Coffee at the Office

Is drinking coffee at work a good thing or a bad thing? The answer to that depends, it appears, on who is paying for the research. Back in 2001, a study undertaken in Britain suggested that caffeine reduced employee productivity, and that office managers who wanted to get a full day’s work out of their workers should limit how much coffee and tea they were allowed to drink each day. The study was in the form of a survey given to 1,000 office workers who self-reported on the amount of coffee that they drink daily, their moods, their productivity and their level of irritability.

According the the survey, 78% of those who responded admitted to drinking 3 or more coffees, colas or teas over the course of an eight hour workday. Five percent admitted that they drank more than ten cups of coffee or cans of soda daily. An average cup of coffee, reported the BBC, contains about 100 mg of caffeine. As little as 350 mg of caffeine can cause lapses in concentration and increased stress, the researchers said.

The results were analyzed by Dr. David Lewis, a stress analyst. He called for employers to scrap morning and afternoon coffee breaks in the interests of their employees’ health and productivity.

Of course, you might take the results with a grain of salt when you find out that the research was funded by Volvic Mineral Water, and that one of the solutions to the problem of caffeine consumption was to replace some of those sodas and coffees with water.

Dr. Lewis’ explanation is that high caffeine intake acts as a powerful diuretic so that people visit the rest room more often during the day, and that leads to dehydration – not to mention more time away from the desk. A dietician with the British Nutrition Foundation said that there’s nothing wrong with drinking three or four coffees during the day, but they should be drinking water and fruit juices as well to avoid dehydration. Just 2% dehydration, she said, can affect concentration and make you irritable.

The Other Side of the Mug
On the other hand, research funded by food distributors and coffee interests often shows that coffee increases productivity in the workplace. A Harris poll conducted in 2004 suggests strongly that coffee – particularly good coffee that’s available at the office – increases worker productivity. According to that survey:

– 76% of those surveyed said that drinking a hot beverage is relaxing
– 79% said that access to coffee or tea makes them more productive
– the same number said that they feel employers care about them when they’re provided with hot beverages on site
– 63 percent said that beverage serve at the office allows them to get coffee and get back to work
– 47 percent said that they appreciate free or low-priced coffee provided by their office beverage service

Add to that the fact that an Australian study found that office workers running out to the coffee shop for coffee were costing Australian business $1.8 billion a year.

Of course, those results are suspect as well – the research was paid for by the hot beverage industry. So who do you believe? Maybe the answer lies between the two extremes. The latest research out of Britain suggests that moderate coffee drinking throughout the day helps workers stay on task, particularly on ‘endurance’ based tasks and boring work. Those workers who have a morning coffee and then no more caffeine the rest of the day tend to hit a slump in the afternoon. So do those who don’t drink any caffeinated beverages at all. Workers who drink a moderate amount of coffee throughout the day tend to maintain their concentration levels until the day is over.