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Breaks Matter

Contributors: Manwen Shen, Resource Coordinator, Wellness Works Canada and Victoria Grainger, Founder, Wellness Works Canada

In today’s competitive market of limited resources, many employees neglect taking breaks to keep up with their work or stay productive. However, the research is clear that skipping breaks reduces productivity and harms our well-being. Breaks can refresh people physically and psychologically. Taking a break, as an employee’s right, should be encouraged and supported in the workplace. Read on to learn about the science of breaks and how to encourage them for your organization, team and/or, yourself.


Benefits of Breaks For You, Your Team, and Your Organization

  • Taking a break can help refresh your brain and get focused. Breaks can help you retain information and make connections in your brain to improve problem-solving abilities.

  • Breaks can help you reassess your ultimate goals to get back on track.

  • Breaks can activate brain activity and improve cognitive performance.

  • Breaks can reduce or prevent stress and exhaustion, re-energize you, improve performance and productivity, and reduce the risk of sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease.

  • A relaxing break helps you recover mental and physical function to your baseline.

  • Networking breaks can help create a sense of inclusiveness and connection.

Many understand that breaks are important, but in the day-to-day grind, when there are limited resources and time constraints, actually taking them and promoting them can be a real challenge. Let’s dive into some practical ways leaders can create a culture of high bouts of performance, that include breaks.


What can leaders do to support employees to take breaks?

Taking breaks may seem up to employees themselves, but there are many things that leaders can do to support them.

  • Have a look at current policies and processes for breaks. Questions to consider when reviewing them include:

    • Is there flexibility for when people take breaks?

    • Is there adequate space people can use to get a different scenery and/or perspective?

    • Are there activities and ideas readily available to help recharge people during breaks? For example:

      • Walking groups or walking routes

      • Quiet room or space

      • Networking groups

      • Break room

      • Is there a culture where people are recognized or judged when people take breaks? What can you do to shift people's thinking and actions?

  • Lead by example and take your breaks. Share with your team when you do! Actions speak louder than words.

  • Use appropriate language to encourage employees to take a break without making them feel criticized. Make sure everyone knows the true meaning of your words.

  • If applicable, set a quiet space for employees to take breaks or practice mindfulness comfortably. You can set certain times for the personal use of an office area during the day.

  • Provide access to wellness apps like Calm, Headspace and Breathe for employees to support their breaks.

  • Recognize and reward people who do take breaks. A simple, authentic shout-out during team meetings is all it takes.

  • Provide break ideas or opportunities for employees (keep reading for ideas!)

  • Identify the most effective and feasible break strategy. Try one of the following 4 break methods:

    1. Pomodoro method: Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. After four sessions, take a longer break of 30 minutes or so.

    2. 90-minute work blocks: Work for 90 minutes, then take a 20-minute break. Repeat this.

    3. The 52-17 method: Work for 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break. Repeat this.

    4. Two 15-minute breaks per day: Arrange a 15-minute break in the mid-morning and another 15-minute break in the mid-afternoon

  • Make taking time for lunch a part of the culture to support employees’ psychological safety during their lunch breaks.

  • Take the lead to have lunch breaks regardless if you are working in person or remote.

  • Provide employees with flexibility for when they take their breaks.

  • Hold lunch events regularly. For example, host a potluck and encourage employees to bring a meal from their culture to the workplace.

Break Ideas

Okay, you have now prioritized breaks, but what you do during your break can be just as important as taking a break. Breaks should be about doing something different than what your regular job entails. For office workers - it is important to get away from screens and social media. They will not recharge you. The only exception is if you are using an application that guides a practice that supports your well-being and doesn’t give you more information to process (ex: mindfulness apps). Feel free to combine any of the following tips during your breaks where you find suitable and effective and share these ideas with your team.

  • Do some physical activity like walking and stretching. You can also play some electronic fitness games to get you physically active.

  • Networking with other people, even online, can reduce the sense of isolation or loneliness.

  • Do something interesting and different from your work to stimulate your brain and get better cognitive performance (i.e. mental puzzles; cards; checkers;…).

  • Sing to reduce stress and create a sense of well-being. Keep the door closed if you do not want to be heard!

  • Read or listen to some non-work-related stories or novels to rebuild your emotion and to help you reconnect with your workmates.

  • Tidy somewhere in your house if you work from home (only if that helps you feel recharged!)

  • Daydream

  • Have some healthy snacks or a healthy meal

  • Look at baby animal photos for a shot of oxytocin

  • Listen to music for a reduction in cortisol

  • Take a nap

  • Meditate to reduce your stress

  • Get outside and embrace nature

Taking breaks should not be optional because they are a crucial part of improving productivity, innovation and work efficiency as well as supporting mental and physical well-being. Taking breaks is beneficial for both employees and employers. So whether you are a leader, a workplace health practitioner, or someone wanting to improve your workday - make sure to leave your work and take a bit of time during your day to relax and see how it pays you back.


For more resources to help your organization or team be healthy and productive at work, consider a membership to Wellness Works Canada. Memberships provide you with hundreds of resources, including loads of on-demand webinars, tools and guides on how to build a healthy, high performing work culture. Membership also provides loads of networking and professional development opportunities. Learn more at https://wellnessworkscanada.ca/memberships/.


About the contributors:

Manwen Shen

Manwen is a fourth-year Bachelor of Kinesiology student at the University of Alberta. Her major is physical activity and health. She is currently doing her practicum in Wellness Works Canada, and her role is resource coordinator. Her next pursuit in her career is community wellness and health promotion. Besides her studying and working, she is interested in bodybuilding, planting and painting in her free time.


Victoria Grainger

Victoria is a passionate advocate for the impact well-being has on performance. She is the founder of Wellness Works, a non-profit that empowers, educates, and supports

practitioners and employers in building healthy, high-performing work cultures. Her expertise is in creating environments where people and business thrive. She has an MBA and BPE and is a Personal Trainer Specialist, Nutrition and Weight Loss Coach, and Triathlon Coach.



References

Connors, Deborah. “3 Positively Deviant Practices to Help You Lead a Winning Team.” Youtube. November 25, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMVrD-dssVM

‌Grainger, Victoria and Connors, Deborah. “Building a Healthy Work Culture: Daily Practices That Work.” Youtube. March 10, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxp-7IwIGzc

Samuel, Alexandra. “Taking a Break Doesn’t Always Mean Unplugging.” Harvard Business Review. March 3, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/03/taking-a-break-doesnt-always-mean-unplugging

Tulshyan, Ruchika. “Take Your Lunch Break!” Harvard Business Review. January 21, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/01/take-your-lunch-break


Seiter, Courtney. “The Science of Taking Breaks at Work: How to Be More Productive By Changing the Way You Think About Downtime.” Buffer Resources. August 21, 2014. https://buffer.com/resources/science-taking-breaks-at-work/


“The Importance of Taking Breaks.” The Wellbeing Thesis. September 5, 2019. https://thewellbeingthesis.org.uk/foundations-for-success/importance-of-taking-breaks-and-having-other-interests/

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