A convenient coffee addiction

Of course, your boss wants you to drink coffee at work. Caffeine helps improve your productivity. It’s been proven to help you to focus on your job.

It’s actually in your company’s best interest to BUY you the coffee.

Up until now, I had not really considered how much my company was enabling me to get drugged up on coffee so that I could work faster and longer for them.

But that’s what caffeine helps you to do, and I’m a java junkie.

Java junkies

In his audiobook, Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World, author Michael Pollan relays an interesting story about one way that coffee entered the industrial workforce.

He says that there was a small necktie manufacturer in the 1940s who lost all its male factory workers to the war effort and had to replace them with less productive, middle-aged women.

The company, The Los Wigwam Weavers, held an employee meeting to brainstorm ways to improve productivity.

The women suggested a unique solution: they wanted the company to provide them with a 15-minute break, twice a shift, with coffee.

He immediately made the coffee breaks mandatory.

The power of suggestion

It wasn’t just a break. They called it a coffee break.

When I worked for an airline, our scheduling department would plan 2 coffee breaks for me throughout my shift.

“Go help at the gate for Flight 15 to Hong Kong, Keith. After you’re done with that, you can go on a coffee break for 15 minutes before you come back and help Flight 001 to Tokyo.”

I’d grab a scrap piece of paper and write it down exactly like that: Flight 15, Coffee, Flight 001.

And like a lemming to the sea, on my break, I would line up with all the other employees at the nearest Tim Horton’s coffee shop in the airport, just as my company had subliminaly suggested I should do.

That’s about 3 minutes to walk to the shop, 5 minutes to wait in line, 4 minutes to gulp the coffee, and 3 minutes to walk back to my assignment.

The purpose of my break, according to the union handbook anyway, was to give me some time to rest and recharge during my shift.

In reality, I was just downing a shot of caffeine, at my own expense, and then rushing back to work. There was very little rest involved.

This is so different from the other drugs that were once consumed during the workday.

Coffee replaced cigarettes & alcohol at work

It’s hard to believe there was a time when the air in most offices was filled with the choking smoke of cigarettes.

Nowadays, cancer-causing cigarettes are banned from indoor workspaces but addicts will still even brave the freezing depths of winter to inhale a nicotine stick on the sidewalk for 5 minutes every hour.

You might argue that some actual work can take place in those 5-minute smoke breaks, but non-smokers are right to be skeptical of their true productivity.

And in the case of alcohol, back in the early 1600s, beer and wine were consumed regularly throughout the workday when most of that work involved laboring in the outdoors.

Since the introduction of the factory, alcohol usage at work was deemed both unsafe and unproductive.

You can’t consistently pack an Amazon box or drive a forklift if you’re completely sloshed.

So, caffeine appears to have won the war of vices in the workplace. It has replaced both cigarettes and alcohol.

Caffeine sacrifices

I suppose, if you’re ambitious, you can reap the benefits of caffeine to rise at 5 am, power through an important set of meetings, and even churn out a few extra budget reports.

Back in my airport days, I was ambitious and I was also naive to my company’s insidious motivations for hooking me up with a coffee fix.

So I chugged coffee all morning and afternoon.

But it didn’t come without its price.

By the end of the workday, once the caffeine wore off, when I got home to my family, I was exhausted.

I was available, alert, and ready for work, from 5 am to 5 pm, but once my workday was done, I didn’t have anything left for the people that meant the most to me.

It’s the price you pay for handing over your time to any addiction, isn’t it? There’s a temporary high, and then, eventually, there’s a big letdown.

The thing about caffeine, and coffee, in particular, is that the effects are so subtle and the use is so widespread that you can’t be blamed for not recognizing it as a powerful drug.

And if you still don’t think it’s a powerful drug, just try to spend a month without consuming any of it:

Without caffeine, your mood, your energy levels, and your work will initially suffer.

And the truth is, most of us have proven that we’re powerless to resist it.

It’s a little scary if you ask me.

As with any legal drug, the best solution to prevent a destructive addiction is to eliminate it altogether or to use it in moderation.

Let’s all reduce our caffeine intake together.

We can consider this reduction in caffeine during our workdays as a passive-aggressive act of rebellion against the tyranny of our bosses.

Cheers.