Tea Break – a snack taken during a break in the work day
Tea breaks are a tradition that has been with us for approximately 200 years. Initially, when workers commenced their day at around 5:00 or 6:00, employers allowed a break in the morning when food and tea were served. Some employers repeated the break in the afternoon as well. Between 1741 and 1820 industrialists, landowners and clerics tried to put a stop to the tea break maintaining that the imbibing of this beverage made working people slothful. Although it was before the inception of trade unions the workers made a stand and the tea break remains with us to this day.
For the working class of the United Kingdom, tea breaks are an essential part of any day. Employers generally allow breaks for tea and sometimes biscuits to be served.
The British concept of a ‘tea break’ during working hours is a term used almost uniformly across the working environment, regardless of whether any tea is actually consumed. The term is often simply shortened to ‘tea’, essentially indicating a break.
According to the tea history timeline, British workers are given tea breaks throughout the day in 1914 as this is thought to improve their productivity. British soldiers are given tea as part of their rations.
Tea Breaks Are Good Business
What I can’t fathom is why employers would need to be ‘forced’ to do it! Perhaps they and many of their employees don’t know about the health and productivity gains we all get from regular breaks in our daily routine.
I’ve worked with people in Holland, England and Dubai as well as lawyers, educators, managers in the food industry and many other individuals from around New Zealand and Australia – mainly face-to-face and now also via tele-seminars. Because ‘sanity breaks’ are part of my message I almost always ask my audiences if they take a regular lunch break, and how many take tea breaks – not just the ‘grab a cuppa and take it back to the desk’ kind of tea break, but a real one where they give their brain a rest – away from their desk. Typically more than 70% of the room tell me they don’t do either on a regular basis. The next questions are ‘how effective are you in the afternoon?’ and ‘how tired are you at the end of the day?’ The look on most people’s faces is classic – a kind of bemused ‘why didn’t I notice that connection before?’
Why haven’t people noticed there’s a correlation between a tiring and less effective afternoon and no real ‘brain breaks’?
Here’s the explanation. Various biological rhythms flow through our body all day, all night. Ultradian rhythms are just one sort. Loosely translated ultra = many and dian = day – the many rhythms of the day. They cycle continuously through our body like rolling waves – 90 – 120 minutes up; 20 minutes down – repeated day and night.
The down cycle is not a negative thing – instead it’s the rest cycle that our body needs to recharge, rebuild and to grow. If we keep pushing through these down cycles, if we don’t give our body a chance to recharge, we push the poor old thing into flight or fight. The consequence? You already know. Stress, burnout, and eventually sickness. Without exception, every person I’ve challenged on this has agreed that when they push through down cycles of tiredness, thinking perhaps that they’re being lazy or that it’s not ‘ok’ to slow down for a short while, they become less effective in the afternoon and end up dragging their weary bodies home at the end of the day – not much use to themselves or loving family waiting for their share of time.
So what to do about it? Morning and afternoon tea breaks and a lunch break away from your desk – they’re some of the simple solutions. And what about Winston Churchill’s famous technique – the one that kept him operating at full steam through all those tough war years? He was famous for his power naps. When tired he’d pop upstairs (when he was working at Downing Street) and hop into bed for about 20 minutes.
‘But I work in a corporate environment and can’t take a nap’, you might be saying. Really? If you take the time to notice the messages your body sends you, and if you can show your employer or colleagues the benefits they reap from your increased effectiveness in the afternoon, you might be surprised how much support you get. It’s not uncommon in some countries, including China, to see people napping at their desks after lunch. And what about the famous continental siesta?
A young accountant in a large Auckland office, with full knowledge of his colleagues, often takes a 20 minute nap at his desk in the early afternoon. If he’s really tired he even shuts the door and lies down on the floor. After about 20 minutes he comes to, feels a little dozy for a couple of minutes, and then he’s away – operating at top efficiency for the rest of the day.
Maybe you don’t have the luxury of a door, but there are other solutions such as going to your car in the car park, maybe a sick room, or perhaps there’s a quiet room you can use. Apparently PriceWaterhouseCoopers in London now have quiet rooms which their employees can use as they choose (as long as there’s no talking), and I know of other companies who make it ‘ok’ for staff to leave their desks to refresh and revitalise. After all, that’s what smokers do several times a day, every day! (But no, I’m not suggesting we all go back to smoking!)
Not only will employers get higher productivity by making it appropriate for people to step away from their desks, but fewer mistakes will happen.
Signs that you need an Ultradian break? You’ll know them – things like tiredness, yawning, irritability, mistakes (especially when you’re at a keyboard), thirsty, unfocused, and sometimes aching parts – often the back.
So, employers, don’t wait for the government to force you to be more profitable and have happier staff. Get the benefit now!
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