The benefits of taking a break at work

If you take a break, you are not being lazy, you are helping yourself to be more productive as well as looking after your physical and mental health. Here experts discuss why breaks are so important and suggest ways to take them without looking like you are taking the piss.

Why you need breaks

Science says so

Transformational life coach Richard Maule says: “Gone are the old ways of thinking taking a break is being lazy. There is now clear scientific evidence from the likes of behavioural scientist Nir Eyal that if we don’t take a break we will experience negative effects such as poor decision making, lack of focus and a dip in creativity. Humans are not wired to concentrate for eight-plus hours on end.

“Studies on when you need to take a break can differ depending on what activity you are doing. Most seem to sit around the 60-90 minute mark. The best way to tell is if your mind starts wandering away from what you are doing, this is because the brain needs time to consolidate new information. Give the focus muscle of your brain a minute to do this and relax for 10-15 minutes. After that you'll be focused and back on the horse! Every two to four hours we should be taking a slightly longer break of around 30 minutes.“

Movement is medicine

Leigh Greenwood, founder of specialist health PR agency Evergreen PR, says: " As the saying goes, movement is medicine and getting up and about can reduce your chances of developing a range of health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, depression and obesity.”

It helps the creative process

Greenwood adds: “Working in a creative industry means there’s another big reason why we need regular breaks though and that’s our ability to come up with great ideas and to ensure a high-level of strategic thinking. It seems counterintuitive – and certainly I’ve spent too many lunch breaks spilling crumbs on my keyboard trying to get everything done – but research shows that working for long stretches without a break saps creativity and motivation, and leads to anxiety and poor decision-making. And no one wants any of that!”

It supports your mental health

Simon Paine, co-founder and CEO of the PopUp Business School, discusses how it is particularly important to take breaks if you work from home: “When I started to work from home, breaks were not forced on me. My mental health declined over a period of a few months while that was happening. "I started to realise that it was important to control my brain and began to say to myself: 'I control my brain, my brain does not control me.' I was making sure the thoughts I had when I was on my own were taking me in the direction I wanted to go. "Now, I recommend that everyone takes 'mojo breaks' if they're working from home. Mojo breaks help maintain your mental health by recreating those breaks you would naturally take if you were with other people."

How to take five

Keep it short

Coach Caroline Rae carolineraecoaching.com explains: “How do you build in breaks at work if the culture isn’t proactive? The good news is, it doesn't have to be long breaks. You can start by aiming for five to ten minute breaks, three to four times during the day to recharge your energy. Don’t break to read your email, keep in non-work related. Laugh with a colleague, head outside, read an interesting article, or make a cuppa.”

Get others involved

Richard Maule says: “Invite people to have a break with you. Share with them that you often found it hard to take breaks, but read this article that said if you don't take a break you'll be less productive!”

Surpass expectations

Maule suggests: “Make sure you get your work done and more! If you are surpassing people's expectations of you they are always more accommodating if you want to do things your way a little.”

Go on errands

Last in his list of tips, Maule says: “When you go out for a break why not use it to do something nice. Ask anyone if they want something whilst you're out?”

Go netwalking

Victoria McLean, CEO of career consultancy CityCV, advocates netwalking, which is meeting up with others at specific times to go for a short walk: “My advice is to take a tip from the Cambridge scientists and try some weekly netwalking. It combines all the benefits of networking, such as making connections, getting fresh ideas and a different perspective from other people within your company, with the physical and mental benefits of walking."

Case studies

How we take five

In a pod

Emily Andrews, digital content producer at PR firm Octopus Group: “At Octopus Group we have a ‘mindfulness pod’, where our employees can take five. The pod is k

itted out with a virtual-reality headset, loaded with mindfulness and guided meditation exercises. Audio is accompanied by visuals of tranquil jungles, beaches, and other natural, relaxing scenes.

“The effect is to transport employees temporarily from the office environment – helping them destress and recharge. We plan to test usage of the pod, and any positive effects it has on our employees, their wellbeing, and their productivity.“

We escape

Bethanie Dennis, senior content and digital PR manager at marketing agency AGY47: “I don’t believe you can be creative at all when you are stressed and busy, the best ideas come from people when they are relaxed, walking the dog, in the shower, anywhere but the office! The key is to create a culture where managers aren’t clock watching and have complete trust in their staff, that’s the only way you can get the best out of people. I encourage my staff to go on walks, go to a different part of the office or have long breaks through the day.”

We go to the gym

Richard Cook managing director of agency Champion Comms: “Our offices are right next door to the gym and I love it when my team goes and has a cheeky work-out during the day, although not all at once. We don’t police that, people make their own decisions based on colleagues’ plans and work-loads. I see that the more integrated work is into people’s lives, the more stable the team. When people come back, buzzing from endorphins they are often in a much better mood and more productive. New starters to our company tend to be a bit hesitant about this, they don’t want to give the wrong impression I guess. After a week or two they see it is perfectly normal and get more relaxed about it. It also give people their evenings back. Instead of hitting the gym at rush hour, as they might normally do, they have an evening off knowing that they have already worked out. Another advantage is that it is a great leveller in terms of removing hierarchy. When you are gasping for breath and going for your personal best, nobody cares what your job title is.“

Writing this I have been sitting here so long I am getting cramp, so that’s it for now, I’m taking a break… now where did I put that biscuit tin?