Breaking real bad

I’m afraid I’m about to be disciplined by my supervisor for not taking enough breaks.

I’ll try to explain but, unless you’re familiar with the topsy-turvy world of workplace rules and regulations, it’s going to be tough.

By all outward appearances, I have a normal white-collar office job. I sit at a desk with a computer, wade through tons of paperwork on a daily basis, and have the beaten-down attitude of a corporate drone. How hard my co-workers and I choose to labor depends more on our personal motivation than on a boss standing over us demanding “do this … now do this.”

The one oddity that seems out of place here is that we have to punch a timeclock as we come and go, not just at the beginning and end of the day, but also for lunch and coffee breaks.

Demeaning and petty? Sure. Is that a problem? Not in this employment environment.

For years, we were able to basically come and go as we pleased as long as we clocked out. We were allotted two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute break, and given the flexibility to schedule these when we wanted. Some folks combined two of the breaks into a longer 45-minute lunch. Some took ten six-minute smoke breaks. Occasionally, when it got really busy, we’d work through the breaks and be appropriately compensated for our dedication.

There were some abuses of the system — like suddenly becoming hungry just as the printer cranked up indicating work was at hand — but most people still successfully balanced their need for rest with our clients’ need for speedy turnaround.

Then, about six months ago, structure was imposed on this chaotic free-for-all. Management issued an email detailing exactly when breaks could be taken. Between 8:15 and 8:45 in the morning, and between 1 and 1:30 in the afternoon, we had to take our coffee breaks. Between 11 and 11:45, we had to take our lunch.

The problem, at least for me, is that after arriving at the office at 7 a.m., I don’t particularly need a break only an hour and fifteen minutes later. It already takes a good 20 minutes to arrange my workspace, sign on to all the programs I use, check email, etc. For some people — those OCD sufferers who disinfect every available surface lest they touch a co-worker’s discarded atoms, those who need to set up a space heater to counter the effects of the 95-degree temperatures outside — it took even longer.

Just when you finally get settled in, oops, time for a break. (Didn’t realize how exhausting that heater set-up was going to be.)

So, after following the new directive for the week or so we follow all new directives before lapsing back to our old ways, I stopped taking the morning break.

I expect this insubordination to be dealt with, and dealt with severely. The original email cited breaks as being “in place for the safety and well-being of employees.” We take safety very seriously around here, and don’t want any employees hobbled by exhaustion to start falling on the floor.

I’m mentally preparing my defense for this confrontation, despite the fact that there’s no chance on God’s green earth that I’ll be able to convince the powers-that-be how hare-brained this policy is.

“The breakroom is boring,” I might offer.

“Time-motion studies have shown that even staring at the wall for 15 minutes can increase a worker’s effectiveness,” I expect to hear.

“There are too many people microwaving fish in there,” I could continue.

“We must respect diversity in the workplace and embrace those with ethnicities different from our own,” would come the corporate line. “Even those who eat disgusting things for breakfast.”

“At 8:15 in the morning, I’m not tired yet,” I might say.

“Well, you get tired,” will say the manager, rapidly losing her patience.

There are other options for how to spend break time besides sitting in a sterile room and reading three-day-old newspapers. We’re not confined to campus during our breaks (this isn’t elementary school, after all) and could venture out to explore the neighborhood, as long as the expedition can be completed in a quarter of an hour.

There are several other office/warehouse buildings in our park, and I could stroll among these, dodging the 18-wheelers that barrel through periodically. The exercise is bound to wake me up. Except right now, it’s too hot for that.

The closest retail establishment is a hair salon just around the corner. Maybe there’s relaxation to be had studying the Big Book of Haircuts and considering a new ‘do for myself. However, I’m a little leery of the place, especially after they put a sign out front offering 20% off all “grooming services” to truckers, with “massages by Yelena.”

I have already tried simply sitting in my car and playing with some of the dashboard controls I’ve been too afraid to try while driving. But I don’t like the judgmental looks of other workers who see me sitting there, and I’m pretty sure covering all the windows with towels would only look worse.

I do have a tentative compromise in mind. I’ll take the damn break if I have to, but they can’t make me enjoy it. I work better when I’m tense and agitated, anyway. I’ll simply make a crude sign that says “ON BREAK”, tape it to the back of my chair, and spend my 15 minutes noodling around on the internet.

If someone tries to bring me work, I’ll point over my shoulder at the notice and report that I’m pursuing safety and well-being in my mind, even if my body remains hunched over my work-covered desk.

Whether or not this satisfies my manager, I’ll have to wait and see. As they should be able to tell, my spirit is already broken. Why does the rest of me need a break too?

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One Response to “Breaking real bad”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    Arghhh. This reminds me of my worst job ever, as a temp at at trucking company where I did minor computer work of some sort. Lunches were staggered, but everyone took breaks at exactly the same time. Except they were so short (5 minutes as I recall) that you could only sit at your desk and wait for them to be over. One day, the clock struck break time and I kept typing just to finish the sentence I was on, and the person behind me said, STOP TYPING! It was unionized, so apparently if you did any work on break time it was a violation of union rules (even though I was a temp) or put everyone in jeopardy of breaks being taken away. Or something.

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