The sight of a commuter, heading to work with coffee in hand is a familiar one, as is the workplace coffee station, but what kind of effect does coffee really have in the workplace? Does coffee increase productivity? Let’s take a look.
Facts and Statistics
The Average Office Worker Drinks Around 1,000 Cups of Coffee Annually
Studies show that the average office worker drinks around 20 cups of coffee per week. That adds up to a whopping 1,000 cups a year. As a matter of fact, coffee drinkers spend approximately 24 minutes per day making and drinking coffee. That’s 190 days of work-time each year!
Before you run into the break room and rip the coffee machine out of the wall, keep in mind that despite the lost work hours, coffee drinkers are often more productive than non-coffee drinkers, making them ideal employees.
Reasons Workers Drink Coffee
The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) surveyed 8,239 adults from six countries on their coffee drinking habits. The survey found:
Men and Women Drink Coffee for Different Reasons
While both men and women drink a little over 1.5 cups per day on average, men drink coffee to boost their job performance, while women drink it to relax.
Morning is the most popular time to drink coffee at work
A morning cup of coffee has become a regular practice for millions of people around the world. Whether you are enjoying your coffee at home or at the office, the ritual of taking that first sip is a necessary part of your morning routine.
The majority of coffee drinkers use this beverage to give them a caffeine boost, and since each cup contains around 100mg of caffeine, it’s actually a good idea to have a cup in the morning and at lunchtime.
Annual income has an effect on coffee drinking
Workers who earn less than $30,000 per year are less likely to drink coffee. Only 58% of workers in this income bracket drink it, compared to the 66% of workers who earn more than $30,000 per year.
While workers in a higher income bracket are more likely to drink coffee, those who do, actually drink less than lower-income workers. Lower-income coffee drinkers drink on average one cup more per day than higher-income workers.
How Caffeine Works – The Science
When you drink coffee, caffeine comes into your body in its whole form. As the caffeine molecules enter your liver, they are broken down into three smaller molecules: theobromine, paraxanthine, and theophylline.
As caffeine is metabolized, the methyl group of the molecule is removed, converting the caffeine to theobromine (the primary compound in chocolate). At the molecular level, a methyl group consists of one carbon molecule attached to three hydrogen molecules.
This extra methyl group on the caffeine molecule is what makes coffee act on our central nervous system as an energy stimulator.
Paraxanthine is a central nervous system stimulant that exhibits higher potency at A1 and A2 receptors (the receptors that promote drowsiness). According to studies, Paraxanthine significantly promoted wakefulness, counteracting the effects of the A1 and A2 receptors.
Theophylline is a bronchodilator that opens up the airways in the lungs, increasing oxygen flow. Studies show that caffeine can improve lung function for up to 4 hours. It also counteracts the effect of A1 and A2 receptors in a similar way to paraxanthine. More oxygen combined with a feeling of being more awake both serve as energy stimulators.
Each of these molecules contributes to the increase in energy but when combined, they heighten the drinker’s brain activity, get nutrients flowing, boost mental focus, and even increase athleticism.
Does coffee make office workers more efficient?
How much efficiency increases with coffee consumption depends on the individual and how much of an effect caffeine has on them.
Coffee can improve performance and memory, allowing the brain to work more efficiently. Many individuals find that their productivity soars after coffee breaks. The result of the caffeine on the brain is a heightened focus that results in feeling more alert and making fewer mistakes.
Companies that have in-office coffee options find their workers are more productive. When there are limited coffee options at the office, employees seek out other alternatives at a nearby coffee shop. This lowers their efficiency during the workday since they spend part of their time out of the office.
How Coffee Increases Productivity
It is well documented that short breaks throughout the day provide both mental and physical benefits. Time away from the desk allows an employee to move around and clear their minds before returning to their daily tasks.
Coffee breaks ranging from 5-10 minutes give workers a much-needed break and reset. Let’s look at some of the other ways coffee consumption can increase productivity.
It Improves Mental Performance and Alertness
Work can be taxing on the brain, leaving you feeling tired and worn out. A single cup of coffee provides enough caffeine to make you feel alert and awake again, pulling you through this mid-day slump and allowing you to focus on the task at hand.
As we all know, caffeine is one of the most common stimulants readily found in many domestic products. Caffeinated coffee keeps people awake and provides their central nervous systems with a boost that helps keep them productive throughout the day.
This association between caffeine and alertness has to do with the adenosine receptors found in the human brain. Adenosine, a naturally occurring compound in the body, binds to these receptors, leading to the reduction of stimulatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine. This reduction creates the sensation of feeling tired.
Caffeine is similar in structure to adenosine, meaning that it is able to bind to the receptors instead, increasing the feeling of alertness.
Research also shows that coffee may help to improve cognitive function. Caffeine appears to improve working memory performance which could increase productivity in a workplace situation.
It Can Enhance Your Willpower
We all know that as the day progresses, your willpower tends to go by the wayside. That birthday cake in the break room begins to look better and better, and the temptation to watch one or two cute puppy videos is getting stronger.
With each decision you have to make throughout the day, the mind tires and your willpower begins to decrease. Drinking coffee can actually strengthen your willpower, especially when you’re exhausted.
Making a big decision when you are tired is a bad idea but if you must do so, drinking coffee beforehand, may help improve your self-control and allow you to make better decisions.
It Can Help You Learn Faster
As we mentioned earlier, caffeine appears to improve working memory performance and helps the brain to work more efficiently. In a workplace situation, this can be a huge benefit. Boosting the speed at which workers learn can also boost how quickly they can accomplish a given task.
Keep in mind, that while coffee improves working memory performance, it has shown no impact on long-term memory.
