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4 ways to maximize the benefit of your workday breaks

Take a look at your workday. When do you take a break? How long is your break? What do you do on your break? Do you take more than one break? Do you feel recharged after your break?

Those questions were the focus of a study done by 2 Baylor University researchers. Emily Hunter, Ph.D. and Cindy Wu, Ph.D. are associate professors of management in Baylor’s Hankamer School of business. The pair surveyed 95 employees between the ages of 22 and 67 over a 5-day workweek. Each person was asked to document each break they took.

Their empirical study – “Give Me a Better Break: Choosing Workday Break Activities to Maximize Resource Recovery” – was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The research defined a break as “any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks.”

When compiling the total of 959 break surveys, Hunter and Wu were able to provide a greater understanding of workday breaks. Their findings offer suggestions on when, where and how to plan the most beneficial daily escapes when on the clock.

Key findings of the study include:

1) Best time to take a workday break: Mid-morning.

A typical work day may have you counting down to lunch, but the study found an earlier break is more successful in replenishing energy, concentration and motivation.

“We found that when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,” the study says. “Therefore, breaks later in the day seem to be less effective.”

2) What to do on your break: Something you enjoy and not necessarily non-work related.

The study found no evidence that non-work-related activities are more beneficial. Instead, do things choose to do and like to do which could include work-related tasks.

“Finding something on your break that you prefer to do – something that’s not given to you or assigned to you – are the kinds of activities that are going to make your breaks much more restful, provide better recovery and help you come back to work stronger,” Hunter said.

3)”Better Breaks” = Better health, increased job satisfaction

Employee surveys showed those that took mid-morning breaks and did things they preferred led to less somatic symptoms like headaches, eyestrain and lower back pain after the break.

The study also found the employees also experienced increased job satisfaction and a decrease in emotional exhaustion.

4) But how long should the break be?

The study wasn’t able to pinpoint an exact length of time for a better workday break, but it did find that more short breaks with associated with higher resources – energy, concentration, and motivation.

“Unlike your cellphone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day,” Hunter said.

Hunter and Wu believe the results of the study benefit both managers and employees.