In our fast-paced and demanding work culture, many individuals believe that being productive means constantly pushing through tasks without taking breaks. However, research suggests that taking periodic work breaks throughout the day can significantly enhance both well-being and performance. By understanding the best practices for effective break-taking, individuals and organizations can optimize their work routines and reap the benefits of rejuvenation.
The Burnout Dilemma
The cost of being constantly engaged in work is high, with burnout becoming a prevalent issue in today’s workforce. According to a recent survey by Aflac, more than half of employees (59%) reported feeling burnout. Alarmingly, high burnout rates are linked to hindered performance and reduced engagement among workers. Thus, it is essential to address declining well-being while maintaining productivity levels.
The Value of Pausing Work
Contrary to the popular belief that longer work hours lead to better performance, research indicates that taking breaks within work hours not only does not detract from performance but can actually boost it. A systematic review of over 80 studies on workplace breaks, conducted by our team, confirmed the positive impact of pausing work throughout the day on well-being and productivity.
Recharging Your Batteries
Similar to batteries that require recharging, individuals have a limited pool of physical and psychological resources. Pushing through work when energy levels are low can strain well-being and performance. Nonstop work can result in a negative spiral, where tasks are completed poorly, leading to more work and fewer available resources. This cycle makes individuals less productive and more exhausted over time.
Effective Types of Breaks
Not all breaks are created equal when it comes to their impact on well-being and performance. Our review identified several factors that contribute to the effectiveness of breaks:
- Break Length and Timing: Longer breaks do not necessarily equate to better breaks. Taking short, regular breaks, known as micro-breaks, can be sufficient for preventing exhaustion and boosting performance. Short breaks for snacking, stretching, or simply gazing out of the window can be effective. Moreover, the timing of the break matters. Shorter breaks are more beneficial in the morning, while longer breaks are more effective in the late afternoon when fatigue worsens.
- Location of Breaks: The place where breaks occur can significantly impact recovery. Our review found that taking breaks outdoors and enjoying green spaces is more effective in recharging workers’ resources compared to staying at a desk. Even small actions like stretching at a desk can differ in their recharging potential.
- Break Activity: Engaging in physical activity during breaks, such as exercising, is particularly valuable for mentally demanding work. However, the positive effects of exercise as a break are short-lived, and regular exercise is necessary to sustain its benefits. On the other hand, browsing social media during breaks can lead to emotional exhaustion and diminish creativity and work engagement.
- Furry Break Companions: Interactions with animals, particularly dogs, have shown to lower stress levels. Although more research is needed in this area, spending breaks with a furry companion can be effective for many employees. Interactions with pets have been linked to substantial boosts in psychological well-being, which positively impacts performance.
Encouraging Effective Breaks
While breaks are beneficial, their effectiveness can be influenced by the actions of managers and organizations. Here are some strategies to encourage and support effective work breaks:
- Fostering Positive Attitudes: Managers should be informed about the performance-related benefits of work breaks and share this information with employees. Incorporating break-related information into wellness training programs can help instill positive attitudes towards breaks. Posting informative materials about the benefits and best practices of taking breaks in the workplace can also be beneficial.
- Leading by Example: Managers can set a positive example by taking effective breaks themselves. By demonstrating the value of breaks and setting clear boundaries around not interrupting breaks, managers can alleviate the stigma and guilt associated with taking breaks. Sharing personal experiences and regrets about not taking sufficient breaks can further reinforce the importance of this practice.
- Scheduled Break Times: Managers and organizations should schedule dedicated break times to ensure that employees have the opportunity to take regular breaks. However, it is crucial to offer flexibility within these schedules. Rigid break schedules reduce employee autonomy and can have adverse effects. Providing options for employees to choose when and how often they take breaks, such as offering break tickets or flexible work schedules, can be more effective.
- Creating Break Spaces: The location of breaks can enhance their benefits. Organizations can create designated break areas, such as small parks or indoor green spaces, to facilitate effective breaks and communicate their commitment to employee well-being. For remote workers, arranging online meetings in outdoor spaces or allocating a “break budget” for employees to create their own break spaces can be implemented.
Embracing the Power of Breaks
In a world where constant work is glorified, taking breaks is often overlooked. However, research consistently demonstrates the positive impact of work breaks on well-being and performance. By adopting the best practices outlined in this article, individuals and organizations can harness the power of breaks to recharge their batteries, improve productivity, and create a healthier work environment.
In conclusion, integrating effective breaks into our work routines is not only essential for our well-being but also contributes to enhanced performance. Let us embrace the power of pauses and reap the benefits they bring to our professional lives.