It’s a busy world, and technology and instant gratification have everyone running at a 24/7/365 pace. It’s changed the way we work dramatically – on one hand, many tasks are easier thanks to technology and automation, but on the other, it has also added to the complexity and made it difficult to take the much-needed breaks that actually improve productivity.
Yes, breaks can actually improve productivity, and the more time spent at work does not necessarily equal productive time. On average, employees spend 9.2 hours a day at work, with nearly one-third of them (30 percent) skipping lunch or eating at their desks in between tasks. And that’s not counting how most of them can access work email on smartphones and laptops, making them available anywhere, regardless of role. Instead of leaving the office at the end of the already long day, American workers are expected to bring it with them, increasing their stress and leading to employee dissatisfaction. Dissatisfied, stressed employees are more likely to call in sick, increase the overall cost of health insurance, experience productivity slumps – and, finally, leave the company altogether.
The prescription isn’t more technology; in fact, it’s not high-tech at all. It’s simple breaks that can be interspersed throughout the day. Here is a breakdown of the time spent on a break and how it correlates to increased productivity and decreased healthcare expenses:
15-second break: Mental fatigue decreases and eyesight is preserved by looking away from computer screens for 15 seconds every 10 minutes during the workday.
30-second to 5-minute break: Mental acuity can increase by 13 percent, leading to an increase in productivity and focus.
2-minute break: Standing up and stretching every hour for just two minutes helps employees release tension, increase circulation, and reduce overall fatigue.
5-minte break: Taking just five minutes away from the repetitive keyboard and mouse clicks can alleviate and prevent hand, wrist, and forearm pain and help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.
6-minute break: This perfect amount of time for a full break, when it happens every 80 minutes, helps increase productivity and mental sharpness.
20-minute break: It’s not always an option and not always ideal, but a 20-minute cat nap can actually provide more recovery than 20 minutes of deep sleep and increase alertness by over 30 percent.
Breaks aren’t the only things that need overhauling. Managers spend, on average, two days per week in meetings, and many of those meetings are longer than necessary. Meetings can be restructured: standing meetings help participants focus on the agenda, stay alert, and perhaps even spur a speedier resolution to topics discussed at the meeting, a win-win scenario for attendees and the business as a whole.
In nice weather, walking meetings with one or two staff members can do wonders for productivity, not just during the meeting itself but for the rest of the day. The fresh air and new surroundings, as well as the physical activity, actually sharpen minds while increasing energy – and that leads to happier employees who are less likely to leave.
Ultimately, little breaks throughout the day and a change in how meetings are conducted make a big impact on how well the team performs: its mental sharpness, efficiency, and productivity. Managers can lead by example by taking breaks from their computers, pushing their chairs back, and taking quick walks around the office, all the while encouraging staff to do the same.