Does caffeine improve workplace performance?

As a fellow caffeine junkie, I do feel better when I can start the day with a coffee in hand on the way into work. I love the flavoured coffees too, such as hazelnut or vanilla, and it just makes me feel so much better and able to face the day as soon as I sit down at my desk after having one.

I’m not by any means saying that I need a coffee to cope with day to day activities, however, it is a luxury that I think has caught Australia by storm and I was certainly curious about what fellow readers thought of it.

According to the 13 studies conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine proved that A Cup of Coffee Can Increase Workplace Performance, and prevents less workplace errors for shift workers  between the ages of 18 and 65, but most that responded were between the ages of 20 and 30. I can understand that for shift workers it would be a particular blessing when the body clock is out of whack, but what about the general 9.00am to 5.00pm crowd?

Another website that I view called described caffeine in the workplace in the following way: ‘Caffeine is cheap, readily available and effective. Unless you’re a heavy user of caffeine, a cup of coffee or a soda will give you a reliable jolt of energy. Your co-workers are unlikely to disapprove of caffeine consumption, and chatting over the coffee pot may give you opportunities to bond with other coffee drinkers. If used judiciously, caffeine can compensate for lack of sleep, boredom or fatigue.’

This article also went on to describe coffee and the power nap as great afternoon pick me ups, however, napping on the job may be frowned upon by employers and is often considered as laziness or lack of commitment.

It is interesting how the ‘coffee culture’ has really grown over the years, as before it used to be ‘cigarette breaks’ that brought staff members together but now we really seem to be appreciating a more ‘European’ style of social atmosphere. Meeting in cafes I find tend to encourage the following:

  • Coffee Breaks – colleagues to interact and further build rapport within the office which can boost morale
  • To conduct interviews – a more casual style atmosphere can often help the interviewer connect with the interviewee on a more personal level
  • Networking opportunities – some potential clients may not have the time to meet for a lunch or dinner appointment, so we can make the most of the time that we have meeting over a cup of coffee.
  • Matchmaking – this can be the stage of getting to know someone before the dating stages commence.

Depending on whether or not you are the employer, I could imagine that too many coffee breaks could become more of a hindrance than a virtue, but given the right balance I believe it can be of good value.

For those that are interested in the health side of what caffeine does to the body, I have summarised this in some brief points below:

  • Stimulates your heart, respiratory system, and central nervous system.
  • Makes your blood more `sludgy’ by raising the level of fatty acids in the blood.
  • Causes messages to be passed along your nervous system more quickly• Stimulates blood circulation
  • Raises blood pressure
  • Causes your stomach to produce more acid
  • Irritates the stomach lining
  • Makes digestion less effective by relaxing the muscles of your intestinal system
  • Its diuretic effect caused increased urination  – although you would have have to drink about 8 cups of coffee in one sitting for this to occur!
  • Stimulates the cortex of your brain heightening the intensity of mental activity. This can result in a temporary feeling of alertness and, in the short term, banishes drowsiness and feelings of fatigue. In those who already have high levels of anxiety the heightened intensity of mental activity can produce unpleasant effects.
  • Affects the length and quality of sleep. Heavy caffeine users suffer from sleep-deprivation because their nervous system is too stimulated to allow them deep, restful or prolonged sleep.
  • The American Medical Journal has reported a correlation between caffeine and decreased bone density or osteoporosis in women.

One of our survey respondents noted, ‘Some people think that caffeine improves performance, but coffee contains a lot of empty calories, ie. no nutrition, so a good nutritious lunch like a crunchy salad with some protein will do far more for your workplace performance. Try some!’

Of course caffeine effects all of us in different ways, for example my flatmate tells me that sometimes she will get a shaky feeling after a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and will feel bloated, whereas I can have a coffee, perhaps a tea before lunch and then a can of V (energy drink) for the afternoon (very bad I know!)

But besides the jittery effect of having too much caffeine, there is also the consideration of blood sugar levels as well, to which diabetes is becoming a much higher risk then most would consider.

The overall verdict that I can see from poll respondents this week is to not deprive the caffeine drinkers of their daily intake as the withdrawal symptoms can often be grumpiness and fatigue, and to also keep the importance of ‘corporate culture’ by allowing the coffee breaks for members of your workplace team. However, if individuals are relying on caffeine for the sole purpose of improving workplace performance, you may be disappointed by the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ that can often be associated with it, so don’t forget that balancing a healthy diet and sleep patterns will overall give the results you need to be a productive in the workplace.

Haven’t had your say? Please send your feedback below, or check out our latest online poll – Should Employers put restrictions on social media in the workplace?