Coffee Breaks Can Improve Productivity
Not only does coffee increase productivity, but the coffee break itself can boost workplace efficiency. Work breaks with a reward, such as coffee, can improve both wellbeing and productivity. Let’s take a look at how coffee breaks can improve workplace productivity.
They Reduce Stress
No matter how much you love your job, it always comes with a certain amount of stress. Whether it is from complex tasks, excessive workloads, or a looming deadline, employees can become both frustrated and anxious in the workplace.
According to the study by ISIC excessive demands at work, combined with little control over the work itself, leads to job strain. This ‘job strain’ causes stress, and in turn, puts workers at risk of a number of negative physical and mental health outcomes including heart disease and depression.
A coffee break offers employees a much-need step away from the desk, and the pressure that goes along with the job. The simple act of making and enjoying a cup of coffee allows workers time to relax and recharge. This small break makes a heavy workload more seem more manageable and leaves workers feeling refreshed and ready to go.
They Keep You Awake and Alert
Focusing on work can be taxing on the brain, leading to workers feeling tired and worn out. As we mentioned earlier, coffee can make the brain work more efficiently by improving performance and focus. A midday caffeine hit can help employees feel awake and alert again, as can the simple act of getting up and walking to the coffee station.
They Encourage Workplace Friendships
Many friendships have been formed at the workplace coffee station. Coffee breaks are often social events, and a great opportunity for employees to get to know each other.
Workplace friendships make for a strong team that will work well together and supports each other. Social support in the workplace, from either superiors or peers and colleagues, improve work environments and increase employee job satisfaction. Enjoying the people you work with results in an enthusiastic workforce and decreased absenteeism. Remember, a happy employee is a productive employee.
They Support Good Health
Coffee has been shown to have a number of health benefits, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular issues, liver disease, and can even protect against Parkinson’s disease, certain types of cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
In short, coffee is a powerhouse beverage!
Drinking coffee regularly can also aid in developing a healthy immune system and boosts metabolism, reducing illness and absenteeism.
Coffee also reduces the pain of desk workers. Sitting down all day can lead to major health problems, and staring at a screen without taking a break can cause headaches, as well as damage to the eyes.
Getting up to walk to the coffee station gives the body, as well as the mind a much-needed break and increases productivity in the long run.
Negative Impacts of Coffee
Coffee offers a number of health benefits, but as with all things, over-consumption can backfire. Drinking too much coffee, or drinking coffee at the wrong time of day can have negative impacts on productivity.
It Can Affect the Quality of Your sleep
In small doses, the caffeine in coffee should not have a significant impact on your sleep schedule. However, if you drink too much or too late in the day, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
This can result in an unhealthy cycle of not sleeping enough, feeling stressed, and poor work performance.
Luckily, the research conducted by ISCI showed regular coffee consumers to be more tolerant to caffeine’s effect on wakefulness. Caffeine consumption caused significantly less impact on sleep patterns for regular coffee drinkers than non-coffee drinkers.
Only you can decide what is best for you but it may be a good idea to drink coffee in moderation and avoid caffeine a few hours before bed.
It Can Lead to Increased Blood Pressure and Adrenaline Levels
We all know that overuse of caffeine can result in an upset stomach, jitters, or even heart palpitations, but did you know that drinking coffee at the wrong time can also lead to increased blood pressure?
The pressure and stress sometimes associated with work can leave you feeling stressed out and tired. When we feel drained, our tendency is to drink more coffee, but studies show drinking coffee when we are stressed can cause elevated blood pressure and adrenaline levels.
Caffeine bonds with receptors in the brain to block adenosine, but similar to a sugar rush, the effect is temporary. As the effect of the caffeine wears off, you can be left feeling even worse than before.
Coffee is great for an afternoon pick-me-up, but if you are under a lot of stress, try herbal tea instead.
How to Drink Coffee for Increased Productivity
Don’t Drink Coffee Right After Waking Up
Nothing is better than that first sip of coffee in the morning. For many of us, it is part of our morning ritual, but recent research has found that coffee doesn’t give you the morning boost you think it does and it doesn’t necessarily make you more productive either.
The average person reaches their peak cortisol production (the hormone that helps us deal with stress) between 8:00-9:00 am. This means that you don’t actually need caffeine early in the morning. In fact, coffee can actually interfere with the body’s natural cortisol production, reducing your level of stress resilience later in the day. Drinking coffee first thing in the morning can also increase your body’s tolerance to caffeine since it replaces the cortisol boost instead of adding to it.
It is important to remember to stay hydrated when drinking coffee. Coffee is a diuretic and is quite acidic. Drinking one glass of water for every cup of coffee can help you avoid dehydration as well as stomach upset.
Drinking water also helps lower the effect the theobromine in the caffeine has in the body, helping you avoid that afternoon crash and helping you stay productive throughout the day.
Cut Back on Additives
As tasty as that syrupy latte is, the sugar crash you experience afterward will minimize the productivity-boosting benefits of the caffeine.
Additives like flavored creamers, syrups, and whipped cream are loaded with sugar. Sugar, similar to caffeine can leave you feeling energized. Unfortunately, the sugar rush is short-lived and can leave you feeling more exhausted and less productive than you did in the first place.
Drinking black coffee is ideal, but if you just can’t stomach it, avoid excess sugar by adding a little milk or cream or try a flavored coffee instead.
In general, it is a good idea to encourage employees to take short coffee breaks throughout the day. Providing an office coffee bar encourages staff to remain on-site, boosts morale, and creates workplace friendships that can boost overall productivity.
As for coffee drinkers, you have to decide what works best for you? Coffee in moderation is a healthy drink but if it leaves you feeling jittery or alters your sleep, have a cup of tea instead.