response to the growing popularity of return-to-office (RTO) mandates we’re seeing out there. An August survey found that 47% of employees say they’ll quit if RTO is imposed on them – but that’s a luxury option that not all employees can easily afford to make, especially in a tight economy.
So, if workers must go into the office, they’ll just go in, make their presence felt, and then pirouette to alternative work environments more conducive to their working habits.
But this trend doesn’t just float on the surface. It’s a deep-dive response to the perceived rigidity that comes with RTO requirements that many find restrictive compared with the fluidity of remote-first work.
Like the bare-minimum Monday, workers just do the bare minimum to return to the office, and then go back to what they’ve been doing all this time – in other words, they’re just getting their badge for showing up at work.
Presenteeism and coffee badging
On the topic of showing up – remember presenteeism? It’s that old terminology that valued showing up over showing results. It’s primarily defined as being at work in spite of being injured, sick, or otherwise unable to be a fully contributing worker – in which case, you should stay home.
Coffee badging is presenteeism’s evolved, modern cousin, taking the act of being present to a new level while continuing to advocate for flexwork and a more balanced work environment.
It’s not just about clocking in; it’s about clocking in with choice. The card game between employer and employee has progressed step by step through COVID, remote work, the Great Resignation, and all the other workplace developments, and then slowly a Great Disconnect starts to form as a chasm between the two parties.
Now, employers are playing the RTO card – and employees are responding with the coffee badging card.
Navigating the currents of coffee badging requires a blend of open dialogue, trust, and a willingness to adapt. Here are three actionable steps for you to think about if you’re looking to “overcome” coffee badging in your own organization:
Acknowledge this reality by embracing flexible work arrangements. Whether it’s hybrid work models, flexible hours, or remote working options, integrating these into your organizational culture can address the root causes that drive coffee badging.
In that spirit, create channels for honest feedback and open communication. Understand the specific needs and preferences of your team, and be open to exploring new ways of working that benefit both the individuals and the organization.
3. Prioritize outcome over presence
Often, focusing on outcomes rather than processes can make all the difference.
Shift the focus from mere physical presence to the quality and timeliness of work output. Establish clear goals, expectations, and metrics that measure what truly matters – the results.
Coffee badging isn’t the actual problem
The reality is, coffee badging isn’t itself something to be solved – it’s just a symptom, not the core issue. It’s an adaptation by employees who want to navigate what they see as increasing rigidity in their working schedules.
If your workers are coffee badging – maybe that’s fine and they’re still doing a great job, and it’s a sincere attempt to check in with their colleagues. But, honestly, if that’s why they’re doing it, then they’d do it anyway regardless of whether you’re pushing RTO or not.
The reality is: they’re checking in because you’re requiring them to. Consider engaging in open dialogue, reassessing your workplace policies, and being open to the new realities of workplace presence. If you play that card, your employees will respond in kind.
Frequently asked questions
What is coffee badging in the modern workplace?
It's when employees briefly show up at the office due to return-to-office mandates, then leave for more conducive environments, essentially 'badge' collecting without meaningful engagement.
How is coffee badging different from traditional presenteeism?
Unlike traditional presenteeism, where presence overrides productivity, coffee badging is a silent protest advocating for flexible work environments, focusing more on work-life balance.
What are the underlying causes of coffee badging?
It's primarily a response to rigid return-to-office policies, reflecting employees' desire for the autonomy and flexibility they experienced during remote work periods.
How can employers effectively respond to coffee badging?
Embracing flexible work models, fostering open dialogue, and prioritizing results over physical presence can help address the root causes of coffee badging.
Is coffee badging a problem that needs solving?
Yes and no. It's more a symptom of a larger issue - the disconnect between traditional office expectations and modern workers' needs for flexibility and autonomy.
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