Why employers need to encourage more work breaks

Incorporating time away from the desk can elevate productivity – and boost your bottom line

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Whether we are employees or manage our own businesses, most of us strive to always give our best. We work overtime, volunteer for extra projects and, sometimes, work weekends.

A colleague has been reluctant to join me for lunch even though her company allows an hour break every day. This was because her manager rarely took one and she didn’t want to risk creating a negative impression.

With many of us working from home as a result of the pandemic, we may find ourselves chained to our desks for hours on end. What many of us may not realise, though, is that overworking isn’t a ticket to success. Rather, it is a downhill slope that negatively impacts our health and a company's bottom line.

Alarming research published in May by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation found that 750,000 people are dying every year from ischaemic heart disease and strokes as a result of working long hours.

Overwork impacts productivity and affects leaders’ interpersonal and decision-making skills. When we are sleep deprived or low in energy, we tend to misread the people around us, according to a 2010 study published by the US National Library of Medicine. A sleep-deprived leader could misinterpret neutral faces as frowns and would be unable to make quality decisions, the study found.

This is why it’s important for employers to encourage team members to take regular breaks. They can start with lunch and encourage different times throughout the day.

In fact, the more breaks, the merrier. The ideal work-to-break ratio is 52 minutes of work, followed by a 17-minute break, a study by the Draugiem Group found. Human brains work in bursts of high activity for nearly an hour and then slow down, which means we should organise our breaks around that.

So, how can employers encourage team members to take regular breaks?

Firstly, it is important to lead by example. My mentor valued break times and appreciated their importance in bringing team members together.

No matter how busy his day was, he always managed to take lunch. Different department heads followed suit and so did their staff members. Employees didn’t feel ashamed to be taking a break from work. In fact, having lunch in the company’s break room meant they got to meet other team members and, ultimately, fostered stronger team bonds.

What many of us may not realise, though, is that overworking isn’t a ticket to success
Manar Al Hinai

Make your break room a place your team wants to be. My previous employer’s break room had wonderful views, a laid-back atmosphere and a lazy chair for employees to unwind in. You can dedicate a gym space, reading corners and a quiet room for your staff members to utilise.

Leaders should also communicate the benefits that taking a break can have on employees’ health and their productivity. Share flyers and pamphlets via emails, or organise seminars with health professionals who reinforce this message. You can even take a step further and incorporate it in your company’s policy.

Make it mandatory that employees take a break by installing a software program on company computers that automatically pauses the screen for 17 minutes after 52 minutes of work.

Last, but not least, incentivise taking breaks. Allow your employees 30 minutes of gym time a day, or organise competitions to encourage employees to relax and foster team building.

Overwork is bad for your employees’ well-being and your company's bottom line, but encouraging breaks can mean happier and more productive teams.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi

Updated: July 04, 2021, 3:30 AM