All but one of my coworkers like hot drinks.
Teas, coffees, hot chocolates, etc.

I'm not such a great fan of hot drinks so I never bother with them.

They often have rounds of drinks, where the 'hot-drink-drinkers' go down to the cafeteria downstairs to grab a coffee/ tea etc. and they take it in turns to pay for all of the drinks. The whole process takes like 5-10 minutes and happens at least 6-7 times a day. During this time, some of my coworkers seem to be using their phones, etc. - as you would on a regular break.

During my first few months of employment, I used to walk with them downstairs but not purchase anything. This became kind of awkward and inconvenient so I began to remain at my desk when they would go grab a drink.

While they were downstairs, I felt like it was okay to have a break of my own. With not much else to do, I would take out my mobile phone and reply to messages, read the news, etc.

When my coworkers would return, I would put the phone away and resume working. I didn't use my phone at any other time.

I started doing this every time they would go grab a drink until it was noted in a recent one-to-one meeting with my manager that I was on my phone a lot. It came as a bit of a shock to me but I didn't question it and just apologised, saying I wasn't aware of this.

Does this suggest that I shouldn't have a break when my coworkers go downstairs to grab a drink? It doesn't seem very fair of them to take regular breaks throughout the day (excluding the hour we have for lunch as well) where they can (almost) do what they want, check their phones, reply to messages on a regular basis, etc. while I am at my desk and cannot. I'm hesitant to use my phone at work at all for the sole reason that I might be ridiculed for taking a break.

Nonetheless, is it even appropriate to take a break while my coworkers go downstairs to grab a hot drink?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Feb 24, 2020 at 12:18

11 Answers 11


Without a constant monitoring or knowledge of the break-time pattern, anyone noticing you using your mobile phone while being at your desk may assume that you're getting distracted by the phone. They may not have the idea that you're trying to avail a break and utilizing that time to check your phone for updates. It happens.

Next time your manager mentions this (or if you seem to bump into them next to the water-cooler), explain your approach for utilizing your break time and ask whether that will be a problem or not. You need to communicate the fact that the phone is not distracting you from your work while you're at your desk, rather you're using your break time to check the notifications so that you can keep your focus on the work while you're actually working.

That said, my personal advice: It's good to stretch your legs in regular intervals, also it's important to keep oneself hydrated and breath some fresh air. This helps me to avoid getting distracted and once I'm back to my desk, I can focus better. You don't need to follow your colleagues, take quick breaks, like - a trip to the water cooler, go and check the notice board for any updates, go to the library and check the newspaper, take a round of the office campus as and when you please. That way, you can also check your phone and people will not assume your phone is distracting you from your work (while at your desk).


Nonetheless, is it even appropriate to take a break while my coworkers go downstairs to grab a hot drink?

Take a break when you need one. Otherwise keep working.

If you want to use your phone during your break, go downstairs (or at least away from your desk) and then use your phone.

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    The only possible answer. Everything involving coworkers is a red herring. Break policy concerns you, your work and your employer.
    – Alex M
    Feb 21, 2020 at 19:53
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    @AlexM Except not. You should get the same amount of breaks as everyone else... in what world is this the "only possible answer"?
    – user91988
    Feb 21, 2020 at 22:03
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    @user91988 Your peers' employment relationships and agreements are not yours to enforce. You are not their supervisor, and you are not your own supervisor. Your break schedule concerns you, your work and your employet.
    – Alex M
    Feb 21, 2020 at 22:07
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    @AlexM Right, and when discussing with my employer, I would mention how others are treated, because I want the same treatment. That's how it works. Otherwise you're getting screwed..
    – user91988
    Feb 21, 2020 at 22:07
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    @user91988 Other people being treated unusually well does not mean that you are getting screwed. Other people being treated unusually badly does not mean that you are being treated well. It's easy to make yourself miserable by getting upset when other people seem to be treated unusually well in the short term. Feb 22, 2020 at 8:00

Jane (seductively): (Would you like to come up to my apartment) for a nightcap?
Frank: No thank you, I don't wear them.
-- Police Squad

Like poor Frank who just failed to score, I think you are missing the point. It's not about the tea, it's about the team. Teatime is a team-building exercise. They all do it together because they are a team.

Get it? Nobody cares what anyone is drinking. If you want to grab a Mountain Dew Throwback, do that. Put it in a teacup with a lid, who's to know? LOL

The point is, you are there, being part of the team, hearing their anecdotes about their kid and their dog, giving them the real scoop on some project milestone, guessing where Picard is going next, etc. Whatever. Dreary as that may be, it's team building. You want to be a team player, yes? And it will come around; most who see you listening will in turn listen.

You have found a pretense not to go (the bit about not liking hot drinks); so now find a pretense to go.

