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Work Breaks: Benefits and How to Maximize Them

Did you know that regular breaks can boost productivity and improve your well-being? Discover how to boost the benefits of your time away from the screen!

Gabriele Culot
Written by Gabriele Culot
June 30, 2023
Contents
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Key takeaways

  1. Work breaks play an essential role in maintaining productivity, improving overall well-being and boosting job satisfaction.
  2. There are different types of work breaks. Knowing how and when to take them is crucial to maximizing their benefits.
  3. Prioritizing regular breaks in the work routine benefits both employer and employee, contributing to a positive workplace culture.


The modern workplace prioritizes speed, efficiency, and going the extra mile. This fast-paced culture often comes at the cost of taking breaks. However, incorporating regular breaks into the workday is crucial and holds countless benefits for both the employee and the organization. 

Whether it’s a quick stretch, a walk around the block, or mindful breathing, intentional pauses throughout the day can reboot the mind, improve creativity, reduce stress, and prevent burnout

Stay with us as we explore the (many) benefits of breaks at work, and provide some practical tips on maximizing their effectiveness.

The importance of taking breaks

While you may think you are demonstrating your commitment and focus by working without breaks, you may actually be seriously jeopardizing your performance. Common dangers of not taking enough breaks include:

Decreased productivity and focus

Neglecting to take work breaks can significantly impact productivity and focus as the brain becomes fatigued and your ability to concentrate diminishes. Continuous mental exertion contributes to the depletion of cognitive resources and ultimately diminished returns. 

Making an effort to recharge helps to replenish mental energy levels, improve focus, and approach tasks with renewed vigor.

Increased stress and burnout

Failing to take intentional work breaks contributes to increased stress and burnout as the pressure and demands of work accumulate. Working relentlessly leaves little room for relaxation and recovery, which results in burnout characterized by emotional exhaustion and a decreased sense of accomplishment. 

Taking a break allows one to step away from work-related stressors and prevent burnout. 

Impaired decision-making and reduced creativity

The human brain needs rest and rejuvenation to maintain optimal cognitive functioning. Without regular breaks, our mental capacity becomes fatigued. It compromises our ability to make decisions, process information, and make sound judgments. It also stifles creativity by reducing the time to explore new ideas and make novel connections. 

Incorporating regular breaks into your work schedule brings fresh perspectives to the job, stimulates creativity, and helps you to make more informed and imaginative decisions.

Negative impact on physical and mental well-being

Physically, spending endless uninterrupted work hours can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, leading to health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular problems, and musculoskeletal disorders. In addition, the lack of movement and poor posture contributes to aches, pains, and decreased overall fitness. 

Mental health can also take a knock as the lack of breaks increases stress, anxiety, and mental fatigue, making it difficult to manage emotions and maintain a positive mindset. 

Instead, prioritizing regular breaks (with some movement and increased blood flow) promotes a healthier lifestyle and improves mental resilience.

Strained relationships 

Immersing yourself in work leaves little time and energy for meaningful social interactions with loved ones, and these relationships start to take strain. Relationships require time and attention, and the absence of work breaks can lead to an alienated work-centric mindset. The resulting imbalance causes frustration, resentment, and feelings of neglect in partners, family, and friends. 

By prioritizing breaks, fostering and maintaining healthy relationships, and strengthening your support system is possible. 

Diminished work-life balance

The absence of regular breaks disrupts work-life balance by leaving little time for self-care, relaxation, and making meaningful social connections. When the boundaries between work and personal life become blurred, it’s easy to become more stressed, which leads to diminished engagement in activities that bring joy and fulfillment outside of work. 

Regular breaks help facilitate a healthier separation between work and personal life, allowing you to engage in activities outside of work and achieve a greater work-life balance.

Understand different types of breaks at work

Breaks are available in different forms, typically differentiated by break length, the location of breaks, the break activity, and even who accompanies you on your break. Consider the following common types of breaks and which ones would be best incorporated in your work routine:

Micro-breaks

If you only have a limited amount of time, a micro-break is a smart way to use it. Consider stepping away from the desk and completing a few stretches or deep breathing. Indulging in micro-moments of physical activity and mental rejuvenation throughout the day can help prevent exhaustion, improve employee engagement, and boost work performance. 

Regular short breaks

Short breaks, such as a coffee break or a quick walk outdoors, offer brief respites from your desk. These moments help to refresh your mind, re-energize your mood, and prevent monotony during the day. Short breaks are especially effective in the morning when your energy reserves are slightly higher. 

Longer meal breaks

Taking full advantage of your lunch hours is an easy way to recharge. The extended period provides an opportunity to nourish the body with healthy food and movement and engage in activities unrelated to work. If possible, take your lunch break outdoors to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the sunshine — you may even stumble across a furry friend to help lower your stress hormones.

Scheduled rest days or vacations

Scheduled rest days and vacations play an essential role in providing extended periods of relaxation, rejuvenation, and the opportunity to disconnect from work altogether. If you work for a company offering paid time off (PTO), try to schedule your rest days for when you most need them. 

Tips to maximize the effectiveness of breaks

Just as you must be intentional and focus on work tasks, you must also be deliberate to maximize your work breaks. Consider the following tips to help make the most of the positive effects of your breaks and reap the benefits.

