Nowadays, most employers have come to realize the huge impact breaks at work can have on their employees’ wellbeing. Long working hours can be detrimental to our physical and mental health, reduce our performance and induce a premature burnout. So businesses are onboarding new strategies to raise awareness about the importance of taking breaks at work.
It is normal for many of us to have hectic days, leaving us limited time for social and leisure activities. Long working days means we are virtually unable to indulge our body and mind during weekdays. So, it isn’t surprising that on average nearly one in three adults worldwide are physically inactive and non-communicable diseases are on the rise.
We accustom to wait until weekends to either nap to let the stress die out or blow off the steam with vigorous physical activity. The problem is this that weekend lie-ins and exercise hardly compensate the weekdays lack of rest and inactivity. And this can be detrimental to the health in the long term. Even if we ‘compensate’ the lack of physical activity with 30- to 60-minute exercise sessions, we are putting our health at risk in the long term.
So how should we combat the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles during the weekdays? Are we using our work breaks efficiently? Let’s delve into this a bit.
Origin of work breaks
Work breaks were introduced in the middle of the 20th century in Central Europe as a strategy to counteract fatigue. In factories, workers used to be exposed to long and strenuous working hours. As a consequence, workers’ health and job performance were often affected.
Employers realized that it was necessary to introduce strategies to reduce absenteeism and optimize production. Today they have gained popularity and have become key to the health of the workers and a pillar for productivity.
So what are work breaks?
Work breaks are short spaces where employees have lunch, snack, socialize or do any type of non-worked related activity.
If you’re swamped with work, the last thing you want is to spend 10 valuable minutes to take a break. Indeed, non-work related activities can be irrelevant in light of a final deadline. However, chances are this turns into a common excuse for even those idle and quiet days at work.
The UK and US employers are obliged to provide employees work breaks by law, but there is some reluctance. in which it is not well seen to take breaks during the workday. So work breaks do not have a good reputation since they are regarded as unproductive and a waste of time. This happens due to misinformation about what a work break is and how it can benefit us.
Work breaks are recreational spaces that ‘break’ the work routine, and help promote the individuals’ physical and mental well-being. Taking work breaks can increase work engagement, reduce afternoon fatigue, and improve concentration.
How can we benefit from taking breaks
Most people usually take breaks to eat or have short natters but are oblivious to their health benefits. Knowing the benefits can raise awareness and encourage people to take either more physical or mental breaks at work.
Physical breaks can either activate the metabolism or slow it down by inducing a bodily relaxation. Walking around the office, popping by a colleague’s desk or stretching are all considered physical breaks. These type of breaks are ideal for people whom are rather sedentary. Some of the most common benefits of physical breaks are:
- Activation of metabolism
- Preservation of good body posture
- Strengthening of the muscles
- Increased flexibility and muscular endurance
Mental breaks either speed up or slow down the brain activity and do not necessarily involve any body motion. Concentration, breathing and meditation exercises are examples of mental breaks and are ideal for people who have stressful roles. Some of the most common benefits of mental breaks are:
- Stress and anxiety management
- Improved breathing pattern
- Improved concentration, attention and memory
Our wellbeing as employees no longer depends on how many calories we burn or how well we eat. It also depends on our ability to channel negative emotions such as stress and anxiety.
Taking breaks while working from home
So work breaks have a role in our working life. They do help us feel less fatigued and be more active in the workplace. We can have them indoors, outdoors, in a vehicle or any corner in our workplace.
However, COVID-19 has transformed many lives and impacted our working habits. This means millions of households around the world have become hybrid workplaces, isolating us from colleagues limited human interaction.
Shortly before the onset of the pandemic, many of us were still longing to work from home to more time. Today, that has become the new reality for a great proportion of the population worldwide. Best of all, it is very likely to continue over time.
You may be interested: Long- and Short-Term Consequences of a Sedentary Lifestyle
Working from home has indeed many advantages as it is associated with an improvement in the quality of life. Not only can we enjoy sleep time, but we can share more time with family or close friends. We can also invest more time in leisure and entertainment activities; we can enjoy life a bit more.
However, a lot of people are still paying the price of prolonged lock-downs and quarantines. Isolation has caused people to develop mental health problems, from anxiety and depression, to eating disorders. Working from home means people have to split their time to deal with household chores, family commitments and work. Not an easy task.
Likewise, prolonged homestay tends to reduce the level of physical activity, increasing unfavourable sedentary behaviours and the proneness to chronic diseases. When we work with other people in a space outside our home, movement becomes inherent and essential. Moving to and from the workplace implies that we move our body. At work, we pop by peoples’ desks or go to meeting rooms, we walk to go to the bathroom or fetch lunch. We have defined spaces for each specific activity.
This does not happen at home. We don’t have colleagues to visit, we don’t have to go to canteen to grab lunch, we don’t have to go to meeting rooms. We do not have to commute or move as much within our home to do all these things. Therefore, at-home work breaks become more important than ever before. It is essential to protect our physical and mental well-being, especially when we find ourselves working from home.