AHHH – Time For A Break by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

It is very common in a highly competitive workplace to minimize the need for breaks or time off from work. Employees, managers, and even executives may see taking a break as being less focused, less passionate, and less committed to success. This extends to taking longer breaks such as vacation time and long weekends, or being entirely “away from the job” when actually booked out of the workplace.

While working hard and continually may seem like a way to boost productivity and demonstrate to others the expectations for the workplace, it is actually a counterproductive way to operate. Many companies in other countries, including Japan, France, UK, and Canada, provide increased breaks and shorter workdays for their employees. For example, the average hours per week worked in Canada is 35.4, while the average hours worked per week in the United States is 47.

With the extended work days, mental fatigue becomes a genuine factor in productivity. When the culture in the workplace limits breaks or time off, the rate of production actually drops, and sometimes significantly.

To take a closer look at how shorter breaks during the day and longer breaks away from the job can help you to be better at what you do, consider the following factors:

  • Goal focus – most people, are goal focused on their jobs. The goals may be completing a task, managing people, developing a product, or any other type of activity. In the brain, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive types of thinking and performance. In other words, it is constantly working when you are working. Taking a break from a goal-focused task allows that part of the brain to relax as well, providing better overall functioning with less mental fatigue and increased mental clarity.
  • Management decision making – according to many different researchers, the average number of decisions made in a day is about 35,000. This includes what we choose to wear, eat, read, watch, or look at online. Unfortunately, the brain does not distinguish between the different types of decisions and hold mental energy in reserve. Managers often suffer from decision fatigue during the day, which leads to faster answers that are simply easier for the manager, not always better for the company. Breaks throughout the day help to reduce decision fatigue and allow people to contemplate options before making a choice.
  • Becoming more productive – as mentioned above, productivity means sustaining a focus on the activity. By taking short mental breaks throughout the day rather than pushing through, it is easier to stay productive and to feel positive and engaged with the job.

Both physical and mental breaks throughout the day are also linked to fewer unscheduled days off of work, higher levels of creativity, a better acceptance of change, and higher satisfaction reports by all employees in organizations.