Breaks During the Workday

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Taking breaks throughout the workday has benefits for both the employee and the organization, but many employees often neglect to take them. Skipping breaks can lead to faster burnout and higher stress levels. Employees stepping away from work for a few minutes increases their productivity, job satisfaction, mental health, and well-being, in addition to restoring their motivation (Kohll, 2018; Selig, 2017). 

Taking a break from work increases focus when employees return to work, thus improving their productivity. Additionally, taking breaks relieves some stress, which helps employees’ mental health and well-being. These factors contribute to increased job satisfaction (Kohll, 2018). 

Breaks can prevent decision fatigue. Taking a break from making decisions within work allows employees to refuel to make better decisions than they would without a break. Taking breaks can increase creativity, promote healthy habits, and make employees feel more valued by their organization and supervisor. Additionally, supervisors or the organization promoting healthy habits during breaks encourages employees to take the time to make a healthy lunch or go for a walk. Movement breaks are also beneficial for emotional and physical health. Lastly, taking a break before becoming fatigued helps improve memory and therefore allows employees to better remember what they have learned (Selig, 2017). Each of these benefits show that breaks improve employees’ quality of work, thus benefiting the organization, supervisors, and employees alike. 

Here are some guidelines on how to take a break and get the most out of the time away from work. First, do an activity that uses a different part of the brain than was being used for work. This allows the part of the brain that was being used to rest. The part of the brain that does most work tasks is the prefrontal cortex, which performs complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderates social behavior. Most work tasks fall into one or more of these categories, so avoiding using this area of the brain during a break allows it to rest and come back to tasks refreshed (Selig, 2017). Some activities that use other parts of the brain are walking, exercising, connecting with nature or going outside, having lunch or a snack, drinking a beverage, taking a few deep breaths, meditating, or getting creative (Levin, 2018).

Taking a walk on one of MSU’s many walking paths around campus, or taking a walk at a different work location, allows employees to stay active during their day as well as allowing their brain to rest and come back to work refreshed and reenergized. When an employee is too busy to take a break, switching to a different task, preferably a task that uses a different part of their brain than they were previously using, still allows part of their brain to rest (Selig, 2017). 

Many employees do not take breaks because they think they will be looked down upon for doing so (Kohll, 2018). Hopefully, knowing the benefits of breaks will encourage more employees to take breaks. Sharing information with employees about the benefits of breaks may help them realize that taking a break will benefit them. Perhaps the strongest encouragement for employees to take breaks: their supervisor taking breaks themselves. If employees’ supervisors take breaks themselves, then employees know that it is okay to take breaks and they will not be penalized for it. Many employees have a preconceived notion that taking a break lowers their productivity or suggests they are not committed to their job. Supervisors taking breaks models positive workplace behavior, encouraging employees to follow suit (Kohll, 2018).

Person reviewing checklistPractical Example

Breaks can sometimes be hard for employees to take, even if they know the benefits and are encouraged by supervisors and coworkers. An easy way to encourage employees to take breaks is to implement group breaks into the work team’s schedule. Some breaks teams can take together include going on a walk together in the middle of the day, going to the gym together, having a social time in the middle of the day, or having a shared quiet time to recharge. Implementing a group break can be choosing a time of day to have the break every day, like 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., and then doing the team’s chosen activity for 15 minutes, then returning with everyone more refreshed and ready to get back to work. This strategy may be more or less feasible in different units; the point is to demonstrate and support breaks.

At a Glance

Breaks are important. Not taking enough breaks leads to burnout and higher stress levels.

Benefits of breaks:

  • Increases productivity 
  • Improves mental health and well-being 
  • Employees feel more valued by their organization and supervisor if they promote taking breaks 
  • Increases job satisfaction 
  • Restores motivation, especially for long term goals 
  • Can prevent decision fatigue 
  • Increases creativity 
  • Promotes healthy habits 
  • Movement breaks are helpful for emotional and physical health 
  • “Rest” helps consolidate memories and improves learning 

How to take a break:

  • Do an activity that uses a different part of the brain than was being used for work, which allows the part of the brain being used for work to rest 
  • Be fully detached from work during the break 
  • Try to be active during the break 
  • When feeling too busy to take a break, switch to a different task 

How to encourage coworkers or subordinates to take breaks: 

  • Provide incentives for employees to take breaks 
  • Talk about the benefits of taking breaks  
  • If you are a supervisor, set an example and take breaks yourself 

References

Kohll, A. (2018, May 29). New study shows correlation between employee engagement and the long-lost lunch break. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/05/29/new-study-shows-correlation-between-employee-engagement-and-the-long-lost-lunch-break/#675e3e1a4efc

Levin, M. (2018, March 5). How to take the best breaks during your workday, and why you should never skip them. Inc. https://www.inc.com/marissa-levin/why-your-lunch-break-may-be-most-important-appointment-of-your-day.html

Selig, M. (2017, April 18). How do work breaks help your brain? 5 surprising answers. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201704/how-do-work-breaks-help-your-brain-5-surprising-answers#:~:text=Breaks%20increase%20productivity%20and%20creativity,took%20breaks%2C%20according%20to%20research.

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