The working breakfast isn't everyone's ideal start to the day.
Over the past couple of decades, countless American executives have made a practice of beginning the day at around 7 or 7.30 am, by getting together with colleagues or clients over breakfast. The working breakfast has caught on more recently in the the UK, where its popularity is still increasing. But is it really a good idea to mix business meetings with the muesli?
Andrew Simon, formerly chairman of Evode Group and now with a string of a non-executive directorships to his name (including one at Severn Trent), is strongly in favour. Simon has conducted many hours of business over breakfast, particularly in the US. 'For busy managers breakfast meetings are very useful, they are another way of squeezing a bit more out of the pint pot,' as he puts it. 'People are fresher, they have a finite time horizon and the work gets done.' A breakfast meeting can be the perfect time for closing a deal, Simon adds. 'People often prefer to conduct such meetings over a meal, as it is more sociable. However dinner is often too long and gives people too much time to talk themselves out of what they had originally agreed.'
Sam Dunnachie, a partner in management consultants Ernst & Young, considers that an hour spent over breakfast in a city centre hotel is an ideal way of keeping in touch with busy colleagues. 'We often work away from the office - at client sites - for months at a time. So we have a regular schedule of breakfast meetings organised for our consultants ... Everyone seems happy with this arrangement. We could meet at night but we have found that spouses don't like that.'
At Marks & Spencer, on the other hand, managers are under no pressure to hold meetings over breakfast. 'We don't expect people to come in early when they could conduct a meeting just as profitably later in the day,' says company spokesperson Sue Sadler. Nevertheless numbers of M&S people do meet early in the morning, for informal meetings over cups of coffee.
Those who like to beat the rush-hour traffic will naturally be inclined to spend the extra time discussing business with colleagues.
But some people have a distinctly negative attitude towards breakfast meetings - and they have their reasons. Although such meetings 'seem to be meat and drink to younger managers', as Simon observes, they are 'perhaps not quite so appreciated by the older generation'. Women too are often less than enthusiastic. Karen Slatford, director and general manager of computer systems at Hewlett Packard, believes that the culture of software companies is overly receptive to early starts. 'I think they are a simply terrible idea. I'm a working mother and early meetings simply don't fit into my life. It causes untold havoc at home, and quite frankly the working day is long enough without adding to it at the start.'
'Getting to work ridiculously early, and working all hours, may have fitted the macho work ethic of the Thatcherite era,' says Trixy Alberga, senior research officer in human resource management at Cranfield School of Management. Today, she thinks, such behaviour is outdated. 'The current aspiration - although far from a reality for many - is for a more holistic marriage of home/family and work life. People are looking for greater balance in their lives.'
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at UMIST, reinforces the point. 'Meeting at breakfast time has value because people are more alert and they have more time during the day to action the decisions made,' he concedes. 'But if people come in early, then they should go home early.' Further, to hold meetings at breakfast time 'may put women managers at a disadvantage because many are unable to attend meetings at those times'. (A high proportion of working women - and 65% of women aged 16-59 go out to work - also have families to cater for.) 'Breakfast meetings may reinforce a macho, workaholic company culture but are not necessarily the mark of a people-friendly organisation,' declares Cooper.