Almost every morning for the past six years, a colleague of mine and I grab a cup of coffee from our campus Starbucks and visit together in our recreation center lobby. Early on, this elicited various comments and gossip from student workers, ranging from “I think they’re dating” to “they waste a lot of time.” The “dating” gossip was just plain silly; the “wasting time” comment made me defensive—at first. I would cringe when another coworker would come bounding through the lobby yelling “Coffee Time!”, calling attention to the fact that we were, indeed, NOT in our offices, but instead were having coffee.
In the past, gathering around the office “water cooler” was a metaphor for wasting time. I grew up reading the “Blondie” comic, and Mr. Dithers would always chastise Dagwood and crew for gossiping around the water cooler. Substitute “coffee pot” for “water cooler” and you have the makings of an excuse to be a slacker at work. I am not typically a lazy employee, so when I started hearing grumblings about “wasting time,” I started to feel guilty, and I began to rationalize our morning coffee ritual by making a mental note that I usually arrived at work early and stayed late.
However, over the years I’ve come to see the real value in having a cup of coffee with a colleague who is also my good friend. I recently read an article by Christine Riordan, the Provost at the University of Kentucky, entitled “We All Need Friends at Work.” This article helped me to recognize the importance of our “coffee time.” Riordan writes that besides increasing happiness and job satisfaction, having work friends who share your loyalty and commitment towards the work can generate a positive outcome. She states the following:
…camaraderie promotes a group loyalty that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward the work. Camaraderie at work can create “esprit de corps,” which includes mutual respect, sense of identity, and admiration to push for hard work and outcomes.
Though my colleague and I often discuss personal interests during our “coffee time,” many of our conversations center around our interest in and passion for our work. We discuss problems in our areas and bounce ideas off of each other. Because we have built a real friendship, we trust each other to be honest without being judgmental, we commiserate without being disloyal to our department, and we talk through work problems and come up with well-conceived solutions. As a result of our morning ritual, we devised a plan to improve the customer service delivery within the recreation center by integrating our facility staff, we conceived a club sports risk management idea that earned a $2500 award from our university’s insurance provider, and we have implemented various ideas in between.
Nowadays, there are many avenues that one can take to continuously learn, grow, and improve. Social media has made professional development available with a mouse click. Staff meetings, professional conferences, and interaction with student employees all can generate worthwhile ideas that could transform one’s job. But never underestimate the value of “coffee time!”