Work breaks: when and how are they most effective??

Half past nine in the morning in Germany – the perfect time for a short break from work – or is it?? US researchers have now investigated when a break at work is most beneficial and how we can best recharge our batteries. In the process, they have also exposed some of our common assumptions as myths.

Man during an office nap, Monkey Business Images

Work through from morning to evening except for a lunch break? Or do you take a quick coffee break in between, have a chat with your colleagues or go for a spin around the block?? Most of us use breaks in between work to relax briefly and recharge our inner batteries.

In search of the optimal break

Interestingly, however, there has been little research into what the optimal break is and when it is most beneficial. Psychologists Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu from Baylor University in Texas have now made up for this. For a week, they observed the break behavior of nearly a hundred employees and interviewed them intensively about how they felt and what the break accomplished.

Their findings not only brought some surprises, they also provide valuable clues on how we can optimize our work breaks. "We took some of our common assumptions about good and bad breaks and tested them in this experiment.", says Hunter. "What we’ve found is that a better break doesn’t necessarily look the way we’ve always thought it does." We have summarized the most helpful findings for you here.

When is the best time to take a break??

Many professionals take advantage of the morning momentum and work through to the lunch break. They take more frequent breaks in the afternoon, when their energy begins to wane. But this is exactly counterproductive, as the psychologists discovered. It is better to take a break already in the morning.

"The more hours that passed between the start of the work or shift and the first break, the more likely the participants were to complain of general exhaustion and other symptoms of poor health", says Hunter. Breaks that are later in the day are obviously less effective and can no longer compensate for the loss of energy in the morning. A break in the late morning therefore brings more than working through until noon.

How long should the break be?

Up to the minute exactly also the experts cannot say this. However, they found that participants who took several shorter breaks felt better overall and more energetic than colleagues who took only one long break, for example. According to the psychologists, employees should therefore be encouraged to take short breaks from work more often.

"With our cell phones or other devices, we are always told that it is best to have them almost completely discharged before charging them freshly", says Hunter. "But this is not the case with us people – on the contrary. We need to recharge our inner batteries more often during the day."

What is the best thing to do during the break?

Sure, having a coffee or a chat with a colleague is never wrong. But according to common opinion a break should distract above all. That’s why, they say, you shouldn’t do just anything related to work. This is taboo. Instead, everything is good that is as far away as possible from our everyday working life. But is that true?

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