Breaks at work: Why your team needs a time out

The business world still has a lot of stressed out and exhausted people, despite a plethora of wellness initiatives. Part of the problem is a culture that rewards working without breaks as a characteristic of commitment. If you are responsible for managing employees, there is a strong business case to make for having your team take regular breaks at work.

If you are responsible for managing employees, there is a strong business case to make for having your team take regular breaks at work.

The culture of ‘busy’ and its effect on the brain

More than one-third of American workers regularly eat lunch at their desks, and half of us assume we will work during our vacations, according to Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project. This is less than ideal, but sometimes necessary depending on each individual’s job requirements.

The work most of us do every day occurs in the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which gets just plain tired when it is overworked (just like our other muscles). Elite athletes understand that hard work without recovery periods will tear down muscle, not build it, and they build their workouts accordingly. The principle holds true for optimal brain performance as well.

Schwartz tells us that “more, bigger, faster” has been “the ethos of the market economics since the Industrial Revolution,” and that this paradigm assumes that resources are infinite. The two resources humans expend at work are time and energy. Time is not renewable. Energy is, but only if we make space for that renewal – space that breaks at work provide.

Humans are not machines. We are living, breathing organisms that pulse. We perform at our best when our behaviors honor our natural cycles instead of acting counter to them.

The business case for breaks at work

Breaks improve decisions

Making decisions requires brain energy. When we have too many decisions to make in a limited time, our brains start running on empty and default to what is easiest, rather than what is wisest. We might choose the status quo even when that’s a false safety. Encouraging your team to take breaks at work, and then revisit the complicated issue at a later time allows them to make important decisions with more nuance and wisdom.

Breaks increase productivity

According to Schwartz, “When people feel comfortable balancing periods of highly focused work – ideally no longer than 90 minutes at a stretch – with intermittent renewal, they actually get more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality, in a more sustainable way.” He advises 15-minute breaks with a complete shift of focus and activity.

Breaks promote creativity

“We tend to generate redundant ideas when we don’t take regular breaks,” says Thomas Oppong, an entrepreneur coach writing for Inc. He explains that our brains operate in two modes: focused and diffuse. Diffuse mode kicks in when we relax, daydream, or take a walk, for instance. “Activity in many regions of the brain increases when your mind wanders. Your brain solves its difficult problems while you daydream,” he says.

Breaks may even support ethical judgment

Over-focus on work may cause us to lose sight of an important part of who we are. “A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self,” writes Ferris Jabr in his Scientific American article on the importance of downtime.

Breaks maintain health

We’ve all heard the warnings about the unhealthy effects of prolonged sitting. Even short walks around the office can help stave off the ill effects. A study supported by Johnson & Johnson has shown that for those working in an office environment, a five-minute walking break every hour is better than a 30-minute workout at improving mood, lessening fatigue, and decreasing food cravings.

Have you taken a break today?

It may seem counterintuitive, but working more efficiently often equates to  accomplishing more in shorter periods of time. Leaders can set the example by taking periodic short breaks at work themselves. You can also reinforce good habits by recognizing that short breaks are beneficial (help your team feel okay taking a break), given that breaks and other down times are essential to top performance.

Another way to lower stress is to partner with an experienced, expert recruiting firm like Bradsby Group to achieve your hiring goals. Our specialty is helping organizations like yours build talented, productive staffs. Who do you need to make your team the best it can be? Contact us today and let’s get your search started.

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