Beyond what is required by law, most places of business in America don’t actively encourage their employees to take breaks. In fact, some companies even show preference to those workers willing to work through breaks and lunches, believing this shows initiative and dedication. And why shouldn’t they? After all, you get better production out of employees that are actually working, right?
Well, not according to most of the research out there. This shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise, but findings show that people who constantly work without giving their brains and bodies a specific break time to rest and regroup tend to have lower rates of productivity, make more mistakes, suffer from a higher number of physical ailments, and miss more work.
But companies need their employees to maintain a certain level of productivity, so how can they balance work and rest? What’s the right number and amount of time for employee breaks?
While it’s different depending on the kind of work you do, research shows a surprising number of similarities in the frequency and amount of time needed for breaks across job types to attain the maximum benefit for companies and their employees.
The Pomodoro Technique. Created by Francesco Cirillo in the ‘80s, this technique essentially says that we operate at our maximum potential for about 25 minutes at a time. As such, you should break for about 5 minutes every half hour, and then take a longer break after four 25 minute sessions. Experts around the world swear by this, and it’s been adapted to our world in a number of ways – most notably the college classroom, where each 50 minute class is followed by a 10 minute break.
Micro-breaks. If you type a lot, you should give yourself micro-breaks (less than two minutes) every time you complete a burst of writing. This can be as simple as stopping to make a phone call, taking a quick walk to the kitchenette for a drink, or doing some filing. As you can see, it doesn’t have to be a tradition break where you don’t work, it just needs to be a shift in positions.
Breaks for your eyes. Most of us stare at screens all day long, and it can have a major negative impact on our eyes if we’re not careful. To keep your eyes healthy, stop every 15 minutes or so for one-to-two minutes and look at something at a distance – 20 feet or so is usually good. Alternatively, you can blink rapidly for a few seconds to make sure your eyes are getting enough moisture.
Muscle fatigue breaks. Humans aren’t meant to sit all day, but that’s exactly what too many of us do. To keep from suffering from muscle fatigue, you should stop every hour or two to do some stretching or light exercises. A simple way to accomplish this is to get up and walk around for a few minutes.
In general, the time for a break is when your body tells you that you need it. So if you find yourself sore, nodding off, or staring off into space, do yourself a favor and step away for a few minutes.