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Upper management (who are the owners of the company) recently brought up that there are too many people going on the morning coffee run at a nearby cafe at once, and that it "disrupts the work routines" of other people. The group is usually 3-5 people, and today it was 6-7 that all went simultaneously after the morning scrum. This usually takes no longer than 10-15 mins.

While I understand that in our small company (~20 people) that is a noticeable absence, it really rubs me the wrong way. Upper management always wants to keep a tight grip on everything, and there isn't a lot of trust. So it felt like a deliberate attempt to limit coworker's interactions with one another outside the office.

Does my boss have a reasonable concern here? Am I just biased?

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Jenny D, Fattie, JazzmanJim, AGirlHasNoName Apr 13 at 1:03

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Apr 12 at 12:35
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    why is there not a coffee machine in the office? Keurig can offer all the flavors people want, grind your own beans and french press at your desk if you want quality? – NKCampbell Apr 12 at 14:30
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    @Fattie You meant copy and paste, right? :) – Sourav Ghosh Apr 12 at 14:34
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    When I worked at office, I would often leave to cafes and coffee shops to get work done for a few hours. I wonder how this management would feel about that! ;) – Robert Dundon Apr 12 at 15:38
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    The fact that your boss allows his employees to leave work and go to a local coffee shop is amazing to me. Is there not a breakroom with a coffee maker? – Keith Apr 12 at 16:04
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Frankly speaking, unless the job role is about or demands the presence of oneself at the desk for a given period of time (example: support executive for a hotline), as long as the overall work expectations are met, how individuals are managing their time should not matter much to the supervisor / upper management. In other words, as long as the work is accomplished within the expected timeline, usually no one bothers about how the time was managed.

You may need to see, whether there are other reasons being this objection, like

  • Objection / report about being blocked on someone else's availability (at any time)
  • Missing delivery timeline
  • A drop in quality of work

which in turn might have triggered this time-monitoring practice. Sometimes, people state the easiest reasons (also "canned" response), just for the sake of it. You may really need to know what the real objection is.

One more theory behind why it could have happened:

As if this has really been an unofficial practice for some people to go out (simply being unavailable) in a particular time everyday, yes, this can cause issues with availability. Maybe the upper management want to point out the issue in whole, instead of finger-pointing at any particular employee?

Does my boss have a reasonable concern here? Am I just biased?

Unless you can rule out all other possibilities and prove otherwise, we've to consider yes, your boss has a reasonable concern. That's why this directive was given. However, how "reasonable" that is overall, you can only find out if you approach someone from upper management (HR, on in absence, someone charged with the HR/Admin department) to ask for more clarification.

TL:DR - It appears there's more to it, you need to have a conversation and find out and remedy the actual problem.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Apr 12 at 16:28
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    I agree with "how individuals are managing their time should not matter" however this appears to be a coordinated group situation and not an individual. – cdkMoose Apr 12 at 19:04
  • This makes the assumption that all work is done as 8 hours of solo non interactive tasks. I find that’s rarely the case, and that face to face communication is often helpful or needed. So just because it doesn’t affect the half of the office that leaves, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect the other half. Otherwise there’d be no need to have any core office hours required, and all companies would allow 100% remote off hour work. – Cooper Buckingham Apr 14 at 19:20
  • @CooperBuckingham Hello, did you miss the part "overall work expectations are met"? The official communication is part of the work expectation, it's part of the job. I did not assume anything. Are you suggesting all work is done as 8 hours of collaborative interactive tasks? No, right. It's a mix of both, as and when required. – Sourav Ghosh Apr 15 at 5:23
  • You aren’t thinking about the other people trying to get their own job done but finding nothing but empty desks when they walk over to ask a question. Sure. Some amount of stuff eventually gets done. But saying that an employer shouldn’t care if people are at their desks ignores all complexities. – Cooper Buckingham Apr 15 at 14:18
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My main concern is that you are, during your work time, taking a break of 10-15 minutes on an external place. If your work does not have a break room and a coffee machine, I think your management should act and bring what you need to rest / take a break inside the work environment.

