Are coffee breaks good for morale? Do they help to encourage employee engagement? Do they make employees more or less productive?
These are all questions that have been debated for years in the HR press. We thought we would have a look at the ins and outs of the argument.
Are They Productive?
“Coffee breaks were associated with higher fatigue, not lower.”
The science is a little dubious and there are extremely conflicting ideas about the physiological effect of caffeine, depending on which study you read.
Many working people will turn to caffeine as a stimulant to keep their eyes from sagging in the last couple of hours of the day. Caffeine will keep you awake for longer and allow you to work longer hours. The question is, does that mean you’ll be any more productive?
The critics are probably right. The coffee itself probably has little bearing on productivity.
But what is really important, is not whether coffee can keep you awake at your desk for longer, but whether taking a break can improve creativity, collaboration and engagement.
“Our brains do need to have a little rest – they just can’t be on all the time. And it’s often in the breaks where you get your creative ideas.”
Dr. Suzy Green, HR Daily
The idea that the more time you put in, the more productive you are is long out of date. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping them can lead to stress and exhaustion.
When it comes to new ideas, taking a little downtime and putting some distance between you and your work, can improve productivity dramatically. Detaching yourself from your work for a while means that you will return to it recharge and refreshed.
Some of our best ideas and brightest flashes of creativity come to us in the shower, in the car, or while sitting over a coffee. It is amazing what can happen when your mind is allowed to wander.
“The simple act of sharing a coffee break is an opportunity to sit down, listen and learn”
Coffee breaks allow for informal information sharing, and offer a less threatening environment in which to exchange ideas. It offers the opportunity to brainstorm ideas and speak freely without fear of scrutiny by managers and superiors.
Speaking face to face with a colleague is always better than sending an email, and a coffee break is a great way to do that. In-person communication is always more effective than email, phone calls or video conferencing for exchanging information quickly and clearly. People from different teams come together, encouraging cross-fertilisation of ideas.
While the jury is still out as to whether coffee breaks will keep you at work longer, or allow you to complete more work, taking a break is vital for creativity, collaboration and overall involvement. Taking a break offers a fresh environment in which to look at your work from a new perspective. It also offers extra opportunities for effective collaboration and information sharing.
Think about that the next time you are feeling guilty about popping out with a colleague to Starbucks!
Ashley Freeman is Head of Sales and Marketing at INVOLVE. When he’s not pioneering new ways to help INVOLVE drive brand awareness and deliver creative, lead generating B2B marketing campaigns, most of his best time is spent developing employee engagement ideas and campaigns for some of world’s leading businesses.
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