We all know that smoking is bad for the health. But there is one physical and mental benefit to being a smoker: taking regular breaks from work!

importance of breaks, workplace, attention, productivityThe average attention span lasts for 25-45 minutes, depending on the time of day. After this, it becomes harder to focus on the task at hand. As we continue to press on without a break, work takes longer and the quality decreases. This can lead to demotivation, presenteeism and burnout as we work longer to achieve less.

A simple five minutes away from our screens every half hour or so can give our attention time to reboot, and bring us back to our tasks refreshed and ready to give our all. So why do we find this so hard to do?

A recent BUPA study found that two in five employees believe that they can’t take short breaks because they have too much work. However, with regular breaks scheduled into your work day, you’ll actually find you work more efficiently and become more productive.

It’s time we took breaks seriously. We’ve outlined a few simple ways to work effective, productive breaks into your daily schedule, helping you perform at full capacity all day.

Find the sweet spot

A study using a tracking app to log employees’ working habits found that those with the highest productivity took 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work. This seems like a lot of time away from the screen, but the results speak for themselves.

Importantly, those who had more breaks and high levels of productivity also stated that they didn’t spend those breaks checking social media or replying to emails. It’s not always a matter of how long breaks are – it’s about how you use them.

Step away from the screen

Get up, grab a cup of tea, and allow your eyes to focus on something other than a screen. Even a couple of minutes away from your computer can reset your attention, rest your eyes and shoulders, and keep you feeling fresher throughout the day. Try spending a few quiet moments engaged in a mindfulness practice, to bring focus back to the here and now.

Be careful not to switch straight to scrolling through emails and social media on your phone while you’re resting – while the urge to give some time to personal communications is strong, simply swapping screens is not an effective break.

Get moving

Taking a break has important physiological effects as well – standing up and moving around can reduce strain on our backs and shoulders, and increase blood-flow to the brain. Research shows that even 15 minutes of physical exercise can have a significant effect on subsequent engagement.

Take a five minute stroll, grab some fresh air, and stretch those legs out. Alternatively, suggest a lunchtime yoga session to your HR team. That way you can relax your body and mind, get endorphins flowing, and catch up with colleagues over an enjoyable activity.

Enjoy your lunch

work break, lunch breakTwo in three employees say that they don’t always stop working to take a lunch break, while one in three eat at their desks. We all know what that means – answering emails, manning the phone, or checking up on social media – not really a break at all.

Mix up your lunchtimes by leaving the office for a stroll or a team lunch out. For a more budget-friendly option, suggest a weekly bring-and-share buffet. This gives coworkers a chance to come together over nutritious food, swapping emails and online chats for half an hour of real, stimulating conversation.

Spread the word

In a BUPA survey, 10% of employees stated that they don’t take regular breaks because none of their colleagues do, or they felt it went against the culture of their workplace and that their managers would disapprove.

Only when we make the positive effects of taking breaks widely known can organisations start to tackle burnout, increase productivity, and improve their mental health. Discuss the importance of structured breaks with your HR manager. Suggest a lunchtime talk or workshop on the science behind productive breaks, reassuring coworkers that by stepping away from their work, they can ensure better quality results.

Looking to decrease workplace stress and improve performance of your teams? Get in touch to see how we can help.

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