The Importance Of Regular Breaks

There are days when working through lunch feels like the only way to get the job done. But it seems our culture of powering through is having a negative impact on corporate productivity.

In 2013, beyondblue found that 3.8 million Australians routinely sacrifice their lunch breaks in favour of efficiency. Of those who did take breaks, 72% admitted to eating at their desks, cutting their time out short and putting lunch off ‘til mid-afternoon.

An ING Direct survey from the same year suggested Aussie lunch breaks typically last between 15 and 30 minutes, with one in three workers skipping lunch entirely at least once a week.

While well intended, such attempts to boost output are severely misguided as research has consistently shown that breaks are essential to performance.

By creating a temporary sense of distance between work and self, breaks influence productivity in a number of key ways:

  1. Physical Health: Sitting for prolonged periods without interruption heightens a person’s risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It promotes weight gain, impacts bowel function and stiffens the back, neck and shoulders. Such conditions encourage absenteeism and presenteeism, both of which have a major impact on productivity.

  2. Mental Wellbeing: People who fail to take breaks are more likely to be anxious, stressed and depressed. Practising yoga, meditation and mindfulness during lunch hour helps limit the psychological impact of sedentary living.

  3. Focus: Our brains are built to detect and respond to changes in the environment. When we focus on a single project for too long, our ability to perform is decreased.  Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that people who redirect their attention once an hour perform better than those who remain fixated on the task at hand. This study highlights the value of taking mini breaks throughout the day.    

  4. Creativity: According to researchers at the University of Sydney, breaks boost creativity. It has been suggested that by temporarily releasing our fixation on a problem, breaks help the mind relax in a way which allows more innovative lines of thought to form.

  5. Cognitive Performance: Experts at Harvard have noted the essential role sleep plays in concentration, learning and memory. Sleep deprived individuals struggle to remember and make use of factual and practical information. Recognising the impact sleep has on performance, companies like Google and Uber are encouraging their staff to nap on their breaks.

Since heavy workloads are consistently used to justify the avoidance of breaks, it is up to the employer to ensure employees are aware of their right to take time away from their desks. Breaks should never be viewed as a luxury, but as an essential component of productivity.