I'm not shocked with the fact that a small company try to split you into smaller groups : maybe it's a fact or maybe just a false impression, but bigger groups tends to take longer pauses than smaller ones. Maybe they want to avoid you taking longer and longer breaks and leaving with bigger groups one step at a time.

It's a fair concern, I think, given that your company probably still has to prove itself, but it's also a lack of confidence for management. If your productivity is not lowered by this little break, no harm will be done on this project and moral will probably be better, hence better results during work time.

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    Why stop there, chain employees to their chairs... Sorry for exaggerating but these kind of coffee runs are quite common and contribute to team building and improve relationships between different teams (especially since in this case people from different teams join). From experience, the OP's company's behavior seems petty. – Xander Apr 12 at 9:06
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    @Xander, 1/3rd of the company may not be in the Workplace for 10 to 15 min at any given time. – user95634 Apr 12 at 9:13
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    Very true. Remember paid breaks are still on company time and you should not be leaving the worksite. If everyone wants to leave to get coffee, they can do it on their unpaid lunch break. – SaggingRufus Apr 12 at 12:23
  • @Xander they may be common in your country, but try to understand that it may be a local practice. Here in France, I can't imagine that, as xdtTransform said, a third of the company is outside : just for security reasons, it's not a good idea. I really can't see how adding what employees need inside the workplace is a bad thing... – S. Miranda Apr 12 at 14:23
  • @S.Miranda "Here in France" in which case, as the OP is tagged Canada, I'm not sure how relevant your answer is to the question :/ – Aaron F Apr 15 at 7:30
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While I understand that in our small company (~20 people) that is a noticeable absence, it really rubs me the wrong way. Upper management always wants to keep a tight grip on everything, and there isn't a lot of trust. So it felt like a deliberate attempt to limit coworker's interactions with one another outside the office.

Does my boss have a reasonable concern here?

Maybe. What you are not telling us is why management objects. You are assuming it's about trust, but there may be other reasons. Perhaps they find it unreasonable that the entire team is absent -- there would be noone to turn to if something goes wrong. Or perhaps, due to the small size of the company, it's very disruptive if 3-7 people all return at the same time, all chatting. Or it is because you're not compensating for the time being away (either by cutting your lunch break short, or by coming in early/staying late).

Am I just biased?

Well, of course you are.

From your description of the problem, I suspect the lack of trust is mutual. You didn't ask upper management what they are concerned about. You didn't even ask here how to solve this issue -- you're just trying to seek validations for your suspicions.

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Does my boss have a reasonable concern here? Am I just biased?

The concern is only somewhat reasonable if the employees who are regularly leaving the office are struggling to meet their deadlines for their assigned tasks. I say somewhat reasonable because at the end of the day, 15 minutes every day should not be enough time to significantly impact an employee's ability to meet their deadlines.

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there are too many people going on the morning coffee run at a nearby cafe at once, and that it "disrupts the work routines" of other people.

Let's take that at face value. Could your boss be right? Absolutely.

If you go out for a coffee alone, you are silent. You are focused. You talk to nobody, go over the street, order your coffee, wait for it, then grab it and go straight back. You go back to your desk and continue working.

Now if two people go for a coffee, they talk. Not loudly though. They go over, both order, then both wait for their order. After the first gets their order, they wait for the second one's order. Then they go back chatting. This took longer than them going separately, because person #1 had to wait not only for their own coffee but also for person #2's coffee, while person number two had one more person in front of them in the queue. It was also noisier. And it increased the chances that a question in the office went unanswered because although either would have known the answer, neither was there (compared to them going one after another).

Add more people, it gets even worse. The chatting gets louder, because now there are multiple parallel conversations in the group, the combined waiting gets longer, because person #1 has to wait on person #2-#7 while #7 has 6 more people in front of him/her than usual. And the chance that one of them can help with a question is diminished greatly.

