Before you dismiss the power of breaks, consider this:
- Why are elite athletes and air traffic controllers so diligent about breaks?
- Why do the world’s highest physical performers meticulously pace themselves and take rest days?
- Why do those with some of the world’s highest-stakes jobs step away from their desks every 90 minutes to rest or even nap?
Because they know something most of us don’t:
Taking Breaks works.
The world’s best athletes take breaks.
- Basketball legend Kobe Bryant was famous for taking naps before big games.
- 3-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh takes daily meditation breaks.
- Alpine skier and 3-time Olympic medalist Mikaella Shiffrin unwinds by playing the guitar and piano.
“Breaks are not only good for wellbeing, they also improve our ability to do our best work.” Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Special Report
Scientific studies have proven the power of breaks time and time again. Even short 7 minute breaks can improve well-being, cognitive function, and overall health.
No matter what physical shape we’re in, giving the body regular breaks prevents illness and decreases the harmful effects of sitting at a desk all day. The mental boost is even bigger: Breaks ward off decision fatigue and procrastination while improving memory, motivation, learning, creativity, and more. Breaks also improve engagement and reduce the risk of burnout, which in turn improves retention.
There’s really no downside to daily breaks.
Why is there still such a stigma around breaks when they’ve proven crucial to our ability to think, work, perform, and live better?
So why aren’t breaks a no-brainer habit for us all?
Why do we still perceive breaks as a hobby for the lazy? Why is there still such a stigma around something that’s proven to be crucial to our ability to think, work, perform, and live better?
We’ve modernized workplaces in countless ways, yet most of us are still caught up in some downright archaic approaches toward rest and rejuvenation.
It’s time for a new perspective on wellness…
This guide will explore the longstanding stigmas around employee breaks and how fresh science has given us even fresher perspectives. Then we’ll walk you through 4 tactics you can use to debunk stigmas in your own organization to boost well-being, retention, and, yes, even performance.
Let’s get to the good stuff.
Why is taking breaks at work considered bad?
We’re all familiar with the historical archetype of The Good Worker:
They arrive in pressed, starched business attire and clock in on time. They give a few friendly waves, then sit down at their desk, where they remain for the next nine or so hours. They often skip their lunch break because they’re absorbed in work and never seem to mind staying late if a last-minute request crosses their desk toward the end of the workday.
The Good Worker is always alert, available, and willing to burn the midnight oil. The Good Worker is never distracted, exhausted, or— dare we say it—committed to something more important than work.
We all know this archetype is bogus: Even the highest performers get tired, lose focus, and need replenishment. And even the highest performers are typically trying to balance work with family, friends, hobbies, and health.
We saw this firsthand when the pandemic forced us all to work from home, often juggling jobs and families from dining room tables while kids did homework in the background.
And yet most of us still believe that breaks are somehow bad, especially for remote employees. In fact, a survey of remote American workers found that 6 in 10 “feel guilty for taking any kind of break during work hours,” and 3 in 10 skip lunch breaks entirely when working from home. The numbers are worse in Canada, where 39% of employees “occasionally, rarely, or never take lunch breaks.”
And then there’s hustle culture, which takes break shaming to a whole new level. The #riseandgrind crowd wakes up at 4 am to drink homemade smoothies, work out, and side hustle for a few hours before they hit their day jobs for another 8+ hours. They share their routines on social media with quippy comments like “Someone else is grinding while you’re resting” or “Hustle until it hurts.”
What happens when you don’t take breaks at work?
Skipping breaks to hustle non-stop isn’t good for employees, leaders, or companies. It’s simply not sustainable: Overwork leads to a higher risk of heart problems and stroke, as well as stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
A single 10-year study also found links between long working hours and hypertension, diabetes mellitus, anxiety, fatigue, and injury. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index makes similar discoveries, citing digital overload as a culprit of stress:
“54 percent of respondents in a global external survey said they feel overworked, while 39 percent described themselves as outright exhausted.”
Poor health isn’t the only downside though:
Overwork also degrades employee well-being while increasing work stress and burnout—both of which lead to lost productivity and, eventually, lost employees: In the US alone, turnover costs $1 trillion each year.
The grind is, quite literally, grinding us down… And it’s causing people to quit. If we want to improve retention, we’ve got to create a healthier workplace.
How is taking breaks beneficial for employees and employers alike?
We boldly suggest a better way to work: One where taking care of the mind and body doesn’t mean we’re lazy. One where breaks are seen as moments to unwind, connect with coworkers, or just give the brain and body a chance to rest and recharge. One where we give employees exactly what they need to think, work, perform, and even live better.
Breaks are a science-backed solution to many problems plaguing the modern workplace. Study after study proves that breaks can alleviate stress, burnout, disengagement, and turnover.
Science-backed benefits of breaks:
- Boosting physical and emotional health
- Decreasing the negative effects of sitting for a long time
- Improving memory, learning, productivity, and creativity
- Preventing decision fatigue and procrastination
- Restoring motivation to reach goals
Breaks are proven to be beneficial in several other ways:
- Boosting physical health by reducing the risk of illness and injury
- Counteracting the negative effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Improving emotional health by reducing feelings of stress and burnout
- Improving cognitive function, including retention and learning
- Preventing decision fatigue, procrastination, and other common cognitive effects of working long hours
- Restoring motivation to finish projects or reach goals
With one of the largest bodies of research on the workplace experience, Microsoft found some compelling support for workplace breaks:
Taking breaks between meetings reduces cumulative stress by allowing the brain to “reset.”
