Why taking breaks actually increases your productivity
Office workers are most productive when they work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break, productivity monitoring app DeskTime found after analysing its 2014 data.
The data found high-performing workers (ranked in the top 10 per cent of 5.5 million daily user data records) worked most productively because they “treated work as sprints for which they’re well rested”, DeskTime’s Julia Gifford wrote on the company blog.
During the 52-minutes working blocks the high performers “work with purpose”, she added.
So the data refutes an age-old perception that working longer hours, and without breaks, makes someone a harder-working, more productive employee.
But Australian and international studies show we’re ignoring this truth.
Too busy to take a break? That’s unproductive
Research from The Australia Institute, backed by mental health advocacy body BeyondBlue, found 3.8 million Australian workers regularly skip lunch breaks, with one in two of them reasoning they are ‘too busy’ to take the break.
People in larger companies were more likely to cite the ‘too busy’ excuse for failing to break for lunch, the 2013 study found.
The excuse extended to taking coffee or tea breaks, talking to colleagues or leaving the office to clear one’s mind.
However the report is clear in citing the physical, mental and emotional effects of failing to take a break:
• mental and/or muscular fatigue
• inability to concentrate
• increased anxiety and stress
• feeling overwhelmed
• negative thoughts about the work/workplace
• eyestrain for people who work long hours on computers
• increased risk of human error and injury
The positive effects of short breaks from work
The Australia Institute report claimed 26 per cent of its respondents found work was less stressful after they took a full lunch break.
One in three respondents (31 per cent) said they could concentrate better after a break, while one in four (26 per cent) believed they were more productive afterwards.
In large companies, four out of five respondents (79 per cent) believed taking a break to clear their heads or eat and rest helped them work more productively.
Alarmingly though, 26 per cent of respondents believed they were unable or usually unable to move away from their work to allow for a break, even after recognising their loss in concentration.
The positive effects of taking annual leave
According to a University of South Australia report, full-time workers were fearful of taking leave because their workload would increase before and after the holiday.
More than two in five workers (41.5 per cent) who claimed to work more than 48 hours in an average week reported they were ‘too busy’ to take annual leave.
A University of New South Wales report defines the issues workers face when they fail to take annual leave:
• Lack of motivation and productivity
• Poor physical and mental health
• Decrease in job satisfaction
• Presenteeism: reporting for work but not having your mind on the job
Australian School of Business professor Michael Quinlan, who specialises in occupational health and safety, speaks highly about the positive effects taking annual leave: “When people take a break from work, they are healthier, they have more time to connect with their families and they are more relaxed.
“They return to work refreshed and, as a result, they are far more productive.”