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    This. The hot beverage break is not so much about drinking a hot beverage, or even having a break, but creating an informal information-sharing moment between colleagues. You’d be amazed at how much/important work-related information is exchanged during that time. You may even be able to solve a month-long problem with a 5-minute break with the right person. :-)
    – breversa
    Feb 24, 2020 at 9:13
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    I think this is conceptually similar to the "second-hand smoke break", where you leave to not smoke a cigarette when coworkers who are smokers go out.
    – bobsburner
    Feb 24, 2020 at 9:57
  • +1 Without additional information from the OP, I have to second this answer. It's very important to bond as a team as much as practical. You never know what problems are solved by a simple 5 minute conversation that isn't intended to be work-related. Feb 24, 2020 at 13:06
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    This really seems to border on the "just be extroverted" scale of advice. Not everyone needs small talk about people's kids or yesterday's game to want to work as a team on the job. Just follow the appropriate break policy of your office and strive to do good work. Go with them for drinks or don't if you don't feel like it. People who avoid non-work social activities should not be labeled "not a team player". If someone only communicates important work information after chatting about their family for 10 minutes, then they aren't a team player and have bad communication skills.
    – Tal
    Feb 24, 2020 at 15:27
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    @Tal I agree with you on the main-- work info should not be held hostage to indulging a certain amount of random pleasantries, but I think the situation is more like, when you're chatting with the group and mention "I'm having this tough problem and not sure how to fix..." and then someone you don't often talk to pipes up "Oh, I had that exact issue a couple years ago when I worked at OtherCorp and I solved it by...." You can definitely strike a balance between being a heads-down hard worker and being open to informal interaction with coworkers.
    – Meg
    Feb 24, 2020 at 16:17

The "coffee break" or "coffee walk" is very common practice at my work, and a very common practice that I also, like you, do not engage in. I also prefer to check my phone on my breaks, but the perception, as others have mentioned and you have realized, is that I am distracted during work time and not on a regular break.

If you don't want to step away from your desk to take those breaks:

One method I have used, and also seen used, very effectively is to simply write "ON BREAK" on an 8.5"x11" sheet of paper and tape it in a visible location while taking an at your desk break. This lets supervisors or any nosy neighbors clearly know that you are not distracted during regular work time and that you are on a regular break, lunch break etc. This also (might) prevent coworkers from interrupting your break with work related issues.

Unsolicited advice: I would always strongly recommend to adhere to your company standards regarding break duration and frequency, regardless of what any coworkers are up to.


You should get the same breaks as your coworkers.

What seems to be the issue is that you are using your phone at your desk. There are a number of issues with this: it may be distracting to others that are working nearby, or it may create the impression that you are constantly socialising on your phone when you are at your desk (managers of other departments passing by may assume that if you are at your desk you should be working.)

When you want to use your phone or have a break, step away from your desk. Go down to the cafeteria and get a water or juice if you like.

As an aside, I would recommend that you join your coworkers for breaks occasionally. It will help you to build a relationship with them, which is an easier and more enjoyable way of advancing your job prospects within the company than working as hard as you can.

  • You should not "get the same breaks as your coworkers". You should get the breaks that are agreed in your contract of employment and/or applicable company policies for your specific role and/or breaks that you are entitled to by law. The idea that "My coworker takes 6-7 breaks per day lasting 5-10 minutes each and therefore so should I" is incorrect. For all we know, they could be abusing their break privileges anyway. Indeed, in the UK, the level of breaks the OP describes (90-130 mins) are way above the legal minimum, and even above what is normal. Feb 22, 2020 at 14:53
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    I agree with @JonBentley. 6-7 hot drinks breaks seems truly excessive, assuming that the hot-drinkers are also taking their lunch break. My work has free (although not good) coffee and tea less than a minute from my desk, and never have I consumed SEVEN in a single day. That seems like an almost absurdly high coffee intake if you assume a mug (usually 12-16oz of coffee). Just take the breaks you need and are allowed by your employment; The 7+ break takers will probably be noticed and hear about their excess break time from the boss eventually.
    – Meg
    Feb 24, 2020 at 16:22

I am not sure how your work environment is structured and how you register work time, so I won't comment on this.

However I want to comment on not joining your colleagues in their coffee break. This might come off quite strange. It is often the case that if group breaks off from a task in a group they keep talking about it, and you should not miss out on that all the time. If you don't enjoy hot beverage, then use the time to drink something cold or have a sandwich.

Of cause this is not required all the time, but don't isolate from project work.

Besides that, standing up and walking (if only to a seating area or break room) is not only good to make sure you are on a break but is also healthy.

(And just as a comment: it might be not good to argue and fight when confronted with a claim, however apologies and not explaining things isn't good either. Just stating "I am having breaks at my desk while co-workers gone for coffee/smoking" would have been better.)


From worst to best reason for not "producing" - Smoking (Habitually), Phone, Smoking (occasionally), personal internet use, chitchat about your children in the hallway, coffee/tea, water, bathroom.

