Rest Breaks in Increasing Productivity
Many employees struggle with putting up their best performance at work. A study conducted by the World Economic Forum indicates that over two-thirds of American workers have experienced work-related stress at some point in their working careers (Kohll, 2018). Despite this, many of them continue to take on more projects and rarely take off time from their desks. The study indicates that nearly 20% of workers in America believe that their employers will not see them as hardworking if they insist on taking regular breaks (Kohll, 2018). The study further indicates that 38% of the workers are not encouraged to take regular breaks between shifts (Kohll, 2018). For centuries, most Americans have viewed work breaks negatively as a sign of a lack of hard work. While perceptions towards breaks have significantly changed over the last few decades, there remain concerns about their effects on productivity. Some argue that periodic work breaks help to increase productivity, while others argue that breaks are unnecessary interruptions at the workplace. This paper posits that work breaks are critical in increasing productivity at the workplace. The paper starts by defining work-breaks and then proceeds to review arguments against and for the inclusion of breaks at the workplace to increase productivity.
Breaks vary in form and shape depending on duration and nature. Some of the common types of work breaks include days of work, vacations, or breaks in between tasks during the day (Scholz et al., 2019). The underlying characteristic of these breaks is that they provide employees with an opportunity to step out of work and concentrate on other affairs. Normally, employers are legally mandated to ensure that they have a policy allowing workers paid leaves at least once in a year. Controversy, however, remains regarding breaks in between tasks during the day. This paper will, therefore, focus specifically on breaks that occur between tasks daily.
Opponents of work-breaks in between tasks argue that breaks act as a distraction and hence reduce productivity. Fritz et al. (2013) indicate that transition from a break to work hampers a worker’s ability to focus and concentrate on specific tasks. The argument is that it’s much better to focus on completing a task rather than having to take regular breaks. When one removes their attention from a task, they require a significant time to come back where they left off and create similar thought patterns as before. The argument is that breaks contribute to a reduction in productivity as people are unable to concentrate on the most important task. Randolph (2016) further argues that breaks in between tasks may result in memory impairment. Breaks often expose an individual to multiple events and ideas outside their line of work. These ideas tend to over-stimulate the brain functions and inundate an individual with too much information at one point. The results are reduced productivity compared to if an individual was able to focus on a specific task over a long period. The third argument used against the use of regular work-breaks is the cost implications. Critics of breaks argue that they put a massive dent on organization productivity since a sizable amount of time is spent on breaks than on productive activities.
Despite claims of breaks affecting productivity, several arguments have been raised, demonstrating the effectiveness of work-breaks in increasing productivity. One of the biggest arguments that have been raised advocating for work breaks is in improving brain functioning. Traditionally, human beings have a short concentration span. Gilbert et al. (2017) indicate that concentrating on a single task for a long period often leads to a drop in production levels. Scholz et al. (2019), recommends regular deactivation and reactivation goals to stay focused on a specific task. When faced with large monotonous tasks, it’s more advisable to divide the tasks into short iterations with breaks in between. These breaks are integral in maintaining concentration at peak levels.
Breaks also have a critical role in allowing the brain to process information. According to Kühnel et al. (2017), a short break between tasks allows an individual time to process information with a greater level of focus compared to when they have to deal with numerous information on the fly. Fritz et al. (2013) indicate that the period between tasks is no wastage of time as perceived by many, but rather the brain is still working to process the information gleaned while working on tasks. Processing information also plays a role in forming connections between bits of information and specific objects when allowed additional time to internalize events. At the same time, they have a better ability to form connections about issues, unlike when leading with loads of information at a go.
Breaks are also critical in consolidating memories and increasing an individual’s ability to learn from their immediate environment (Randolph, 2016). There is tons of evidence suggesting that improved sleep quality helps improve an individual’s memory. In the same vein, resting while awake also helps to improve memory. This period allows the brain time to review information and ingrain it into one’s memory. Overall, downtimes play a critical role in replenishing the brain’s store of attention and motivation. To achieve optimal levels of productivity, one must, therefore, ensure that they are well-rested before embarking on a task. These moments of respite from arduous and monotonous tasks are critical in keeping an individual’s mental faculties in the best conditions.
