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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Do you get free tea?
The days of the UK grinding to a halt at four o'clock for a cuppa may be a distant memory, but does providing free char at work actually pay employers dividends?

Tube workers are threatening to strike, but their dispute is not about what they earn, it's access to an urn they're fighting for.

London Underground drivers are unhappy about the kettles supplied to enable them to make the free tea and coffee supplied by their employer.

Tony Hancock
Raise morale, offer free tea
While the installing of urns is just one of the improvements to staff facilities unions are demanding, the dispute highlights the place the tea break has in our work culture.

Many UK workers will be made jealous by the discovery that tube drivers enjoy their cuppas for gratis. Others may be impressed that they are encouraged to brew up at all.

Two-thirds of women workers and almost half of men are dissatisfied by the refreshment breaks offered by their employers, according to a recent Tea Council survey.

IT support staff are increasingly being called out to salvage tea-soaked computer keyboards as office staff work through their breaks at their desks.

Sips for free

While the value of taking a break is obvious - and backed by law - the provision of free beverages could also have an impact on worker morale.

When Bath and North East Somerset Council decided that terminating the serving of free tea and coffee at meetings would help it meet budget cuts, some elected officials were aghast.

President Putin
Free tea = good meetings?
"People who are not able to get refreshments are not going to make good decisions," warned Councillor Tim Bullamore.

The value of free tea may not be in its ability to whet worker's whistles, but as a sign of an employer's concern about staff, says organisational psychologist Professor Cary Cooper.

"A company's stance on free tea and coffee is symbolic of management attitudes. Workers who ask for free refreshments are really saying: 'Value me.'"

Professor Cooper says of all the benefits which signal to workers that they are held in high esteem, buying in tea bags and instant coffee is not one requiring a "big bucks" investment.

Tea is for team building

"If you want to be seen as a premium human resources employer, why not offer drinks free for the marginal amount it would cost?"

The returns on the financial outlay can be magnified if the free refreshments are targeted so as to enhance team building, says Professor Cooper.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of Austria
Don't skimp on the coffee
"Work teams are often not getting together, choosing e-mail rather than eyeball-to-eyeball contact. Employers can offer free coffee at a certain time and bring people together, away from their desks."

The interchange of thoughts and ideas over a free cuppa may not be worth all the tea in China to employers, but perhaps it would be worth the price of a few teabags.

Click here to add your comments


Some of your comments so far:

Companies often claim that the reason they don't give free drinks is that they'll be taxed on them. This is untrue - "reasonable" free refreshments are not taxed
Neil, UK

I spill coffee in my keyboard about once a month. Mind you, I dropped a litre of blackcherry milkshake into it the other day, and it seems OKKKKKK, apart from some of the kkkkkkkeys getting stuckkkk down sometimes.
Tom, UK

My employees are not provided with any free beverages. This certainly cuts down on time wasted for making trips to the toilet.
Patrick O'Hanlon, UK

Whilst working for several companies in Australia, employees were provided with free beverages, biscuits, fruit, sandwiches, cereals, and always lots of beer, champagne and wine on a Friday evening. (Take me back!)
Helen, UK

What is the name of that NZ-based company you work for John. Are they hiring by any chance? I like the sound of free beer
Patrick Daily, Ireland

The company I work for give us free tea & coffee plus biscuits every day and cakes twice a week
Susan Harvey, England

Free tea and coffee are provided by my employer, but they're so disgusting we all troop out to a local coffee shop and get take-aways!
Jill, UK

Tea time sometimes equals party time, but it can also be a serious working time since tea is uplifting, revitalising and refreshing! God Save the Tea!
Hacène, Algeria

My company provides free tea and coffee, but milk has to be bought out of a vending machine. The practice of people taking breaks together to enjoy a cuppa, however, is totally nonexistant.
Graham, USA

We get free tea and coffee, and not out of a machine - proper tea bags, real milk and a kettle! We also get free soft drinks like Coke and cranberry juice. That said, we don't take a break, we drink our drinks at our desks.
Emma, London

Most employers in America would be shocked if their employees actually took the two 15-minute breaks allotted to them daily. Kettles and coffee machines are not allowed (fire hazards). For those that enjoy a cuppa, we have to hide our kettle in the drawer, plugging it in for the few minutes that it takes to heat and then hiding it again.
Marge Clements, USA

Companies should provide free water to all. By providing free coffee they are encouraging us to become a nation with bad breath.
Jez, England

If I remember correctly, the company I worked for 10 years ago was told by Inland Revenue to stop supplying free tea, coffee and biscuits or employees would be taxed on them.
Godfrey Rock, UK

We are provided with eight varieties of tea, as well as coffee, hot chocolate, various soups, and fruit. The fruit is a recent addtion, but has greatly improved morale in the office. Currently on trial are limited supplies of bagels at 8:00 am to encourage people into the office early.
Simon, UK

I work for a NZ-based company here in London and they provide us with free drinks including beer and wine (there is even a fridge to keep it cool). The alcoholic freebies are for 5:30 onwards.
John, UK

I am appalled and outraged when companies don't provide free tea. It costs next to nothing to provide teabags and milk, yet some refuse to do so. It's just rude - a Victorian attitude to employees. Tea is more than just a British institution - it is a fundamental right!
Adriano, England

We get as much free tea, coffee, hot chocolate and soup as we please. The only downside is that we have to walk 25 metres to the machine, but the exercise keeps us fit!
Edward Byard, UK

Free tea sure helps. It develops that 'belongingness' feeling.
RK, India

I only drink water at work, because it is too expensive to keep buying cups of coffee or tea. And if we sit in the corridor with our coffee for five minutes, everyone thinks we're slacking. These beverages wouldn't be expensive for a company to provide, but they definitely lend to the good health of the employees.
Karina, France

Do you get free tea and biccies at work? Is your desk covered with coffee cup rings? Share your tea break thoughts using the form below or by e-mailing us at newsonline.features@bbc.co.uk

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See also:

15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tube unions could strike over toilets
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