Nobody really has much time to observe anyone else in a lot of workplaces, we see what we see and it can harm you FAST. (If I see you doing it, you must always be doing it.) Coffee/Tea and other specialized drinks tend to get the OK since you can't really limit water consumption of an employee. The bathroom is sacred since more and more folks are getting digestive disorders, it would be tough to even ask someone to try to space it out.

Everything else is eating away at your employer's productivity and to be honest it's totally healthier that you do what you do but I would have to see it the same way. It is terribly unfortunate for the other workers when someone is getting extra breaks, but if you want to grab some water or other liquid it appears you have the green light for that.

You likely also have the option of doing things like stretching or just getting up and walking a long way around inside your building or something. ie: if your boss ever asked you would say "everyone seemed to be taking a quick coffee break so I wanted to get the heart pumping and blood flowing a bit aswell. They can't fault you for taking a moment to improve your health/ergonomics, if they were to fire you you would likely be in the right as taking a handful of minutes to get fresh air, move a bit, stretch, those things are all health-related so that would be your best bet if you want a quick break when they break.

The key is it has to be productive to the business, taking 5 mins to refresh yourself here and there is totally cool - after all, they too are stopping for refreshment. Just keep the phone in your desk drawer and you're good.


If you're taking a break. Take a break, get up from your desk and move elsewhere.

This has 2 benefits, you no longer appear just to be goofing off at your desk with your phone and more importantly it gets you up and moving.

Getting up and moving will give your posture a chance to recover, eyes a chance to adjust to different lighting and objects at different focal lengths. You circulation to your lower limbs will improve be getting up and moving.

Echoing Harpers answer you're also missing out on a bit of team building. Spending more time with your colleagues like this helps foster the team atmosphere. Most of the time the chatter will be inane, but sometime you might miss out on an off the cuff/informal discussion about a pertinent problem.

I used to be in a similar situation, the dev team would get up and gather around the coffee van whenever it appeared. I didn't drink coffee, but would go get a healthy snack and chat with my co-workers.


Yes, the workplace can be a bit unfair towards us (non coffee drinkers and non smokers). I am in a similar situation in my current company where most of the staff goes out to smoke at least 3-4 times a day, so I just go out with them even if I don't smoke.


My TL/DR; answer ... In my former workplace, a call-center, we got "mandatory" screen-free time for every work-hour 3 minutes break-time so we could re-adjust our eyes (stated in the workplace rules put down by union and company together). A lot of my coworkers were smokers who would combine their screen-free break with a "quick cigarette" - which took about 5 minutes (5th floor, 2 elevator rides down and up plus the time for smoking ) - which was obviously covered under the rules. More or less to oblige with the screen-free time I and other non-smokers would accompany a smoker (they allowed only 2 people at the same time on this break to keep the telephones busy as its a call-center). Going from this experience I suggest you start to accompany your colleagues again on their "hot drink session" - if possible bring a bottle of your favorite cold drink along or look for something suitable in the cafeteria, most places should have something cold as well - problem solved. You can use your phone and are not in plain view of your manager. If you don't like to go with your colleagues - make it obvious that you take a break like your colleagues - step away from your cubicle or whatever.


the number of breaks you mentioned is very excessive. People are hired to work, not to socialize, drink coffee, or go out to smoke nor to talk to their friends and family on their phones. Everyone that is cheating the company in this way should be disciplined according to the disciplinary policies of the company. During the lunch and mid morning and afternoon breaks the employee should be allowed to do whatever she or he wants as long as it doesn't interfere with the work of others and as long as they return from said break at the correct time.

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    I'm not so sure: given a workday of 8 hours, the healthy thing to do is always take a 5 minute break each hour when behind a pc.
    – paul23
    Feb 23, 2020 at 6:07
  • @paul23 It's by law 5 minutes per hour here. Seams very resonable.
    – winny
    Feb 23, 2020 at 19:01
  • @paul23 Yes, but in this case the OP describes breaks of 5-10 minutes each 6-7 times per day plus an hour for lunch. Even assuming the minimum of those ranges, that's an average of 11.25 minutes per hour for an 8 hour day. At the maximum it's 16.25 minutes per hour. It's not reasonable to expect that the employer should lose around a quarter of the working day to breaks. Feb 23, 2020 at 20:40
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    @JonBentley Where I live (EU country), we work 9-6, so six 5m breaks plus 1h lunch would be 10m of break per hour. But frankly, lunch hour shouldn't count at all, so it's more like 3.75m/hour. Feb 23, 2020 at 21:22
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    @JonBentley do you get paid for eating lunch? I most certainly don't: my work is rated for 8 hours a day, but I am always there for 9 hours (9 - 6).
    – paul23
    Feb 24, 2020 at 23:43

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