How Taking Breaks Can Actually Increase Productivity

May 3, 2016 | Jennifer Goodwyn

To some, the idea that taking breaks can improve employee productivity may seem counterintuitive. After all, society tends to idolize the dutiful employee that comes in early, leaves late, and always has his or her mind focused on the task. While there are certainly people like this, most people simply do not operate this way. In fact, studies have demonstrated that when employees try to operate this way, their quality of work and quality of life suffer. Not only is this obviously a bad thing for the employee, it's not good for the business either. In order to improve an employee's productivity, efficiency, and overall well-being, it's important to encourage them to take breaks often.

The Current Perception

Even though 85% of employees believe that taking breaks would make them more productive, more than 25% don't take a break other than their lunch break. The reason for this unfortunate statistic is that one in five employees feel guilty about taking breaks. There is a perception among employees that taking breaks will make them look bad. According to a study performed by Staples, 55% of employees reported that they don't feel that they can leave their desk to take a break. This perception is ultimately costing businesses more money than the time employees would “waste” by taking breaks. Ironically, the idea that employees taking breaks is a waste of time is actually causing time to be wasted, as employees try to force a consistent level of productivity that their brains simply aren't capable of.

The Negative Effects of the Current Perception

The reality is that rest and relaxation are as important to mental tasks as they are to physical ones. Just as with physical exercise, it's important for those performing mental tasks to take breaks often in order to avoid fatigue. Employees who leave the office at the end of each day feeling drained or stressed, as opposed to satisfied and accomplished, may be experiencing this kind of fatigue. When employees experience this type of fatigue, their work will naturally suffer. Not only does taking effective breaks help combat this negative experience, but it can enable employees to be more productive and feel more satisfied.

What the Studies Have Shown

The studies have shown that taking short, regular breaks of two minutes increased employee productivity by 11%. Breaks between 30 seconds and 5 minutes improve mental acuity by an average of 13%. For employees who sit in front of computer screens all day, a 15 second break taken every 10 minutes reduces fatigue by 50%. Another study performed by The Muse found that the most productive 10% of employees worked for 52 minutes at a time, punctuated by 17 minute breaks. To achieve the most effective break, experts recommend that employees step away from their computers, move around, and have pleasant conversations about topics unrelated to work. These kinds of effective breaks contribute significantly to employees' overall happiness and productivity. It's important to change the perception that employee breaks are a waste of business' time, as businesses that encourage employees to take effective breaks will be better off in the long run.