As an HR and leadership consultant, I have witnessed many individuals struggling with stress and burnout due to their demanding work schedules. However, research shows that taking periodic work breaks throughout the day can significantly improve well-being and performance.
In this article, I will discuss the findings of a systematic review of more than 80 studies on break-taking that outlines some best practices for making the most of time away from our tasks. I will also provide tips for managers and organizations to encourage their employees to take more beneficial and more frequent breaks.
The Research on Taking Breaks
Many individuals are feeling overworked and stressed out. They often feel as though they don't have enough time to complete all their tasks, let alone take a break. However, research shows that taking periodic work breaks throughout the day can actually boost well-being and performance. In fact, a systematic review of over 80 studies on break-taking outlines some best practices for making the most of time away from our tasks.
The review explains that far too few of us take breaks regularly or take the most effective types of breaks. So, what are some of the most effective types of breaks?
The first is a mental break. This type of break involves stepping away from your work and engaging in a completely unrelated activity. For example, taking a walk outside or reading a book. This type of break allows your mind to rest and recharge, which can actually improve your productivity when you return to your work.
Another effective type of break is a physical break. This type of break involves standing up and stretching or engaging in light exercise. This type of break can help to reduce physical strain and improve circulation. It can also help to reduce stress and improve mental clarity.
When to Take Breaks
So, when should you take a break? According to the review, the most effective time to take a break is mid-morning. This is when our energy levels start to dip and we may start to feel fatigued. Taking a break at this time can help to improve our alertness and focus for the rest of the day. However, it's important to note that taking breaks throughout the day is beneficial, regardless of the time.
The frequency of breaks will depend on the individual and their work environment, but taking a break every 60 to 90 minutes is a good starting point. It's important to listen to your body and take a break when you start to feel fatigued or physically uncomfortable. Additionally, making physical activity a regular part of your daily routine, such as taking a walk during lunch or stretching in between tasks, can also be beneficial for overall well-being.
Making Sure You Don't Forget to Take Breaks
It can be easy to forget to take breaks during a busy workday. One way to ensure that you don't forget is to schedule breaks into your calendar or to-do list. Set reminders or alarms on your phone at regular intervals throughout the day to remind you to take a break. Additionally, finding a break buddy or accountability partner can be helpful in reminding each other to take breaks and providing mutual support. Finally, it's important to prioritize self-care and well-being, and to recognize that taking breaks is an important part of maintaining productivity and focus in the long-term.
Tips for Prioritizing Self-Care and Well-Being
Prioritizing self-care and well-being is critical for personal and professional success. Here are some tips to help prioritize self-care and well-being:
Set boundaries: It's important to create boundaries between work and personal time to avoid burnout. This may include setting limits on work hours, turning off notifications outside of work hours, or delegating tasks to others.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga can help to reduce stress and improve mental clarity.
Engage in physical activity: Regular physical activity has numerous benefits for physical and mental well-being, including reducing stress, improving mood, and boosting energy levels.
Connect with others: Social connections are an important part of well-being. Make time to connect with friends, family, or colleagues outside of work.
Prioritize sleep: Sleep is critical for overall health and well-being. Make sure to prioritize sleep and create a sleep-friendly environment.
Remember, prioritizing self-care and well-being, including taking regular breaks, is not only important for personal health and happiness but also for professional success. By taking care of ourselves, we are better able to show up as our best selves in all areas of our lives.
Encouraging Employees to Take Breaks
Now that we know what types of breaks are most effective and when to take them, how can managers and organizations encourage their employees to take more beneficial and frequent breaks?
The research review offers several tips:
Create a culture that values breaks and encourages employees to take them. This can be done by setting an example, taking breaks yourself, and openly discussing the benefits of taking breaks with your team.
Provide opportunities and resources for breaks. For example, creating designated break areas or offering access to fitness facilities. This can help to make it easier for employees to take breaks and can also encourage them to engage in physical activity during their breaks.
Communicate the importance of breaks and the benefits they provide. This can be done through training sessions, workshops, or other educational resources. It's important for employees to understand that taking breaks is not a sign of laziness or lack of productivity, but rather a necessary part of maintaining well-being and improving performance.
Taking periodic work breaks throughout the day can be incredibly beneficial for both well-being and performance. By understanding the most effective types of breaks, when to take them, and how to encourage employees to take them, managers and organizations can help to create a culture that values breaks and supports employee well-being and productivity.
Taking breaks during the workday is an essential component of maintaining well-being and staying productive. Research shows that both physical and mental breaks can boost energy levels and improve focus and productivity. To encourage employees to take more breaks, managers and organizations should create a culture that values breaks and well-being, provide resources for breaks, and communicate the importance of breaks. By prioritizing self-care and well-being, we can improve both our personal and professional lives.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.