Breaks are also critical in enhancing creativity within the work environment. Fritz et al. (2013) suggest that taking time to reflect on tasks leads to increased imagination about the various ways the task can be performed. Fritz et al. (2013) note that many employees use breaks as an opportunity to think about the issues they encountered while working. This opportunity for reflection allows one to see the bigger picture of the various processes they undertake and their possible results. This period of reflection may lead to eureka moments where the actors devise methods that are more appropriate and necessary for more productivity (Fritz et al., 2013).
Several studies have shown that how minds tend to solve some of the most challenging problems while daydreaming. Most often, breakthroughs often come out of moments when we are least aware of ourselves or the environment (Pendem et al., 2016). In some instances, extreme focus on a situation may end up blocking our imaginative faculties. Sometimes are little detachment from the real environment may provide us with meaningful insights about approaching challenging tasks. Breaks not only invoke creative potentials through sparking imagination but also focusing on reevaluating goals. Most often, when people are faced with difficult or seemingly impossible tasks, it is because they have not properly defined their goals. A moment of respite when performing a task may allow an employee time to reevaluate their objectives and devise more appropriate ways of dealing with a particular task. Overall, creative employees are more productive than uncreative employees since they can accomplish more with minimal resources.
Regular breaks between tasks are also critical for developing healthy habits such as exercise and eating. Normally, short-breaks between tasks are usually used for various tasks such a meditation, lunch or snack breaks, or taking a walk around the office premises or the surrounding environment (Pendem et al., 2016). These activities are all deemed to be very important in increasing concentration and productivity at work. Constant sitting at a desk may put an individual at high risk for diseases such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and other cardiovascular diseases. These types of disease may significantly hinder an employee’s productivity at the workplace. Allowing employees time away from their chairs provide them with time to walk, stretch, or yoga. These activities are highly effective in reducing the negative effects of continuous sitting. Exercising also increases brain health and thinking abilities, especially for older employees. When exercising, more blood is pumped throughout the body, and thus a person who exercises regularly is more active than one who sits on their desks for a prolonged amount of time without breaks (Kühnel, 2017). A study by citation also indicates that a little movement may help to combat lethargy and build a more active mood. Enhanced moods will eventually lead employees to perform more effectively.
Aside from exercising, breaks also allow employees to develop other useful activities such as eating healthy and meditation. A study by the World Economic Forum indicates that one in three workers in America does not take a lunch break (Kohll, 2018). Most regular workers, especially in low-income jobs, opt to skip lunch and snacks breaks. While from the outset, this may seem like a show of commitment, the employees often end up performing less effectively due to lack of energy. A short snack break between tasks can provide employees with the energy required to complete tasks. Breaks are also important to engage in spiritual activities such as meditation and prayers. Numerous studies have shown the importance of spiritual awareness in increasing productivity. Employees who have just completed a prayer or meditation are likely to be more productive than those who remain glued to one particular task for long periods (Scholz et al., 2019). Regular breaks from screen times may also help in deterring computer vision syndrome, which is one of the emerging diseases related to the workplace. Overall, breaks help employees to lead healthier and more productive lifestyles. When employees are healthier, they are bound to be more productive when executing their respective tasks within the organization.
Researchers have also focused significantly on the impact of rest on reducing fatigue at the workplace. Most often, employees who perform repetitive work end up being fatigued after spending a substantial amount of time working. Gilbert et al. (2017) suggest that frequent routine decision-making throughout the day can wear out workers’ willpower and cognitive ability. Breaks in between tasks are necessary for eliminating fatigue and tiredness resulting from repetitive actions. Pendem et al. (2016), notes that judges were more likely to offer favorable rulings to offenders in the morning sessions with a probability of 0.65. As the sessions drift away, the judges tend to give less favorable rulings. However, after coming from breaks, the judges had a probability of 0.65 to give favorable rulings to offenders. Overall, these findings play a critical role in determining the quality of decisions made by employees. However, with regular periodic breaks, employees can avoid making simplistic decision-making.
