British Columbia

Breaks at work boost job performance and well-being, SFU study finds

In a review of 83 studies, researchers found that breaks of 10 minutes or more can decrease stress and fatigue — two things that hinder workplace productivity.

'It's very hard to concentrate for a full 5 hours at a time. None of us can do that,' HR consultant says

A review of dozens of studies on breaks has found employees are more productive if they're given the opportunity to step away from their tasks for at least 10 minutes. (Shutterstock)

Taking breaks from work not only boost workers' well-being, but it also increases their performance while on the job, according to new research out of Simon Fraser University (SFU).

In a review of 83 studies, all but one of which were peer reviewed, researchers found that breaks of 10 minutes or more can decrease stress and fatigue — two things that hinder workplace productivity.

Zhanna Lyubykh, lead author on the review and assistant professor of management and organization studies at SFU said there's not necessarily a particular type of break that makes people more or less effective at work — it's all about how much the individual enjoys the break. 

Having a snack, taking a quick nap, going for a walk or chatting with coworkers about anything other than work are some ways people recharge during the work day.

"My favourite is a break with a therapy dog," Lyubykh said. 

Even something as simple as a break to check social media — something 97 per cent of people reported doing — can have benefits, although research found that while it boosted engagement at work, it actually decreased creativity, Lyubykh said. 

In B.C., employers are not required by law to provide coffee breaks — but a 30-minute unpaid meal break when someone works more than five hours in a row is required.

If someone is expected to be available to work through their break, they must be paid for the break. For example, if someone working a front desk can eat their lunch at their desk but still must answer the phone if it rings, they should get paid for that time.

Human resources consultant Cissy Pau said taking a mental break, even for a couple of minutes, is all a person needs to be able to come back to work and focus on the job.

"It's very hard to concentrate for a full five hours at a time," she said. 

"None of us can do that."

She acknowledged that certain jobs, such as working on a production line, don't allow for short breaks throughout the day unless they're scheduled for everyone.

Pau said generally, employers are hesitant to allow more breaks than what is legally required out of concern staff won't be as productive — something Lubykh says is not true.

"Oftentimes in the North American culture we have that notion that breaks take time and they can detract from performance," Lubykh said. "We actually didn't find evidence that breaks decreased performance in any way."

Lyubykh said it's up to employers to trust the science and lead by example to encourage staff to step away from work periodically.

"It's easy for us nowadays to stay connected 24/7 and that is something that can be detrimental for well-being and performance," she said.

"Making sure that we have those chunks of time where we can disconnect from work, we can recover completely. That is the best strategy to manage our work life and well-being."

Taking a break at work isn't just a nice reprieve...it's productive. We hear from a SFU researcher about her work looking into the benefits of the work-day break.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Courtney Dickson

Broadcast and Digital Journalist

Courtney Dickson is a journalist working in Vancouver, B.C. Email her at courtney.dickson@cbc.ca with story tips.

With files from The Early Edition

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