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End Abuse of Employee Break Time


Employee breaks obviously take time away from work, but some employers have found effective scheduling of breaks can actually improve production.

Fifty-four percent of employers responding to an Employers of America survey provide morning and afternoon break times of 10 to 15 minutes. One employer said his break times were 12 minutes each, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

Another 18 percent said their employees could break as needed with no set times established.

The president of a window manufacturer said break times at his business are structured to enhance production. He explained: "We start at 7 a.m. and have a 10-minute break at 9 a.m. We have a 10-minute break at 11 a.m., a half-hour lunch break at 1 p.m. and our workday ends at 3:30. The day is broken into four two-hour periods, with only two hours to work after lunch."

"We went to this schedule because we decided that the after-lunch period of the day was not the best production-wise. That was the biggest ingredient. It used to be that we would work from 7 to 12 and have a mid-morning break. There would be a lunch break and then an afternoon break," he continued. "With the workday ending at 3:30, we found we really weren't getting a lot accomplished in the 40 minutes after the afternoon break."

A wholesale food supplier operates with only one break time in the morning.

"Our break time is 15 minutes at 8:30 for everyone," said the president. "Years ago, most of the workforce came in very early in the morning, so the 8:30 break time was started. Gradually, we have moved to swing shifts, with some people coming in at 6, some at 7, some at 8 and a part-timer at 9 o'clock."

The president of a printing company said his business has no policy for breaks. "We are still old fashioned," he said. "We let the employees take breaks when they need to. We figure our employees are adults, they know they're here to get the job done. So we operate on the honor system, and we've never had any problems."

The manufacturer of hardware for vehicles divides its workday into 2-1/2 hour segments and has three work shifts. The majority of the employees work the first and second shifts.

"We have a ten-minute break period and a half-hour meal break per shift, and we have floating personnel who fill in on breaks so that the machines keep running at all times," the plant manager said.

In contrast to employers with highly structured break policies to accommodate a variety of work conditions, some smaller employers reported they have no break times.

"Our employees prefer to work straight through without breaks, so they can leave earlier," replied one employer. Another, in explaining why there are no breaks, expressed the ultimate dilemma of the small business person: "I'm the only one here."

Break time costs you money. Two 10-minute breaks a day for 25 employees equals 8-1/3 hours of paid, non-productive time a day. It equals over 2,000 hours of paid, non-productive time a year. Assume an average of $10 an hour, this equals over $20,000 paid out by the employer for no profitable production.

So what happens when employees stretch the 10-minute break to 15 minutes, on average? If 25 employees do this, it's costing the employer more than $10,000 in paid, non-productive time.

So the length of break time isn't a casual matter.

Suggestions:

1. Evaluate your break policy to be sure the length of time satisfies the need of employees to relax, rest and socialize, without lasting so long it cuts into profitable productivity.

2. Monitor employee use of break time so that you can readjust break time if your employees unduly abuse it by continually lengthening breaks or by taking more breaks than your policy allows.

Example: If your policy gives employees two 15-minute breaks a day and your employees consistently are taking 20- to 25-minute breaks, consider cutting back break times to 10 minutes each for a month. Explain your reason for doing so. Let employees know that when you reinstate 15-minute breaks, if they abuse the time again, you will permanently change breaks to 10 minutes.

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