The Benefits of Taking Breaks at Work

2 years ago   •   5 min read

By Zero Machina

We all know that we need to take work breaks. Despite knowing this, though, many of us feel guilty for stepping away from our desks and taking some time for ourselves.

The truth is that taking breaks at work can help us stay focused and increase productivity. They're an essential part of our workday, and they should not be viewed as a luxury or a waste of time.

Read on to learn more about the importance of taking breaks at work. You’ll also find some tips on how to start incorporating regular breaks into your day.

How Many People Take Breaks at Work?

A lot of employees in the U.S. are not taking breaks regularly.

The results of one survey revealed that 35 percent of respondents eat meals at their desks or workstations instead of leaving the office or going to a breakroom. Another 22 percent also said that they do not take any breaks throughout the day, except to eat or use the restroom.

This same survey also shows a troubling correlation between employee wellness and a lack of breaks.

Among those who eat at their desks or workstations, 45 percent report “very low” emotional wellness, and 47 percent report “very low” physical wellness. 38 percent also consider their emotional wellness to be “low,” and 42 percent say the same about their physical wellness.

Perception of Breaks: Employees and Employers

Another survey conducted among 1,600 North Americans revealed that nearly 20 percent of North American workers are concerned that taking regular lunch breaks will cause their bosses to think they’re not hardworking. Furthermore, 13 percent are worried that their coworkers will judge them for taking regular lunch breaks instead of working right through the day.

This survey also shows that these fears are not totally unfounded. In fact, 22 percent of North American bosses report saying that employees who take these breaks are not as hardworking as those who do not.

Although many workers feel worried about taking breaks, the vast majority also agree that taking breaks is good for them. The same survey linked above revealed that almost 90 percent of North Americans find that taking lunch breaks helps them to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of their day.

Benefits of Taking Breaks at Work

As we mentioned above, people’s physical and emotional wellness suffers when they eat at their desks and don’t take time to step away. Employees who are not taking regular breaks at work are missing out on a lot of important benefits.

Here are some specific reasons why workers — and their employers — ought to prioritize taking breaks at work:

Increased Productivity

If you want to avoid making mistakes at work and want to get more done throughout the day, taking regular breaks can make a big difference.

Research shows that taking breaks makes it easier for you to pay attention when you’re working on various tasks. For example, one study looked at two groups of students — one that took breaks and one that didn’t — who were asked to complete a task that required their sustained attention.

The students who took breaks of any kind — sitting quietly, listening to music, watching a video, etc. — performed better than those who pushed through and tried to complete the task all in one sitting. They were less likely to make errors or miss important details.

Increased Safety

In some jobs, the ability to focus and avoid errors isn’t just about maintaining a high level of productivity and improving a company’s bottom line. It can also be a matter of keeping employees safe.

When team members are more focused and better able to pay attention to their tasks, they’re less likely to make mistakes. This includes dangerous mistakes — such as mistakes involving heavy machinery — that could put them and their coworkers in danger.

Reduced Stress

When you’re chronically stressed at work, you likely won’t perform as well as you do when you’re feeling calm and confident. Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help to lower your stress levels and improve your performance.

This study — which observed surgeons who took breaks during operations and compared them to those who did not — also shows that taking breaks increases productivity and reduces the number of mistakes people make while working.  

Increased Job Satisfaction

Which employee is more likely to feel satisfied with their job:

  • One who’s constantly stressed and worried about taking a lunch break because they worry about how their boss will view them, OR
  • One who feels empowered to take breaks, has lower stress levels, and is more productive as a result?

Most people would agree that the second worker is more likely to be happy on the job. If you want to change your relationship with your work, taking brief breaks can make a big difference.

Increased Creativity

Taking mental breaks from one task and focusing on something else helps to reduce cognitive fixation (an obsession over a particular person, thing, or idea). It also increases one’s divergent thinking (exploring many solutions to a problem) and convergent thinking (reaching a defined solution to a problem).

When you regularly take breaks, your brain gets a chance to refresh its mental resources and can start to think more creatively. This allows you to look at issues in new ways and helps you break through barriers.

Improved Memory

If you feel as though you’re always forgetting things, the problem might be that you’re not taking enough breaks.

A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed that even when people take breaks, the human brain is still working hard and strengthening its memories. Incorporating more breaks into your day could help you to learn faster and retain more information long-term.

Do You Struggle with Taking Breaks? Try These Tips

Even if your boss encourages breaks at work, you might still have a hard time following through and actually taking them.

These tips can help you to make breaks a more consistent part of your routine:

Schedule Your Breaks: If you get so absorbed in work that you forget to take breaks, add them to your schedule and set an alarm so you get reminded to leave your desk.

Set a Timer: Set a timer when your break starts so you make sure to take the full amount of time allotted to you.

Consider Micro-Breaks: Micro-breaks (very short breaks that last just a few minutes) can help you rest your brain without feeling that you’re taking too much time away from your work.

Step Outside: If possible, go outside during your breaks; exposing yourself to the sun and fresh air is great for your mood and stress levels.

Go for a Walk: Consider going for a walk as well. The movement will increase blood flow to the brain, and you also get to enjoy the effects of endorphins (mood-boosting, stress-reducing chemicals) from the gentle exercise.

During your breaks, try to avoid screens as much as possible. This gives you a chance to truly rest your brain — and your eyes — and come back to your desk feeling more refreshed.

Next Steps

Now that you know all the benefits of taking breaks at work, are you feeling more inspired to set aside time to rest? Follow the tips listed in the previous section so you can experience all of the benefits that come with regular breaks.

Interested in learning more about how to better invest your time? Check out our article: How to Invest Your Time Wisely for Greater Productivity in Work and Life.

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