Workplace Productivity: Coffee Breaks, Hiding in Bathrooms to Kill Time

In California, nonexempt employees are entitled to a 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked or “major fraction thereof,” as well as a 30-minute unpaid meal break if they work for more than five hours per day. A recent survey discovered what workers actually do on their work breaks and how productive they feel during the work day — and the results were interesting. While most people feel they’re working a solid eight-hour day, many often feel they have to “look busy” while working in the office — and a significant number of people admit to hiding in the bathroom.

Coffee experts Brew Smartly surveyed more than 1,500 American workers on their work break habits.

Most survey respondents (27 percent) reported that they work a solid eight hours each day, followed by 19 percent reporting seven hours of “real work” each day and 13 percent working six hours — yet 65 percent of all survey respondents feel they have to “look busy” while working in the office, and 44 percent admit to killing time by hiding in the office bathroom. Employees may even lie to take more breaks — 32 percent report telling an employer that they smoke (even if they don’t) to take more breaks! (Note: In California, smokers don’t have the right to more or longer breaks.)

Employees on their work breaks do the following:

  • 58 percent eat.
  • 53 percent use the bathroom.
  • 43 percent drink coffee.
  • 29 percent take a walk.
  • 27 percent online shop.
  • 22 percent browse Reddit.

Many people also choose to browse social media while on their break, like Facebook (44 percent), Instagram (41 percent), Twitter (27 percent) and TikTok (17 percent).

While employees may be taking a break from work, they may also be using that time to build comradery with their colleagues. Of those workers who take coffee breaks, 37 percent take their coffee breaks with other coworkers, and of those workers who take smoke breaks, 25 percent take them with other smokers.

While 76 percent of workers take their full lunch break away from their desk, 24 percent admit to working through lunch and eating at their desks and 20 percent of those people said they don’t eat anything at all (because survey respondents were from across the United States, the results may not consider California’s strong meal and rest break laws).

The main reasons employees don’t take work breaks are:

  • 43 percent say there’s too much work to do.
  • 14 percent say they don’t want to break their “flow” state.
  • 12 percent don’t want to look lazy in front of the boss.
  • 4 percent feel judged by other coworkers.
  • 1 percent say breaks aren’t possible due to not having enough coverage.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more employees have been working remotely — and remote workers face a tricky dichotomy. On one hand, 78 percent of survey respondents believe remote workers take more breaks and 66 percent believe those workers take longer lunches; on the other hand, 70 percent believe remote workers are more productive and 69 percent believe remote workers end up working longer hours overall. No matter the perceptions, California employers must ensure that their remote employees take their meal and rest breaks in accordance with the law, as well as track and pay for any overtime hours worked.

California employers’ policies should stress both the timing of meal and rest breaks and that employees are prohibited from working during these breaks. In addition to periodically reminding employees of these policies, it’s important to encourage employees to take their breaks for meals and rest and track those breaks. Not only does that help keep California employers in compliance, but it also helps workers feel more refreshed and, potentially, more productive during the work day.

Katie Culliton, Editor, CalChamber

CalChamber members can read more about Meal and Rest Break Best Practices in the HR Library. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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