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Take a Break When You Need It

leadership transition Aug 23, 2023
man break sun

-By Sophie Pinkoski

Taking regular breaks at work should be a no-brainer. However, most people don't give themselves the breaks that could benefit them and their work. Sometimes workers feel guilty for being seen taking breaks for fear of being viewed as lazy or unproductive or they feel that they "can't afford" the time to step away. It takes intentionally cultivating a culture of psychological safety to ensure your team feels comfortable and empowered enough to take their designated breaks when they need them. Everyone’s working style is going to be different.

Give your team options to find the most effective strategy to maintain their mental health and boost their productivity.

The key is to give them the opportunity to take mindful breaks to properly rest and recharge throughout the workday. These intentional pauses throughout the day prevent burnout and promote better work-life balance. The brain will typically go from fully focused to fatigued in about 90 minute intervals, so blocking out focused work sessions alongside five minute to one hour breaks in your schedule will help maintain ideal productivity levels. Of course, many workers find it difficult to find time during the day to take a break while still managing to complete their daily tasks. In fact, 21% of young workers feel they don’t have the time for dedicated breaks in their busy schedule. It’s therefore important to stay realistic to what is possible according to a person’s type of work, responsibilities, and organization’s culture. This final aspect can be adapted to best support your team’s needs. 


Here are three types of breaks and the benefits they offer:

Micro-breaks (5 minutes) –– Five-minute breaks are a great way to easily break up those 90 minute focus sessions without disrupting your work day too much. This gives you time to briefly leave your desk for a quick stretch or take some deep breaths for a mini mindfulness reset before plunging back into your current or next task.

Short breaks (15 to 20 minutes) –– These breaks are often considered the golden hour: the ideal amount of time to take between focused work sessions. This gives enough time for a short walk and a change of scenery. When you move into a different environment from your workspace, it triggers a shift in perspective that lets you disconnect and get your creative juices flowing in a way sitting stagnant at your desk all day won’t give you. Being able to go outside and spend time in nature, however briefly, also raises serotonin levels and improves your mood. Even a short coffee break will be stimulating in itself. Regular short breaks like these are an excellent way to re-energize you to prepare for tackling the next big thing on your daily to-do list.

Lunch breaks (30 minutes to an hour) –– While lunch breaks are required, many people will work through lunch and choose to snack throughout the day instead just to keep up with their workload. In fact, 62% of American workers and 40% of Canadian workers eat lunch at their desk. However, working from your desk can cause further stress and even digestive issues. It’s important to get into a routine where you can switch off from work mode during your lunch break in order to come back to your desk with replenished energy for the next task at hand.

You can encourage your team to take time away from their workspace by creating designated spaces for relaxing, unplugging, and casual interactions. The more they see their peers taking breaks, the more they’re likely to take their own. Giving them a physical space dedicated to disconnecting from work and connecting with each other is only one half of building the psychological safety needed to alleviate the guilt attached to taking breaks. Model the positive habits you want to see in your team and set clear break policies so they understand your expectations. Clearly communicate how much time they’re given for daily breaks but give them the freedom to choose when and how they take it.

Be sure to regularly check in to ensure each team member’s break routine is effective for maintaining their mental health and managing their workload.

When your team knows you respect and value their time, they are far more likely to explore the best routines that will let them do their best work ––and schedule their breaks accordingly.


Further Reading

 4 Ways to Normalize It’s Okay to Step Away from Work, Even During Work Hours, Fast Company

 Take Your Lunch Break! Harvard Business Review

 The Benefits of Breaks at Work and How to Maximize Them, Deal

 5 Simple Ways to Do More for Your Employees’ Mental Health This Week, Entrepreneur

 The Key to Increasing Productivity? Employee Breaks, Business News Daily

 Why Mental Health Breaks Are Good For Business, Shine

 Surprising Statistics on Taking Break At Work 2023, GITNUX

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