There is often a misunderstanding surrounding coffee breaks and what breaks are required by law. However, what is required by law, and what is best for employees can be two different things.
In Ontario, employees are entitled to an uninterrupted 30-minute eating period after no more than five consecutive hours of work. An employer and employee may agree to split the break into two 15-minutes periods, but the two breaks must be taken within the 5-hour period.
Eating periods are unpaid unless the employee's employment contract requires payment. If the employer does provide another type of break, such as a coffee break, then this time is often considered paid working time.
Encouraging the Coffee Break
Even though coffee breaks are not required by law, they are a good practice. It may seem counter intuitive but taking breaks throughout the day can make employees more productive. Working constantly without a break can lead to burnout. Breaks give your brain a chance to recharge and de-stress leading to better focus and decision making. Since breaks refresh your mind they can also lead to more creativity on the job.
Taking a short coffee break with colleagues and those conversations ‘around the water cooler’ can also foster a sense of comradery between colleagues which in turn increases job satisfaction. Additionally, these conversations can lead to informal problem solving and collaboration that spur new ideas.
In short, breaks are good for business!
Break Best Practises
There can be a negative stigma associated with breaks in some work cultures. Here’s some tips to help you create an environment that will reap all the benefits of breaks!
- Take breaks yourself! If members of the management team take breaks, everyone else will feel comfortable taking a break.
- Encourage people to take lunch breaks away from their workstation. If employees stay at their station, they see incoming emails, phone calls or have colleagues come by and ask work related questions. These interactions defeat the purpose of a break.
- Create a break room that is comfortable. A place where people want to take a lunch or coffee break. If you don’t want to be there, no one else likely will either.
- Create an outdoor space such as a patio with a picnic table or community garden where people can go outside to recharge their batteries and oxygenate their bodies!
- Create opportunities that gather people. Have bagel Fridays (or any other food tradition of your choice). There’s nothing like food to get people moving from their desk and talking together!
- Install a good coffee machine in the break room. Offer alternative beverages such as tea and juice as well!
- Encourage wellness initiatives that get employees moving during their breaks. Physical activity helps to reduce stress and anxiety. For example, start a “walk the block” challenge. Mark a route around the office, each time an employee completes a lap around the block they get a ticket to enter a raffle prize.
- Take breaks as a team or a department at the same time every day. If going together as a group isn’t possible, encourage an individual team member to join you when you are going for a break.
Give Yourself a Break
If you are busy managing all the details of running a successful business and don't have time to keep up with the HR work, give yourself a break and call in the HR experts at Essential HR. We can partner with you to manage all the day to day tasks as well as your overall HR strategy. Contact us today for some HR relief!