Get up, get out of bed, drag a comb across your head. Then, ugh, march to work, sign in to Slack and count the minutes until you can take a break. But, just how long should you wait to flee your swivel chair? Until you have to pee or your legs have gone numb? How long should you spend away from recirculated office air, basking in the elements? Well, these were the objects of inquiry in a 2015 study on taking breaks, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Over the course of one workweek, Baylor University psychologists surveyed 95 employees who documented and assessed every break they took. A break was defined as "any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks."
All in all, researchers poured over 959 reports, each of which reflected an average of two breaks per day, per person.
Here’s the gist of what they found:
- Mid-morning is the best time for a break. Rather than sprint through am work and reward yourself with a leisurely lunch or afternoon constitutional, consider pulling yourself away from that draft or contract before lunch to restore energy, concentration and motivation. Study participants reported more health issues and worse well-being when they took later breaks.
- Do something you enjoy. If you’re working on an assigned task, you’re not taking a break. But, it’s okay to engage in a work-related activity, so long as it’s something you choose and like.
- Better breaks, better health, better job situation. Worker-bees who take enjoyable, mid-morning breaks gripe less about their aching bodies (e.g. headaches, eye strain and lower-back pain), suffer from burnout less frequently and report higher levels of job satisfaction.
- It is about quantity. Employees who take shorter, more frequent breaks are more energized and motivated than their colleagues who save up their break minutes for one, long respite. But, researchers didn’t identify any magic length of time for the ideal break.
This post has been updated.