You wake up early. And then you work full tilt for hours. Maybe you skip lunch. But you get everything checked off your to-do list: You answer all your emails, attend all your meetings and return all your phone calls.
What you didn’t do was take enough breaks because if you did, you might have been even more productive during the workday.
In the Harvard Business Review article “How to Take Better Breaks at Work, According to Research,” the authors write: “Counter to the popular narrative of working long work hours, our research suggests that taking breaks within work hours not only does not detract from performance but can help boost it.”
They continue: “In extreme cases, nonstop work can lead to a negative spiral: A worker tries to finish tasks despite their depleted state, is unable to do them well and even makes mistakes, resulting in more work and even fewer resources left to tackle those same tasks.”
The authors say there are a few things to consider to help you and your employees get the most out of break times.
First, longer breaks are not better than shorter ones. Short breaks (about five to 10 minutes) are better in the morning, and longer breaks (15-20 minutes) are better later in the day when people naturally become more tired.
Office workers would fare better going outside for their breaks. Field workers would benefit from coming inside and sitting down for a bit. Basically, a change in environment helps people recharge mentally and become less likely to make errors.
The authors recommend you offer break periods for a certain length of time, such as one hour per day, and let employees decide when to take them and how to divide the time. (Foremen can take the role of deciding how their crews take the hour breaks.)
As the authors note: “Taking breaks can help employees to recharge and short-circuit the negative spiral of exhaustion and decreasing productivity.”