Human Capital Management Blog

Strategies for HCM Professionals

Take Coffee Breaks With Your Team to Improve Productivity

Over the years, many around the office have wondered why I have a borderline industrial grade coffee grinder in our lunch room. This blog is dedicated to each of you.

As a coffee nut, most afternoons, I usually spend 20 minutes meticulously weighing, grinding, pouring and stirring my high-altitude grown single origin African coffees. Then I drink it with one or a couple of my colleagues. Time-waster or productivity booster?  Personal experience points me to the latter. Coffee (drinking and education) is one of my many passions outside of work. Sharing this passion at work has given me a window into many of my colleagues’ hobbies as well. Through a quick coffee-making session in the kitchen I’ve been able to find out that there are some serious cooks, skiers, and olive oil connoisseurs amoung us at Ceridian. It just so happens that this very blog idea sprang from learning I have a common interest with a member of the Social Media Team (Food, but that’s another blog). Jokes aside, conversations over coffee help me work better and here’s why:

We’re people
The relaxed, informal atmosphere of a coffee break sets the stage for a comfortable, casual setting for people to socialize in, as well as to conduct informal “meetings” to discuss problems and brainstorm new approaches and ideas. Coffee has become a great way for me to meet people across the organization I normally wouldn’t interact with, whether in and around my office or on Twitter with colleagues around the world.

Scientific evidence
Face-to-face interaction is one of the main things that predicts productivity, (to sum up the research findings of some very intelligent Social Scientists at MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab.)

If you’re someone who doesn’t normally participate in – or encourage – breaks with others, you may want to reconsider. It’s not that your mounting to-do list isn’t important. Rather, you’re not doing yourself any favors by convincing yourself the best approach is to grind down and try to maintain focus until it’s done. Taking mental breaks gives you clarity, and according to MIT – if you spend breaks with others your productivity will soar. MIT’s graduate student, Benjamin Waber realized call-center employees were taking breaks alone (in order to minimize the noise taking breaks as a group would cause) and a quick switch to scheduled group breaks saw call time per customer soar, “…boosting productivity significantly and saving the company millions of dollars”.

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Making use of mental breaks
A study conducted by Staples found that a quarter of employees, even when they do take a break, don’t disconnect from work-related technology. The key to making your mental break a valuable and beneficial one is to do something, anything that requires you to completely step away from your work task. Spending too long on any one task can actually be counterproductive. Once you hit a certain threshold, you aren’t in the flow anymore. You need to step away from your work, refuel your mind and energize – and why not do that while caffeinating yourself, and chatting with co-workers?

Don’t get me wrong – there are some downsides to having coffee breaks with coworkers. For example, if somebody runs a hazelnut flavored coffee through your grinder. (Just for your information, hazelnut lingers for a long time!) My hobby – coffee snobbery – keeps me productive. Many leading business people are passionate about their hobbies (as HBR pointed out). Richard Branson, for instance, is famous for his hot-air balloon adventures.

Does the mental break you take need to be coffee? Of course not. It’s not what you do during the time away from work that matters so much as the fact that you make sure you do it and invite others. Maybe coffee’s not for you. Perhaps skiing, cooking, or photography is more your style? Whatever it is, I do encourage you to increase the time you spend on hobbies and extracurricular activities. Doing so will help you be happy, healthier and a more productive person overall.coffee-stork

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