Reviving the Tea Break

By Jeremy Blake on May 5, 2023

Some history
The tea break. It's important to a lot of people, and tea can be contentious!
Do you know when a bunch of North Americans tipped tea into the Boston River? A load of tea chests were dumped in protest to the English not paying enough tax to import it from China. That was 1773.

Teatime is certainly English. In the 1840s the Duchess of Bedford, the seventh, would have her lunch around midday, but get a bit peckish at four, so she had tea parties and sandwiches to fill the void. This is back in 1840. So, the popular afternoon tea break, the well-known slump in your energy levels, has some years of experience.

It’s the chat not the biscuit
In Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, he shares how he discovered that one of the reasons why he put on so much weight was when at about 3pm he'd go off in his meandering walks, bothering other people at their desks, and he'd go and get himself tea or coffee and a slice of cake. Well, this is New York, so perhaps a twinkie or a doughnut. He realised it was due to boredom and needing the boost. He identified the importance of the tea break was talking to people, getting ideas, having downtime.

When do you have your slump? And a slump is better than a burn out. It means you need a break. Mine is at 3.30pm with maybe toast and peanut butter or a biccy.  

Can’t afford it? Teabags are between 2 pence and 4 pence and when you add a biscuit, 7.2pence for a choccy digestive, a tea break is around 10 pence before adding the cost of boiling the water and adding milk etc. It is very affordable, and I argue you and your business can’t afford not to champion the tea break.

Tea contains antioxidants, you're absorbing caffeine, but because of the antioxidants, you absorb it at a much slower rate. It takes coffee 30 minutes to have an effect. I know that truck drivers are told they should have a kip after drinking because by the time they wake up, the caffeine has kicked in.

Why bother with a tea break?
Because you've been submerged, usually in two things – meetings and emails. Your brain needs to decompress. And here is the real beauty of the tea break; by having a hot drink, you're required to take the time because the drink needs to cool, you don't drink it straight away, you are forced to stop, breathe, and relax which means that your stress levels reduce, you calm down a bit. And if you're chatting too, evidence shows that it will boost your morale, because you feel a bit better. You’ve come out of that meeting; you've decompressed with a colleague.

5 reasons why you should have tea breaks at work

  1. It's a moment to de stress. If we don't take a break, then it just compounds and compounds and gets bigger.
  2. Collaboration is encouraged. When Steve Job ran Pixar, it was across several different buildings. He brought them all together in one big building. And in the centre of the building, he put the cafe, the restaurant, and the meeting areas. This was where people would come together in one central place. Because he knew that the best meetings happened by chance, and that's what fosters collaboration.
  3. Improve your thinking. When you stop being so close to the challenge or the opportunity you’re working on, your brain gives you what it has been mulling over, it gives you insights, and when you’re with other people they give you more!
  4. Social interaction. Have a chat and have a laugh and take a few minutes away from work. That is valuable. Go back revitalised and a little bit friendlier, having had a chuckle.
  5. Why should you have additional breaks? Well, because smokers never, never have a problem justifying going out for a fag or a vape. So, you need your cup of tea. You need your antioxidants.

6 ways to have a virtual, or in person tea break

  1. Choose the topic in advance of what you're going to discuss. This stops the domination of someone going, “oh, last night Gary did this etc…” You can always, of course, vote on the topic.
  2. You have a debate, and some are for the motion, others against the motion.
  3. Let's rethink how we could run this company, department.
  4. Have a quiz.
  5. Group guided meditation.
  6. Bite-sized learning. And that could be on hobbies not skills for work. Just 15 minutes.