Coffee Breaks - Do They Create Stress?


The American custom of taking break during the working hours. Thus coffee breaks began in the early 20th century. At the end of the 19th century, the American workplace was a dreadful place for a break.

But as the century turned, social reform was gaining steam. Companies and factories installed in-house lunchrooms, and coffee breaks became part of the reform.

In 1952, the term "coffee break" was coined by a Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign that read, "Give yourself a Coffee-Break -- and Get What Coffee Gives to You."

Many people take a coffee break while at work, believing that this will ease their stress. Research has been conflicting on the effects of caffeine; some studies suggest that it can worsen anxiety and trigger stress, while others show it boosts confidence and alertness.

Recently, however, a study done by psychologists Lindsay St Claire and Peter Rogers of Bristol University in the United Kingdom suggests that taking coffee breaks while working may actually deter employees' ability to do their jobs and undermine teamwork instead of boosting it.

So this raises the question: do the classic American coffee breaks hurt more than help?

The study found that caffeine is particularly unhelpful to men and can disrupt their emotions and hamper their ability to perform certain tasks.

This latest report, released by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council, also suggests that caffeine makes people less co-operative when working in teams.

"Our research findings suggest that the commonplace tea or coffee break might backfire in business situations, particularly where men are concerned," says St Claire. "Far from reducing stress, it might actually make things worse."

The researchers began their work after they heard a story during a stress workshop. A man described how he and a group of co-workers went on a business trip to the United States.

In the United Kingdom, coffee isn't readily available in the workplace. However, in the United States, coffee was freely available and the team drank indulgently. Soon, they noticed that their stress levels had risen.

They felt that the extra caffeine had disrupted their team cohesiveness and affected their ability to work together.

The team from Bristol University tested caffeine's effects on 32 coffee drinkers. The subjects were that they would be given one of three drinks; a caffeinated coffee that would enhance their performance, a caffeinated coffee that would make them feel stressed, or decaffeinated coffee.

This, however, wasn't completely true. Half of the drinks contained 200 mg of caffeine and the other half contained none. The subjects were then asked to perform two stressful tasks.

The results of the tasks? Men did significantly worse than women in coping with the caffeine from the coffee. Those that had been told that their coffee contained the performance-enhancing caffeine had higher heart rates and showed more stress, especially during a public speaking task.

The caffeine, however, did not affect the men when it came to mathematical tasks. When the subjects performed a "desert survival task" in teams, taking coffee breaks did reduce stress, especially in men, but drinking coffee seemed to reduce teamwork.

So when it comes to coffee breaks, it may be advisable to lay off a bit if you're about to speak to an important client or head into a team meeting where you know there will be much bickering about the latest project plans.

And while coffee and caffeine have been shown to be extremely beneficial in other areas of your physical health, maybe they should be reserved for before and after work or on the weekends.

© Copyright Randy Wilson, All Rights Reserved.


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