Fatigue not only affects the quality of the decision made by employees but also increases the risk of accidents, especially for industrial works. Several research studies have been focusing on examining the effects of rest breaks on productivity and error rates. A majority of studies examining the effects of rest breaks on accident occurrence have been based on driving and flight simulations. These studies have inferred a strong relationship between regular rest breaks and driving performance. Phillips et al. (2017) indicate that drivers who time their rest breaks to coincide with the incidence of fatigue are bound to be more careful compared to those who drive for long periods with little or no rest. While research indicates the effectiveness of rest in eliminating fatigue, there are caveats to the findings. The activity undertaken during breaks was also critical predictors of the effectiveness of the break. For instance, drivers who take naps, food, or caffeine during breaks are much more alert compared to those who only took a short break. Despite the caveats, the bigger picture is that rest breaks help to eliminate workers’ fatigue in the workplace. Reduced fatigue is consequently important in increasing worker alertness and reducing incidences of errors and mistakes.
Rest breaks during the day are also necessary for eliminating boredom at the workplace and increasing engagement. A survey on European workers by Kühnel et al. (2017), indicated that workers who received regular breaks were more likely to feel valued by their employers. When employees feel valued and appreciated by their employers, they are bound to be more creative and motivated to perform their tasks. According to Gilbert et al. (2017), when we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to accomplish our intended goals. When working on challenging tasks, our brains require sustained attention. Taking short breaks between tasks helps in strengthening and renewing our motivations to perform the said tasks. Rest breaks not only help in increasing motivation to perform tasks but also provide an essential reprieve to focus on building social skills in the workplace.
Most employees tend to coalesce around social cliques, where they discuss pressing issues concerning work. Sharing amongst employees creates a culture of togetherness and collaboration within the organization. Most often, they are other employees or coworkers who have undergone similar challenges when performing their duties and responsibilities. Sharing with them can open one’s mind about alternative resolutions for the problems. Employees are also more likely to support each other on tasks that require multidisciplinary attention. Rest breaks also allow employees to create social ties and friendships, which are essential for personal growth and development. An environment with increased sharing and collaboration eliminates the formalness associated with workplaces. A study by Fritz et al. (2013), indicates that most prospective employee’s rate work-environment as one of the most important factors when choosing an employer. Employees approach the workplace with an increased level of casualness. The result is increased employee welfare and overall mental wellbeing. Overall, employees that are satisfied with the community offered by their employers are bound to be more productive than those who feel burdened to work in a specific environment.
In conclusion, from the evidence shown above, rest breaks are essential aspects of maintaining employee productivity at the workplace. Rest breaks helps in enhancing workers cognitive ability by helping them to maintain high attention levels, process information, form connection between subjects, and boost memory. Rest breaks also assist employees in developing healthy habits such as exercising, snack breaks, and meditation, which have all been linked with improved productivity. This paper also reviews the evidence linking rest breaks with increased motivation, creativity, fatigue reduction, and injury elimination. Despite, these benefits organizations and business readers should approach rest breaks with extreme caution. Some researchers have linked rest breaks with lack of focus and concentration, especially when adjusting from the break to return to normal activities. When designing policy frameworks and guidelines, it is critical to take into consideration the timing of the breaks and the tasks performed by employees during the rest breaks. Overall, when implemented properly, breaks are bound to do an organization more good than harm.
Fritz, C., Ellis, A. M., Demsky, C. A., Lin, B. C., & Guros, F. (2013). Embracing work breaks. Organizational Dynamics, 42(4), 274-280.
Gilbert, E. K., Foulk, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2017). Building positive psychological resources: The effects of mindfulness, work breaks, and positive reflection.
Kohll, A. (2018). This is how working lunches are making you bad at your job. World Economic Forum
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Phillips, R. O., Kecklund, G., Anund, A., & Sallinen, M. (2017). Fatigue in transport: a review of exposure, risks, checks, and controls. Transport Reviews, 37(6), 742-766.
Randolph, S. A. (2016). The importance of employee breaks. Workplace health & safety, 64(7), 344-344.Scholz, A., Wendsche, J., Ghadiri, A., Singh, U., Peters, T., & Schneider, S. (2019). Methods in Experimental Work Break Research: A Scoping Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(20), 3844.
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