There’s no doubt about it; working in the cannabis industry is exciting! The landscape of this emerging market seems to change every week, and even with recreational legalization in less than half of the country, business is booming! 

But those working on the front lines of the industry might offer a much more pessimistic perspective. According to Why Budtenders Quit: Management Trends from America’s Best and Worst Rated Dispensaries, a report released by Best in Grow, cannabis dispensary budtenders are very dissatisfied with their jobs.

For starters, forty percent of budtenders (or, more generally, dispensary employees) rate their jobs as a 1 out of 5 on Glassdoor, a popular job review website. Notably, budtenders complain that they are especially unhappy with their compensation and their interactions with senior management.

Perhaps most alarming is the rate of attrition — almost all budtenders leave their jobs after just three years, with nearly forty percent leaving after less than one year. Anyone with even a basic understanding of business costs will note that it is awfully expensive to onboard and train so many new employees at such a high rate; Best in Grow reports that it costs over $1,000 to train a new budtender, not including new training for new products, management training for promoted employees, or the like. 

So, why do budtenders dislike their jobs and are so prone to leave them? Best in Grow reports the most common problems budtenders have with their dispensaries: disengaged management, a company-wide lack of communication, and insensitive and disrespectful shift scheduling. The report offers some great ideas for addressing these issues and many others. 

Below, we’ll give our own ideas on these problems, informed by the science of positive psychology — the study of optimal human functioning. Specifically, we’ll address these problems through the lens of self-determination theory, which posits that people have three basic psychological needs: autonomy (feeling free in choosing what you do each day and approving of what you do), competence (feeling effective, efficient, and capable in whatever situation you find yourself in), and relatedness (feeling understood, connected with, and appreciated by the people you care about). 

Disengaged Management

The Problem: If leaders have little motivation  to actually lead, there’s bound to be a problem. Just as in any work environment, budtenders need management who care about the people that report to them and are eager to see them grow and thrive. “Managers usually are so busy and don’t really have the time to kick back any appreciation to budtenders,” one former budtender told us. “The turnover is high because it’s really easy to find someone to work as a budtender nowadays.”

The Opportunity of Autonomy: Managers have a tremendous opportunity to provide a work environment and management style that helps support the crucial psychological need of autonomy. If managers make a habit of “autonomy-supportive” actions like giving a sense of choice in day-to-day tasks or giving a clear rationale for why employees are being asked to do something, this can make a big difference in how managers are perceived.

Lack of Communication

The Problem: Although this is certainly not unique to the cannabis industry, a lack of effective communication is one of the biggest threats to morale in a dispensary. If budtenders don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing or (even worse) are being told to do different things by different people, they are practically guaranteed to get frustrated. “The cannabis industry is still trying to figure everything out,” a former dispensary said. “Fact: we all don’t know what we’re doing yet — even California’s state Bureau of Cannabis Control. Sometimes employees all wear different hats and don’t really have set titles, which can really hinder communication.”

The Opportunity of Competence: Budtenders ought to feel 100% effective in their role. Two helpful ways for more budtenders to feel more competent is by conveying confidence in their ability to succeed and providing prompt, accurate feedback. By closing communication gaps and filling them with competence-instilling encouragement,  this critical workplace problem can transform into a source of engagement for managers and budtenders alike. 

Insensitive Shift Scheduling

The Problem: One former budtender recalls just how bad things could get: “Back in the day at illegal shops, they would be open twenty-four hours a day and they would schedule you whenever they needed coverage,” she remembers. “You would work ten-hour days (not eight) and some people would, of course, not show up — so they would expect you to stay and you would, because it was instant cash that day, everyday.” What more can we add to this? Although this might be an extreme example and legal shop regulations prevent this sort of thing, the problem of abrupt and insensitive shift scheduling clearly still persists. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more effective way to disengage your workers and guarantee that they will leave as soon as they find a better pay day somewhere else.

The Opportunity of Relatedness: The key to helping employees feel understood and appreciated probably isn’t too surprising; expressing empathy and developing warm personal relationships between managers and budtenders is, ultimately, essential. There are as many ways to do this as there are motivated managers. One tactic could be to focus on a shared loved of cannabis and the amazing opportunity each person in the industry has at this moment in history.

The problem of disengaged employees in the cannabis industry goes well beyond dispensaries. But fear not! We will be back with another article, focusing on a different aspect of positive psychology, to offer our thoughts on how to bring the cannabis industry to the next level with positivity and engaged employees!