Take a Break

231I had a client meeting the other day and stopped by a Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee. Grab? More like queue up and shuffle. The place was mobbed and due to the complexity of some of the beverage orders (!) it took me nearly 15 minutes to get my humble cuppa joe.

My client’s office is in the same building as the ‘bucks and I commented to him how surprised I was to see such a crowd midmorning. He glanced at his watch and said no, that was about the right time for the morning coffee break. His statement puzzled me because I see pantries with coffee service in nearly every business I visit. Why would one purchase a beverage a 5 minute walk away that they can get free two steps from their desk? Because, he so wisely pointed out, the ‘bucks break is today’s version of the smoke break of bygone times. It allows folks to leave their desks, grab a colleague and spend 15 to 20 minutes in light, non-work conversation.

As a self-employed, non-corporate office worker, this phenomenon totally escaped my notice. I see coffee shops as a way to purchase coffee, not as a way to break away from the office. Once again I am struck by our human need to integrate a certain amount of social interaction into the day. The dot-com era was famous for its foosball game rooms. We now scoff at the concept of play at work as being a senseless frivolity of failed business.

But just as nature seeks equilibrium and balance, we humans need occasional breaks from task for rest and relief. In business today, we value hard-charging relentless work. We push our days to be longer and longer and even let work creep into the weekend time. Imagine the reaction of most managers if their staff decided to periodically leave the cube confines and wander the streets for 15 minutes. So we give our breaks a purpose – off to get a cup of coffee.

Business leaders lighten up! Challenge your staff to take a mental break a few times a day. Leave the building. Walk around. Take a buddy with you and talk about life outside the office. Relax. Laugh. And if need be, buy a cup of coffee.