So yes, it's absolutely possible that the rise in volume, rise in time spent idle and not working and time lost by others who had to wait for you to come back to get their question answered has finally risen to a level where your boss needs to object.

To see if he has a point, just a thought experiment: If you had 1000 employees and they all went to grab a coffee at the same time and all stay until they all have a coffee, how long do you think that would take? Would any work get done that day?

So yes, it's a thing. You will have to work around that. Maybe you can send one or two people with orders from all 7. For good measure, ask your boss if he/she wants one as well. That should be enough to satisfy everybody.

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    "If you go out for a coffee alone, you are silent. You are focused. You talk to nobody, go over the street, order your coffee, wait for it, then grab it and go straight back. You go back to your desk and continue working." - there's a whole lot of assumuption in this statement. You could get on the phone and call your friend, you could get on social media and get lost in a video black hole, you can chat with any number of other people around, etc... – NKCampbell Apr 12 at 15:33
  • Well, I assumed that everybody was otherwise complying with their contract to not do private business while on the clock. – nvoigt Apr 12 at 15:57
  • I used to organize "Friday coffee break", A mini event, where every participant can arrive a half hour before working starting time, optionally bring snacks, drink coffee and talk with each other. We found it helps to build teamwork by knowing each other better, improving communication, etc. While I agree things can go out of control if not managed properly coffee break time can actually improve productivity and or sure improve workers condition – jean Apr 12 at 16:44
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Upper management always wants to keep a tight grip on everything, and there isn't a lot of trust.

This is probably the start and end of the problem. Managers like to see their employees working, especially if they are paying for them. If they see lots of people getting coffee then they probably see lots of people not working.

This is a really difficult area because technically the coffee time is wasted work time but in practice it might boost productivity. People don't find it easy to sit at their desk and do cerebral work on command and occasional breaks can be beneficial. So your boss kind of has a point and you kind of have a point. It isn't a straightforward right/wrong. It doesn't help that people like to take breaks even when it doesn't boost their productivity.

The main problem you've got is that the benefit from breaks is intangible and hard to demonstrate while the wasted time is very tangible. i.e. it is hard to justify the breaks, especially if you are talking to someone predisposed not to like them. On this basis I would avoid clashing with management over the topic and try to find some kind of appeasement strategy. Perhaps they are expecting one person to queue for 2-3 coffees? Try to find an informal solution which will appeal to them.

So it felt like a deliberate attempt to limit coworker's interactions with one another outside the office.

Possible but less likely.

  • Would people down voting care to comment? – P. Hopkinson Apr 12 at 15:18
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Does my boss have a reasonable concern here? Am I just biased?

What do you think if you were the boss? You covered everybody's salary, but about 40% of the company slack off every morning. What would you think?

It's ok to have coffee breaks, but please keep it low. What about sending the most junior employee out for buying coffee for everybody?

Requesting the most junior employee out for coffee break is a nice idea. Everybody has coffee, but kept the expense to minimum (junior employee's hours == cheap, and by definition the least useful human resource). Win-win for everybody.

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    @newguy Because the most junior employee is by definition, the least important in the company. The hours lost from walking to cafe are kept to minimum. – SmallChess Apr 12 at 13:56
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    @newguy There's also nothing about having coffee in the job description or contract. So why 40% of the company went out? – SmallChess Apr 12 at 13:58
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    @newguy The boss has the legal rights to refuse coffee breaks, because it's not in the job description. Coffee is not essential for survival. Understood? Sending out the least important employee out is a win-win, for the boss and the team. – SmallChess Apr 12 at 13:59
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    exactly as I said above, "this is becoming one of "those" questions with lots of up and down votes" @SmallChess 's answer and my answer are the only two correct answers. Already both these answers have a massive number of up and downvotes! – Fattie Apr 12 at 14:02
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    @newguy Should the CEO go out for buying the coffees? – SmallChess Apr 12 at 14:02

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