Encouraging teams to take breaks throughout their work days, including lunch breaks, is an easy way for leaders to boost employee well-being as well as improve performance, boost productivity, and increase the company’s bottom line.
Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work. — Ralph Marston
How many times do you try to, unsuccessfully, recall a word that is on the tip of your tongue, and no matter how hard you try, you only remember after you’ve moved on to another task? Or how many times do you get a burst of inspiration or an ‘aha’ moment during a shower, a walk around the block, or while chatting with a friend?
Americans strive to perform their best at work.
We work overtime, take on extra projects, eat on our desks (when we eat), never taking breaks. We give our all. But this “work hard” mentality is not effective nor healthy. Without adequate daily breaks, our productivity, mental well-being, and overall performance suffer. Teams feel overworked and burned out.
Studies have shown that daily breaks improve health, boost productivity, promote creativity, refresh attention, and consolidate our memories.
A “break” at work is the interruption or pause of an activity. We take breaks so we can replenish or recharge our brain and body. And although we understand the importance of taking breaks for our mental and physical health, we don’t actually make a habit of it.
In fact, this study has shown that 94% of Americans work 50 or more hours per week. 52% of Americans have unused vacation time. 63% of American workers cannot unplug or feel obliged to work during their vacation time. And 62% admit that the quality of their work suffers because they can’t sort through the amount of information they receive daily.
Employees are afraid of taking breaks
Employees are afraid of taking breaks, as shown in this recent study by Tork: 20% of employees worry their bosses will think they are not working hard enough if they take regular lunch breaks, while 13% worry their co-workers will judge them; 38% don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break at work. At all!!!
However, 99% of employees stated that they feel refreshed and more focused after a lunch break, 81% of employees feel more engaged and loyal to their companies, and employees feel more valued by their employer, yet 22% of bosses say that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking. What???
These numbers are staggering!
Cerebral congestion, mental concentration, and the needed daily breaks
Our modern work-life-style is very different than what it used to be for our parents. There’s a lot of information coming at us at once, from several sources, a lot to process that we just can’t deal with it all. We are bound to suffer from ‘cerebral congestion’ if we don’t give our mind a break.
We use our prefrontal cortex (PFC), the ‘thinking brain’, to do goal-oriented work that requires focus and concentration, logical thinking, executive functioning, and willpower to override impulses. That’s a lot of work and responsibility for that little brain of ours — it needs a break!
You see, mental concentration is similar to a muscle, it becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover. For decades, studies have proven the health, wellness and performance benefits of taking breaks. Here are 7 reasons why you and your teams should be taking regular daily breaks.
7 research-backed reasons why you should take and encourage daily breaks at work:
- Essential for physical and emotional health – standing up and walking around, even for 5 minutes every few hours during the workday can lift our mood, combat lethargy, dull hunger pangs, reduce stress and boredom.
- Prevent decision fatigue – the need to make frequent decisions throughout our day can wear down our willpower and reasoning ability. Small breaks prevent decision fatigue which can lead to simplistic decision-making and procrastination.
- Restore motivation – prolonged attention to a single task can actually hinder our performance. “(…) it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
- Increase productivity and creativity – working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes our mental resources, and helps us become more creative with more “aha moments”. It also raises our level of engagement which leads to higher productivity.
- Consolidate memory– Downtime (daydreaming, looking away, waking rest) is anything but idle. In fact, it’s an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned and to shift its powers of reflection away from the external world and back toward itself. Memories are created and learning capacity increased.
- Facilitate problem-solving – when we are not focused on in-the-moment activity, our deeper reflective states make meaning of what’s going on, connecting to the newly learned information and integrating the knowledge into our coherent narratives, working through internal conflicts and boosting problem-solving.
- Boost learning – daydreaming may be seen as laziness from the outside, but from the inside, it boosts self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, higher level planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion. Wow! Say no more!
Let’s Take a Break
The brain can get in its downtime state fairly quickly. And just a few minutes – 5 to 15 minutes – is enough to give the brain the rest it needs to process, assimilate and consolidate the new information. Allowing our minds to wander or to switch regions of brain activity, as we have learned, allows the brain to renew focus throughout the day.
Daydreaming is our ‘diffused’ or relaxed mode that allows the brain to make the neuro-connections necessary to resolve the stickiest problems we face. Daydreaming as well as other daily breaks will help our brain recharge and refresh. However, not all breaks are healthy: checking your email, scrolling your social media, or grabbing fast food or smoke, are unhealthy habits. You want to make sure you and your team get healthy breaks, such as these ones:
- Walk or physical movement – a 5 to 30-minute walk can increase blood flow to the brain, making us feel more energetic, happier, less fatigued, more engaged and more creative.
- Connect with nature or city noises – “walking on a nature path induces a calm state of mind while walking along city streets amps up engagement.” says a study from Scotland.
- Change your work environment – briefly leaving our workspace and going to another area will help our brain rest and switch gears.
- Take a snack break – avoid being hungry by taking a break and recharging mind and body at the same time.
- Take a drink break – sipping something warm can be a mindful comforting pleasure in itself. Caffeine, in moderation, gives a good spike in energy that we all know. But any drink will do to provide the mental break we need.
- Have a friendly chat with a friend – quality work relationships improve both mental and physical health. They help reduce stress and boost job satisfaction.
- Take a few deep breaths – that’s what we call it “taking a breather”!!! Deliberately taking slow, deep breaths and focusing on your breathing for just 30 seconds is an effective, mini-meditation that can relax your mind and body.
- Do something creative: doodle – put a pen (or pencil) to paper and let your mind get creative: write a creative journal, or draw. Doodling works in different regions of the brain while boosting creativity and helping us stay focused.
- Listen to music – Focusing on music can significantly improve our motor and reasoning skills, it has a variety of health benefits. Oh, the benefits of music!!
My daily breaks routine
I use the Pomodoro Technique: working for 25 minutes-increments. I put a timer for 25 minutes on my phone, when the timer goes off I can choose to start another 25-minute cycle or give it a break. If I am in a ‘flow state’, I’ll “repeat” the 25-minute cycle. I never break my flow state!
As soon as I am done, I get up and take a breather. I may grab something to drink or eat, I put on a song or two, I look outside, check the weather, say a gratitude prayer, think of what I gonna have for dinner. I go for a walk: depending on my time, I walk around the house (as I work from home), or up and down my street – 5 minutes, or if I have more time I’ll take my dog for a 20-minute walk around the block. Few times a week I go for 1-hour planned hike. It all depends on my schedule. But I always feel recharged and inspired when I get back to my desk.
Let’s be clear!
Let’s be clear: I am not advocating for reducing professionals’ commitments to their work. It’s quite the opposite. I understand that the success of any business depends on hardworking people who value the intensity of the work and are committed to their companies and clients.
What I am suggesting, however, is that being too much ‘in the thick of it’ can create unhealthy habits and make for professionals with bad intensity, having no control over their own work and lives, and generally operating in ways that are inefficient. Leaders don’t want overworked teams running their business – it’s terrible for the bottom line. So help your teams feel refreshed and reduce stress by allowing them, and you, to take breaks throughout the day.
As you take breaks, be mindful of the results. Which kind of breaks work better for you? Which ones help you become more creative, motivated, and productive? Which ones do not work? Notice what works and what doesn’t because what works for some may not work for you. Be mindful and respectful or yourself.
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