“Back-to-back meetings decrease the ability to focus and engage.”
“Transitioning between meetings can be a source of high stress.”
How to normalize taking breaks at your organization?
Ready to introduce a fresh, positive perspective on breaks so you promote a happier, healthier (and, yes, higher-performing) workplace?
These 4 tactics will help you ditch the break-related stigmas so you can boost well-being, retention, and the bottom line.
Talk About Breaks Openly and Often With Your Employees
Communicating that breaks are okay—and, more so, crucial to success—is one of the easiest ways to reduce historical stigmas around workday breaks. Remember, survey after survey confirms that employees feel guilty about taking breaks. This means many may be reluctant to take breaks despite being encouraged to do so. You’ll need to talk about breaks openly and often to get your employees to successfully adopt break habits.
The first step is: Regularly remind employees that breaks are okay. Here’s an example of a thorough reminder that encourages regular breaks and offers ideas for how employees can use their break time:
“We realize it can be a challenge for our employees to balance work with other commitments, especially for those who work remotely.
We encourage you to take regular breaks of at least 5-7 minutes to disconnect from work and rest or rejuvenate your brain and body.
Here are a few ideas for making the most of your break time: Take a walk around the block, work on a crossword or sudoku puzzle, do a short series of stretches or calisthenic exercises, play with your dog or cat, go for a quick jog, meditate, take a nap.
Remember, regular breaks are crucial to staying happy and healthy.”
Start at the Top – Get Company Leadership Engaged
Employees take their cues from leadership. If leaders encourage and participate in breaks, employees will follow suit. To encourage widespread adoption of breaks at every level of the organization, ask your leaders to verbally encourage employee breaks and to model wellness practices by taking breaks themselves.
Here’s an example of how leaders can incorporate breaks into regular conversations with their teams:
“Hey, team. Thanks for joining the call. I just took a break to stretch for ten minutes, and I feel great! How’s everyone doing today?”
There’s nothing more powerful for an employee than feeling like their leader supports their well-being, so being mindful of timing can be instrumental to getting employees to adopt regular break habits. And it just takes a little intentional phrasing to get the job done.
For team schedules that are well-aligned, leaders can further encourage breaks by scheduling team-wide break times. This can remove some apprehension because it cements breaks as a team practice instead of just an individual one.
“Leaders intuitively know that supporting their people is supporting the bottom line—but they often don’t know how to support their people in a way that scales without ample effort on their part.
We built Bright Breaks to address this exact need.”
- A study by the Draugiem Group found that the 10% of highest performers took the most breaks, averaging 17 minutes of break time for every 52 minutes worked.
- Employees who take microbreaks throughout the day are less fatigued and more energized, as demonstrated by American and Romanian studies.
- There’s a positive correlation between employee satisfaction and company performance in 4 key areas: higher employee productivity, higher employee profitability, increased customer loyalty, and decreased turnover.
Make Breaks Part of the Onboarding Experience
Research shows that effective onboarding has strong impact on employee engagement, satisfaction, and performance. Create a positive experience right from the start by reassuring new employees that you care about their well-being and support it through practices like breaks.
Checklist for introducing breaks during onboarding:
- Walk through detailed company policies about breaks
- Share where in-office break areas are located
- Offer break options and ideas for remote workers
- Share information about the benefits of breaks
- Include scheduled breaks within the onboarding program
- Ask employees to schedule regular breaks on their own calendars
Update Company Policies to Support Breaks at work
Real talk: None of the tactics we’ve outlined above will be effective if your company policies or cadences contradict break practices—your employees simply won’t take breaks if the day-to- day reality of your organization doesn’t support them.
Before introducing breaks within your organization, review company policies and communications to look for language that prohibits or deters breaks. Partner with your leadership team to update the language to reflect new policies, and let your employees know you’ve updated it by sending out a company-wide communication.
Set your employees up for success by including clear guidelines around when and where breaks may be taken, how breaks should be communicated to teammates, and which kinds of breaks are most beneficial for employee well-being.
You’ll want to check the laws in your area to ensure that any break policies you set are in compliance with local regulations. We also recommend reviewing workload and meeting cadences to identify times when breaks could occur. Cadences may vary by department, team, project, or workflow—but it’s important that potential break times can be identified. If you can’t identify opportunities for regular breaks, it’s unlikely that your employees can either.
Finally, be sure to align with leaders across your organization to ensure they clearly understand the new policies so they can share them with employees and answer any possible questions.
Love this guide? You’ll love Bright Breaks even more.
Bright Breaks helps your team prioritize and take breaks each day. Offering 300+ microbreaks each week that are designed to improve well-being, Bright Breaks makes it easy to introduce breaks throughout your organization and cultivate a happier, healthier workplace.
You can unwind and recharge with fitness, yoga, meditation, nutrition, personal development, and more.
Talk with the Bright Breaks team today for more expert advice on how you can introduce workday breaks to your team to reduce burnout, improve well-being, and increase retention.