Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

Time, Tea Breaks, and the Frontier of Control in UK Workplaces

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2020), 41, (1), 37–64.


A by-product of the intensification and reorganization of work over the last four decades has been a squeeze and sometimes elimination of paid rest breaks - lunch breaks, tea (or coffee) breaks, as well as individual toilet breaks. This paper explores the history of such breaks in Britain, covering whims, fads and changes in management ideologies and practices as they apply to time discipline and patterns of resistance seen through the lens of the ‘frontier of control’. More recent developments have seen a partial return to the ‘paid break’, running against the dominant trend of cutbacks in breaks or conversion from paid to unpaid breaks. Traditional battles over the ‘frontier of control’ on the line or in the office will persist as pressures on time continue through processes of both temporal flexibility and density.

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Author details

Upchurch, Martin