Have you ever wondered whether it's better to complete your work in small chunks or just power through it? Studies have shown that most full-time workers spend more than the typical 40 hours a week at work. About a quarter of employees work during their lunch breaks—leading to an attitude of overworking. It turns out there are many benefits of breaks at work.
There's no federal mandate on employee breaks, but some states require them. Regardless of what legal requirements you're under, breaks make total business sense.
Learn why breaks are beneficial and some guidelines to follow.
Why Do Employees Skip Taking Breaks at Work?
Here are the most common reasons employees skip taking breaks at work:
- Overwhelming workload
- Not understanding the positive effects a break can offer
- Feeling guilty about taking a break when others are not
Read on for the benefits of taking breaks at work and some break ideas to help employees take care of themselves.
Top Benefits of Taking Breaks at Work
Breaks are essential to employee morale. Studies have shown that breaks lead to higher productivity, greater job satisfaction, a more balanced emotional health, and a stronger desire to go above and beyond.
Most experts recommend taking breaks between every 25 and 90 minutes. In the end, it depends on what is best for you.
Taking breaks at work can:
- Give you time to reevaluate goals
- Increase productivity and help the mind refocus
- Lessen injuries, body aches, and pains
- Improve creativity
- Reduce stress
- Boost employee engagement
- Improve mental health and give employees opportunities to use your company's mental health program
Just like feeling thirsty is your body's way of begging for water, taking a break when you're exhausted is your body begging for downtime. There are benefits to stopping before you're completely drained. Let's take a more in-depth look at some of the benefits of breaks at work.
1. Time to reevaluate your goals for the day
Even taking 5 minutes every couple of hours to reassess your daily goals can make a big difference in how your day goes. We all know how a hundred things are waiting to redirect our focus at any time. So, you can better set yourself up for success by taking stock of what you've done and what you want to complete before the day is over.
Taking breaks can also allow your mind to process anything that has come up during the day, gain a new perspective on work challenges, and help you keep the big picture in mind.
2. A chance to refocus on your work
Too often, our time for actual work is taken up by emails, meetings, and minor tasks that seem to get us nowhere. A brief break in the workday is a chance to push the restart button.
You can make an effort to spend the next block of time on an important project and vow to block out any distractions.
One research study suggests that "when faced with long tasks... it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will help you stay focused on your task!" Ironically, taking breaks at work can increase productivity! Other benefits of breaks at work include improved job satisfaction, reduced stress, and better mental health.
If you work from home, taking breaks to do chores around the house or take a walk can improve your work-life balance.
3. Injury reduction
Allowing the body to rest during the day is essential for jobs involving physical labor. Any twisting, bending, lifting, or carrying that happens on the job can take its toll. Workers who have an opportunity to rest their bodies can reduce injury.
Related: 3 Ways to Lower Workers Comp Claims
Even desk jobs can lead to injuries. Desk job injuries are caused by poor posture over long periods.
Sitting or standing in one position for too long causes muscle tension and can create painful knots. Walking around for a few minutes every hour can help you refocus and give your body a break. Similarly, staring at a computer screen for hours impacts vision and can cause headaches. Periodic breaks allow workers to stretch and relax, which can help avoid injuries.
4. A creativity boost
How often have you struggled to find a solution to a problem or come up with new creative ideas at work, only to have the perfect idea or solution hit you when you're enjoying dinner with friends and family? Spending too many hours with your nose to the grindstone can do more harm than good when it comes to creativity.
Taking a few strategic breaks throughout the day will give your mind a chance to organically develop the solutions you're looking for.
5. Lower stress by allowing for decompression
When employees have too much stress, they can't produce quality work. That's why periodic breaks can allow for a bit of decompression.
Whether you do breathing exercises, take a walk, read a book chapter, or even get a massage at work, anything that reduces office stress will improve a workday break.
6. Boost employee engagement
A company culture that encourages breaks at work can help improve engagement and job satisfaction. People that take lunch breaks are 7% more likely to say, "I am as effective and efficient as I would like to be."
Taking breaks during the workday can also reduce stress, improve mental health, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. All of these things tie into employee engagement and job satisfaction.
7. Improve mental health
Our minds need time to rest just as much as our bodies do. Taking breaks can help us get into the habit of taking care of ourselves. Regular downtime during the day supports mental health. Breaks can help reduce anxiety, stress, and fatigue.
We hear from company leaders—especially CEOs and HR leaders—about challenges with fatigue and burnout. A simple way to prevent work fatigue is to give yourself time throughout the day to recharge. We aren't meant to be "on" 24/7.
8 Guidelines for Better Workday Breaks
Not sure how to take a break at work? Here are eight ideas to get you started.
- Take longer breaks earlier in the day
- Disconnect from work
- Focus on eating
- Change your scenery
- Take a nap break
- Take micro-breaks every hour
- If you feel like you need a break, take one
1. Take longer breaks earlier in the day
Taking a break before your body and mind are completely exhausted does the most good. It is typical to take the first breaks of the day at lunch or during the mid-afternoon when sleepiness and poor focus starts to set in. Baylor University found it better to take a more extended break in the morning (even if it is your peak productivity time)—between 10 and 11 am. In the end, it comes down to what is best for you. Experiment with your schedule and track the best times for heads-down work or a more extended break.
2. Disconnect from work
Turning your mind off your job will help you rejuvenate, and you'll be able to focus better when you get back to your desk.
It is critical to do something that recharges you on your breaks. Here are some work break ideas to try:
- Yoga or stretching
- Reading a book
- Completing a quick chore like laundry or unloading the dishwasher
3. Focus on eating
If you're taking a lunch break, put that phone away and let your mind refresh. Take a moment for mindful eating. Focus on the taste, smell, or texture of the food. Slow down and enjoy it! Take a moment for gratitude for all that you are thankful for.
Related: Eating for Energy at Work
4. Change your scenery
Go for a walk outside or go to a coffee shop. A physical refresh will help you mentally refresh.
You can also take time to spruce up your working space or change your workspace layout a bit.
5. Take a nap break
Many companies have nap rooms because napping improves productivity. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a nap is an ultimate refresh.
10-20 minute naps are great for many people. If you nap for too long, you risk your alarm waking you up while you're in a deep sleep, which may hurt your productivity.
Talking to others can help you clear up things in your mind and work through the challenges you face today.
Socializing during a break can also help recharge and refresh you! It's a great break from the computer screen as well.
7. Take micro-breaks every hour
If you're wondering how often to take a break at work, know that even 1-minute breaks can make a difference. Some standard intervals are a 5-minute break every 25 minutes or a 15-minute break every 90 minutes. At the top of every hour, try taking a moment for mindfulness. Walk around for a bit—it's good for you.
Experiment with different break lengths and see what is best for you.
8. If you feel like you need a break, take one
Break times at work are best when you choose to take them. Listen to your body! When you feel your focus wavering or feel fatigue coming on, give your body the rest it needs. Discovering what works best for you is vital to reap all the benefits of breaks at work.
Do what you enjoy during your break time. You deserve it!
For more on creating healthy workday habits, check out this article.
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