The negative effects of working for prolonged hours (especially at the computer) without frequent breaks are well known.
However, for some of us, the inability to unplug and take frequent short breaks is influenced by culture of the environment in which we spend a good chunk of our time: Work!
A 2014 study of staples employees showed that 1 in 5 cite guilt as a reason for not stepping away from their workspaces. This is hardly surprising as in many organizations today, those who take frequent breaks are often perceived as slackers and those who have the ability to get more done in a short amount of time are rewarded with more tasks ensuring that no time is left unfilled. As such, besides the usual lunch or bathroom breaks, many employees don’t entertain the thought of taking intentional breaks. Yet, the many studies that reveal the benefits of taking breaks such as improvement in focus, increase in productivity, accuracy in tasks, reduced stress and prevention of burnout, amongst others should be reason enough to ensure that breaks are not only encouraged but perhaps, mandated.
Adopting practices like these and making them commonplace begins at the top. While many in management and human resources claim to encourage breaks at work, it seems that beyond the implementation of ergonomic workstations and the once-a-year Health & Wellness Fair, not much else is done. Management should be vocal and provide guidelines that ensure effective break routines at the individual levels. Employees should be encouraged to leave their workspaces, read a book, walk around or chat with co-workers during breaks; all of which induce cognitive recharging.
Furthermore, effective management and good leadership are needed to ensure that procrastination on tasks does not become the outcome of this initiative. Overall business goals and task objectives should be kept in focus. As long as those are being met, then it should not matter when employees take time for themselves.
- Atsunori Ariga, Alejandro Lleras. Brief and rare mental 'breaks' keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 2011; DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.007
- Computer terminal work and the benefit of microbreaks. McLean, L., Tingley, M., Scott, R.N., and Richards, J. Applied Ergonomics, 32(3), June 2001, 225-237.
- When workers heed computer's reminder to take a break, their productivity jumps, Cornell study finds. Lang, S.S., Cornell University, Sept. 1999. www.rsiguard.com/cornell.htm