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Coffee Breaks at Work: History, Perks and Tips

Your team members likely look forward to their workplace coffee breaks, but these regular respites from their desks may benefit your employees more than they realize. Studies show that extra break time beyond regularly scheduled breaks can reduce employee stress and improve productivity, and yet coffee breaks at work are only a recent trend for many companies.

Learn more about the origin of coffee breaks and the potential benefits to your business and its employees.

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History of coffee breaks

A variety of businesses claim to have originated the coffee break sometime between the early and mid-20th century, with employers across the United States taking cue from European businesses and allowing workers to enjoy a few minutes for a cup of coffee or tea.

It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that coffee became widely available and relatively inexpensive. Targeting workers, the Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign popularized coffee breaking with the slogan, “Give yourself a coffee break and get what coffee gives to you” and helped influence many U.S. employers to implement an official employee coffee break.

The following decades saw a rapid rise in cafes and automatic coffee machines. This reinforced taking short breaks for a convenient coffee to the point where many saw it as a right, resulting in strike threats and negotiations with major companies for daily coffee breaks.

Modern coffee breaks

Through media and personal experience, employees can view coffee breaks as not only a brief distraction from work but as opportunities to sip on a refreshing beverage, chat with their coworkers, walk to their favorite cafe and nibble on a snack. 

Related: Here’s Why Companies Should Offer Perks at Work

Benefits of coffee breaks

Some employers may suggest that coffee breaks disrupt focus and productivity, but research shows these short respites can provide benefits if they involve something positive and work-related. Here are some of the potential benefits of letting employees take coffee breaks at work.

Promotes well-being

Even if disconnecting from work causes a brief distraction, a coffee break can support long-term physical well-being that translates to improved workplace performance. Sitting at a desk for prolonged periods can be associated with increased physical and psychological health risks, but employees who step away from their desks for a few minutes to enjoy a coffee may experience increased productivity, job satisfaction and overall well-being. 

Encourages social interactions

Coffee breaks can provide opportunities for colleagues to connect, develop trust and build stronger teams. Many employees experience higher-quality communication over coffee or tea rather than through formal workplace channels, and a simple cup of coffee could result in the development of new ideas, more innovative collaboration and improved workplace culture.

Relieves stress

Besides providing an opportunity for a break from work, the properties of coffee could also relieve employee stress. Studies show that drinking coffee is associated with reduced risk of depression and other mood disorders.

Improves morale

Encouraging your employees to take breaks to sip a coffee and recharge can demonstrate a positive and supportive management attitude, and recognizing hard work with a coffee break can likewise boost morale. Research shows that employees who feel valued and recognized have higher job satisfaction and greater retention rates.

Boosts productivity and efficiency

Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages could have enhancing effects on your employees’ cognitive abilities. A quick coffee break can promote the release of excitatory brain chemicals, providing a surge of energy and focus. In turn, energized employees can work with fewer mistakes and higher efficiency.

Enhances memory

Research shows that caffeine can enhance memory abilities for up to 24 hours after consumption. About two cups of coffee can cause a deeper level of memory retention, which could allow your employees to process and learn information about their jobs more effectively. 

Related: 10 Luxury Perks to Attract and Retain Employees

Tips for workplace coffee break policies

Many organizations are recognizing the advantages of coffee breaks and embracing the trend of workplace coffee culture. You might consider implementing coffee breaks in your organization with the following strategies.

Provide in-office refreshments

To create an inspiring coffee break experience for your employees, you could offer a variety of refreshments beyond coffee from a regular drip machine. Coffee culture is trending toward high-quality beverages, so consider upgrading to a specialty machine that employees can use to craft personalized espresso beverages.

Additionally, you could offer your employees a mix of healthy and indulgent snacks. You might include appetizing options that account for known or common dietary or cultural preferences, such as dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, kosher or vegan.

Provide a comfortable break space

If possible within your workplace, you could create a communal coffee break space with a relaxing ambience and comfortable seating that encourages socialization. Consider adding features such as plush couches, natural light, plants and light and casual game options.

Create coffee break policies

The type of coffee break policy you create depends on the needs of your organization. Some businesses with consistent peak volume periods, such as restaurants, may need to schedule coffee breaks to avoid short-staffing. Offices with more fluid schedules might allow employees to take coffee breaks whenever it best suits their day.

To ensure consistency and accountability in your workplace, consider creating formal policies that outline the entitlements of coffee breaks. These policies can include details such as:

  • If coffee breaks are paid or unpaid

  • The maximum time allowed for breaks

  • The number of coffee breaks permitted per shift

  • Scheduling requirements

Read more: Meal and Break Policies at Work

Virtual coffee breaks

Remote workers often enjoy coffee too, and virtual coffee breaks can offer a great opportunity to help employees connect with their team members and add variety to their work-from-home routine. To host a virtual coffee break, try these tips:

  • Schedule a regular informal coffee break where employees can catch up

  • Create themed coffee breaks, such as a club for a trending TV series

  • Incorporate team building games and activities

  • Provide virtual gift cards or care packages so remote employees can indulge in a high-quality coffee

Read more: Virtual Team Building Activities for Remote Teams

Practice sustainability

The workforce is increasingly concerned with environmental sustainability and the impact of their choices. You can reflect these values by including sustainable alternatives and avoiding food and drink waste. Ways to do this can include:

  • Providing to-go coffee cups for employees to take to cafes

  • Choosing dishes that can be reused, recycled or repurposed

  • Avoiding excessive packaging

  • Sourcing coffee and refreshments from environmentally responsible vendors

Partner with a local cafe

If you don’t have the space for a coffee and break area, consider partnering with and supporting a local cafe. Your employees can visit during breaks to enjoy the ambience and high-quality beverages of a third-wave coffee shop.

Local cafes may be willing to discount coffees in exchange for your regular business, but there are a few ways you might implement a partnership: 

  • Providing an employee discount

  • Purchasing employee coffee cards at a discount

  • Charging employee orders to your company account

  • Scheduling regular catering events

  • Trading goods and services for employee coffee

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