Employee Breaks and You: Finding the Middle Ground

Humans as a whole love relaxing and will typically do whatever they can to increase the amount of time spent doing nothing. This is especially true when it comes to taking breaks at work, be it bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, cigarette breaks, or otherwise. Now because the work day is scheduled into very precise blocks of time, you may feel obligated to round up any workers who are taking an extra five or ten minutes during breaks, or not ‘respecting the workplace.’ This is where I urge you to cut your employees some slack.

With this situation you have to weigh your options and see what course of action will be the best for your company. Allow me to paint two scenarios. The first is where you do nothing and let the workers take an extended break as long as they are getting all of their work done. What happens is the workers come back to work a little more relaxed, they feel less controlled, and they are more efficient with their work because they are not harboring any ill will towards the establishment. If they are respecting the workplace, what’s the big deal?

Now let’s say you set some rules in place to monitor how long employees are on break. Now you’ve given them something to gripe about around the water cooler, and it’s never good when the employees all agree on something against the company. They won’t be disgruntled for only those five minutes you took away from them, they’ll be disgruntled for the rest of the work day. That means a lower quality of work and less efficiency across the board. It ends up that those extended employee breaks were a lot more important than the five minutes you got back. See how that gets them to respect the workplace.

Employees are not taking an extra five minutes because they need more time to recharge; they’re taking it because they don’t want to be rushed during their employee breaks. They want the employee breaks to be just that: employee breaks. Those extra five minutes soothe a very different part of the mind that has nothing to do with focus or relaxation. That’s what makes them so much more important than the five minutes spent working otherwise.

Don’t think of it as an issue of ‘respecting the workplace.’ It’s more about your employees taking a moment for themselves, to feel like they can take control of their time at work other than deciding whether to show up every morning or not. Respecting the workplace would be an issue if they weren’t even showing up, but that’s not the topic of discussion here. In short, let employees blow off some steam; it’s definitely worthwhile in the long run.

How do you approach employee breaks? When does taking extra time become an abuse of employee privileges? Discuss in the comments below!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by shnnn

  • Timothy

    You obviously have never worked in a manufacturing environment. Employees will push the limit of their breaks. Other employees will follow suit and now you have lost valuable production time.

    • That’s a good point, Timothy. In a manufacturing environment, it makes sense not to cut any kind of slack for employee breaks. The author does provide some food for thought though. In certain environments (not all), giving employees a little freedom on breaks could lead to such positive consequences as improved productivity.