Breaks as Performance Boosters: New Insights

The quest for productivity at work often leads to the idea that working more equals better results. This perspective, supplemented with anecdotes about CEOs who wake up early and work weekends, dominates the popular literature. But what if the key to both wellness and performance actually lies in taking breaks? This line of thinking was explored in a systematic review of more than 80 studies on taking breaks in the workplace, conducted by Lyubykh & Gulseren (2023).

Reason for the study

Amid conflicting accounts of the impact of working hours on performance, this study focuses on the role of breaks in the workplace. The target? Exploring the balance between continuous work and regular rest to maintain well-being and performance. With a recent survey indicating that 59% of employees feel burned out, this research is relevant and timely.

The Study: Types and Effects of Breaks

The study analyzed more than 80 studies and confirmed that taking breaks during the day can improve both well-being and work performance. Key findings were:

  1. Break Duration and Timing: Shorter, frequent breaks are more effective, especially in the morning. Longer breaks are more beneficial in the afternoon when fatigue increases.
  2. Location of Breaks: Outdoor breaks, in greenery, are much more effective for recharging than breaks at the desk.
  3. Activity During Break: Physical activity can improve well-being and performance, especially in mentally demanding work. However, the positive effects of this are short-lived and require regular repetition.
  4. Social Media and Rest: Although almost everyone (97%) browses social media during breaks, this often leads to emotional exhaustion and reduced creativity and engagement at work. a>
  5. Interaction with Pets: Interactions with dogs can lower cortisol levels, an objective indicator of stress. Although more research is needed, this points to the potential effectiveness of spending time with pets during breaks for well-being.

Reflection and Implications

These findings highlight the need for organizations and managers to actively promote and facilitate breaks. Creating a positive attitude towards breaks, setting a good example, planning specific break times and creating suitable spaces are helpful. Interestingly, the results suggest that not all pauses are equal; the nature and quality of the break have a significant impact on well-being and productivity.

► If you want to take breaks more effectively, consider the following:

  1. Schedule short, frequent breaks in the morning and longer breaks in the afternoon to combat fatigue and increase productivity.
  2. Take breaks, preferably outside in greenery, to relax more effectively and recharge mentally.
  3. Combine breaks with physical activity, such as a short walk, to improve well-being and mental performance.
  4. Avoid using social media during breaks to avoid emotional exhaustion and maintain creativity and engagement at work.