Take a break | What are 'microbreaks' and could they help employee wellbeing?

What are 'microbreaks' and could they help employee wellbeing?

When at work, it can be tempting to power through, giving little thought to taking breaks, in an attempt to tackle big to-do lists. However, new research has suggested that taking short, regular ‘microbreaks’ can help to improve employee wellbeing – something which will be of interest to HR.

A recent study conducted by West University of Timisoara in Romania found that taking short microbreaks of about ten minutes during the working day could help to boost employee wellbeing and prevent burnout.

As was reported on by T3, the study, which was published in the Plos One journal, saw researchers look at the effect and efficiency of microbreaks on 2,000 people, based on a review of 22 formerly published studies from over the last 30 years.

What are microbreaks?

So, what exactly is a microbreak? Well, according to the researchers, it's dedicated time away from the task at hand, that lasts ten minutes or less and, the study found that “the longer the break, the better the performance”.

While the researchers have pointed towards the importance of taking short, regular breaks throughout the day, separate statistics have shown that employees often don't take any breaks at all – and that many employees have been going without.

In fact, 2019 data from Quantum Workplace found that 22% of staff said that they take zero work breaks, excluding restroom and meal breaks, which could be having a hugely negative impact on their wellbeing.

The overall results of West University of Timisoara in Romania’s study have revealed that microbreaks are good in boosting energy levels and decreasing fatigue, as well as boosting performance when it comes to repetitive or creative tasks, as T3 reported.

The best microbreak activities to do

When you need a break from your screen, and some time to re-energise, there are several things that employees can do during this break time.

T3 came up with some suggestions, stating that the top thing experts have recommended is moving around – whether this is stretching, or going for a quick walk around the block – as it gives people a break from sitting in a chair all day. Other activities such as meditating, reading a book or listening to music could also help.

Why taking breaks should be a top priority

Following the study’s findings, HR Grapevine spoke to some experts to find out more about why taking breaks is important and how line managers can encourage staff to prioritise this at work.

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, told HR Grapevine that rest breaks are crucial to maintaining high levels of motivation and engagement. “If staff members feel they don’t have enough time to recharge throughout the day, they are more likely to suffer burnout,” he said.

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With statistics reported on by Thrive My Way finding that two-thirds of full-time employees say that they have experienced burnout at some point in their careers, ensuring that people take regular breaks could be key to preventing this.

“So, introducing microbreaks can be an effective way to give teams a much-needed boost during working time, resulting in more creativity and enthusiasm,” he explained.

But, Price has issued a word of warning to organisations: “Employers should be careful as too many rest breaks can impact on output and service offering. Managers may need to assess availability levels of staff and develop rota-style frameworks to ensure there aren’t too many employees taking a break at the same time."

Encouraging everyone to take breaks

Whatever the duration, time away from work is of course important for the plethora of reasons noted above. But how can employers ensure that staff are actually taking them? Jo Ayoubi, CEO at Track Surveys told HR Grapevine that, rather than HR encouraging staff to take microbreaks, it should be up to team leaders and line managers as these are the people dealing with direct reports each day.

“As a team leader, you will be the contact with your remote/WFH teams and can 'drop in' and see how they're doing. Ask them if they've taken a walk or had a coffee or tea break. And when they do take a break, don't check up that they're back – trust them to take a break and get back to work," Ayoubi said..

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“I often take a walk myself. I tell my team when I'm going out, give them an estimate of when I'll be back, then tell them when I'm back. You can't force them to take a break, but making it OK and something their manager encourages and supports will help them make it into a good habit.”

In many areas of work, if employees see their superiors modelling the same behaviours – in this instance taking breaks throughout the day – then employees might feel more comfortable doing the same. This can have mutual benefits for both staff and the business.

As the data and experts have pointed towards, taking breaks is really important for aiding wellbeing and preventing things such as burnout. So, next time you are hesitant to take a short break, just do it!

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