  • Set clear boundaries between work and personal life
  • Avoid checking work-related emails or messages during your time off
  • Utilize tools to minimize distractions
  • Plan and schedule breaks at specific times and include them in your daily routine
  • Spend your breaks outdoors as much as possible
  • Practice mindfulness or relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation to provide mental clarity
  • Engage in enjoyable activities during your time off, such as reading, listening to music, pursuing a hobby, or connecting with loved ones
  • Limit screen time to avoid straining your eyes and hindering relaxation (including social media)
  • Eat nourishing meals or a healthy snack to fuel your body and support cognitive function
  • Practice time-blocking for focused work and breaks, allowing for a structured balance
  • Use breaks as a moment for self-reflection, journaling, or engaging in activities that help you recharge emotionally and mentally

Overcome barriers to taking effective breaks

There are various barriers to taking effective breaks, such as workload and deadlines, work culture and expectations, guilt or fear of falling behind, lack of time management, and distractions. 

Below are actionable strategies to help you overcome barriers and take adequate breaks. 

Set boundaries and communicate

Speak to your colleagues (including virtual team members) and communicate your intentions and boundaries, helping them understand the impact of taking breaks on your wellness and productivity. Request their support in honoring your break time to relieve tension or stress. 

Time management and prioritization

Work on improving your time management skills to ensure you allocate dedicated time for breaks. For example, prioritize tasks, set realistic deadlines, and delegate when possible to create space for regular breaks. 

Set break reminders and alarms

It’s easy to get sucked into work, so set reminders or alarms on your phone or computer to prompt you to take your break at designated times. These alarms serve as a helpful reminder to step away from work and take time to unwind and relax.

Begin by taking micro-breaks

If you struggle to take longer breaks during the day, incorporate short micro-breaks into your work routine. Take a few minutes every hour to stretch your limbs, practice deep breathing, or step away from the workspace. 

Seek support and accountability

Share your intention to take an effective break with a colleague or friend and encourage one another to prioritize breaks and hold one another accountable. Having support is the key ingredient to overcoming barriers. 

Prioritize taking breaks at work

Incorporating work breaks into your work routine is necessary for your well-being and productivity, allowing you to recharge, refocus, and bring the best version of yourself to the job. 

By prioritizing breaks, you allow yourself to prevent burnout, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and nurture your mental and physical health. Regular work breaks are essential to long-term productivity, job satisfaction, and success.

Planning regular breaks into your working day will help you maximize your potential in both work and life, allowing you to enjoy each moment throughout the day.

Common FAQs about breaks at work

Still have questions? Explore these frequently asked questions to gain insights on the importance, duration, and best practices for incorporating breaks into your work routine.

Are breaks considered “wasting time” or unproductive?

No, breaks are not considered unproductive. On the contrary, breaks are essential for maintaining productivity, enhancing focus, and reducing stress. Regular breaks refresh your body and mind, contributing to increased efficiency and better mental clarity.

How can breaks be incorporated into a busy work schedule?

Prioritizing and scheduling regular work breaks makes fitting them into your schedule more manageable. Whether long or short, set specific times for breaks and communicate your intentions with co-workers so you can manage your workload effectively. Creating a space for regular breaks away from your desk is also helpful.

Is it better to take shorter, more frequent breaks or longer breaks? 

Shorter, more frequent, and longer breaks all have their benefits, and the best approach for you may vary depending on your preferences and work demands. Micro-breaks provide quick opportunities to shake off mental fatigue and maintain focus throughout the day. At the same time, longer breaks offer extended periods of relaxation. 

Balancing shorter and longer breaks is best, ensuring you get what you need.

What are the laws on breaks at work?

The specific legislation about breaks at work will vary depending on the country and jurisdiction. It’s essential to consult the specific labor laws and regulations where you work to understand (and meet) these requirements. In most instances, rules outline the minimum duration and frequency for employees.

Should breaks be taken away from the workstation or desk?

Breaks away from the workstation are better as you create a physical and mental separation from work tasks, allowing you to relax and recharge more effectively. Consider moving to a break room, an outdoor area, or a communal space to change the scenery and reduce work-related distractions. 

Can breaks have a positive impact on mental health and employee well-being?

Regular breaks during the workday benefit mental health and well-being by reducing stress, preventing burnout, and encouraging a work-life balance. While on a break, you can relax and recharge, allowing mental and emotional rejuvenation, further contributing to improved focus and enhanced productivity.

How can I communicate the need for breaks to my supervisor or colleagues?

Communication plays an essential role in maintaining a happy and healthy workplace culture. Be clear, respectful, and assertive when discussing breaks with your supervisor or colleague. Begin by emphasizing the benefits and explaining how breaks will improve performance. 

Whether you bring it up with your supervisor or as a topic in a team meeting, make sure that you frame the conversation positively and collaboratively. 

What strategies can I use to overcome resistance or guilt associated with taking breaks?

Remember that prioritizing self-care is an integral part of being a productive professional. When guilt creeps in, consider the following practical strategies.

  • Educate yourself on the benefits of regular work breaks
  • Reframe breaks as an essential part of maintaining focus and achieving long-term productivity
  • Normalize breaks as a standard and healthy practice
  • Plan breaks in advance, treating them as non-negotiable commitments
  • Start with small steps and take micro-breaks before building up to longer breaks
  • Communicate your needs and intentions with your supervisor and colleagues
  • Lead by example and show your colleagues the benefits of breaks

How long are breaks at work?

The exact length of breaks at work will vary depending on company policies, local labor laws, and individual work agreements. A 5-minute break is usually considered a micro-break, while 15-minute breaks are also considered short. Longer breaks can be between 30 minutes and an hour. If in doubt, check with your company policy and local labor laws.

How many bathroom breaks can I take at work?

In most instances, there is no limitation to the number of bathroom breaks you can take while at work, as access to bathroom facilities is considered a basic necessity and a fundamental employee right. However, using bathroom breaks appropriately ensures productivity and respects work responsibilities.

 

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