Work & Wellbeing

The positives that can come from a humble coffee break

4 min read

12 July 2018

If stress is becoming an issue, coffee breaks can help alleviate the pressure. They can also help even the healthiest employees be more effective.

Workplace stress is on the rise in the UK. In 2015 it overtook musculoskeletal disorders as the most common work-related illness, affecting around 1.6% of UK workers.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s enough that every large organisation and many smaller ones will have one or more employees actively struggling with the consequences.

Mental health issues, a lack of energy and a lack of motivation and even some physical symptoms can all arise from workplace stress.

Even if employees aren’t suffering the most extreme effects of stress, various studies show there are benefits to allowing time for breaks. Here, I highlight three main positives that can come from the humble coffee break.

Benefits to productivity

It might seem like breaks make no sense financially, but that’s not the case. Though employees might not be earning money while they’re having their coffee, studies show they’ll do more work after their break than they would have done without it. This is because breaks give an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) time to rest.

The PFC is responsible for goal-oriented “thinking” work, which means it’s in constant demand in a lot of working environments. Giving it five minutes to rest means it can be more effective afterwards, leading to better creativity and boosting overall engagement.

One thing to highlight, however, is that these breaks are more effective if people aren’t looking at phones the whole time. If employees are encouraged to make a cup of coffee and chat to colleagues for five minutes instead, the benefits to productivity will be more pronounced.

Benefits to health

Psychology Today said constantly sitting at a desk has been linked to physical problems such as heart disease, depression and obesity. The simple act of standing and walking to the kitchen to make a drink every hour or two can significantly reduce the risk of these problems.

It’s not so much the break itself that’s the benefit here, it’s the movement associated with taking the break.

If the boost to productivity is not enough to convince you, consider the boost to the company that would come from employees taking fewer sick days throughout the year. Healthy employees are cheaper than sick employees and contribute to a more consistent workforce.

Compared to other health solutions, such as investing in better furniture, allowing employees breaks to stand up from their desk and walk around a little is a relatively cheap way to improve their health.

Benefits to job satisfaction

Finally, regular breaks have also been shown to improve job satisfaction, which is ever-important in a world where workers are changing jobs more frequently than ever before.

According to one source, taking breaks has been linked to benefits such as “higher job satisfaction; reduced emotional exhaustion; and greater efforts by employees to undertake work above-and-beyond their job description.”

Every single one of those benefits should make an employer seriously consider offering more regular breaks. More engaged employees will not only stay at the company longer, but they’ll have a positive impact on their colleagues and on people considering working for you.

Your employees will have the motivation to learn more and do more, but they’ll be doing so in an environment that promotes their wellbeing, rather than in a high-stress, ultra-competitive workplace. This means that their engagement and hard work will be sustainable, rather than a short burst that will die out in a week or two as stress and fatigue take hold.

Gavin Dow is MD of Coffee Central