Many American employees strive to perform their best in the workplace. They work overtime, agree to take on extra projects and rarely take a step away from their desk. In reality, this “work hard” mentality isn’t effective – and it’s definitely unhealthy. Employees who believe that they must work 24/7 to achieve a good standing in the workplace have the wrong idea. And unfortunately, employees often gain this idea through employers’ attitudes.
Chaining yourself to a desk or scarfing down your lunch in your cubicle isn’t a recipe for success – it’s a recipe for disaster. Without taking adequate breaks from work, employee productivity, mental well-being and overall work performance begin to suffer. Overworked employees often deal with chronic stress that can easily lead to job burnout. While this not only negatively affects employee health and well-being, it negatively affects the bottom line, too.
This is why it’s important that employers start encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the workday – especially lunch breaks. These breaks are essential in helping employees de-stress and re-charge for the rest of the workday. Regular breaks can also help improve overall job satisfaction. A recent survey by Tork shows exactly how important lunch breaks are, along with how rare they are in the North American workplace.
According to the survey:
Nearly 20% of North American workers worry their bosses won’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, while 13% worry their co-workers will judge them.
38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break.
22% of North American bosses say that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking.
These statistics are really a shame because regular breaks create better employees. In fact, according to the Tork survey, nearly 90% of North American employees claim that taking a lunch breaks helps them feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. There are many research-backed health, wellness and performance benefits of taking breaks. Here are just a few examples of the benefits of regular breaks:
Increased productivity. While taking breaks might sound counterintuitive when it comes to boosting productivity, it’s one of the best ways to do so. Employees gain focus and energy after stepping away from their desks. A lunch break can help prevent an unproductive, mid-afternoon slump.
Improved mental well-being. Employees need time to recharge. Stress is incredibly common in the North American workplace, and it has detrimental effects on employees. Taking some time away from the desk to go for a quick walk or enjoy a healthy lunch helps release some of this stress and improves mental well-being.
Creativity boost. Taking a break can give employees a fresh perspective on challenging projects. It’s hard for employees to develop new ideas or solutions when they’ve been looking at the same thing all day. A lunch break will most certainly help get those creative juices flowing.
More time for healthy habits. Regular breaks, including a lunch break, give employees time to practice healthy habits in the workplace. They can use break times to make a healthy lunch, exercise, meditate, or engage in a self-care activity.
Besides these awesome benefits of regular breaks, the Tork survey also revealed that employees who take a lunch break on a daily basis feel more valued by their employer, and 81% of employees who take a daily lunch break having a strong desire to be an active member in their company. North American employees who take a lunch break every day scored higher on a range of engagement metrics, including job satisfaction, likelihood to continue working at the same company and likelihood to recommend their employer to others.
I recently spoke with Jennifer Deal, the Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and Affiliated Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at University of Southern California (USC). She had this to say about Tork’s research and employee lunch breaks:
“The Tork research shows that employees who take a lunch break are more likely to be satisfied with their job, and say they are as effective and efficient as they would like to be. This is consistent with other research, which shows that taking breaks from work is important for recovery – and adequate recovery is critical for top performance. Energy isn’t unlimited, and just as athletes have halftime to rest during a game, employees need to rest so they can do their best work. Taking a break in the middle of the day for lunch is a recovery period, allowing employees to come back refreshed and reinvigorated for the second half – as this research clearly shows.”
Both Tork and Jennifer agree: employers will benefit from employees who take breaks. But how can employers change the mentality that “breaks are for slackers” in the workplace? Below are a few tips for encouraging employees to take breaks at your office:
Revamp break rooms. Be sure that the office has at least one break room for employees to retreat to whenever they need some time away from their desks. Provide comfortable furniture along with table and chairs for eating lunch. Employees will be more inclined to take breaks and lunch breaks when they have a comfortable space to do so.
Provide incentives. As a part of your workplace wellness program, offer employees some sort of incentive for taking regular breaks and a daily lunch break. Try creating a “break challenge” and have employees document their breaks throughout the day. Reward employees for their participation.
Discuss the benefits. Many employees aren’t aware of all the health and productivity benefits of regular breaks. Send out an email blast, put up some flyers or have managers give talks about the importance of taking some time away from the desk.
Take breaks yourself. Leading by example is always the best route. When employees see that their managers are taking lunch breaks and taking short breaks throughout the day, they’ll feel more encouraged to take breaks, too.
While the act of encouraging breaks is a huge step in the right direction, it’s also important to ensure that these breaks are healthy. For example, employees could potentially use break time for unhealthy habits such as getting fast food, smoking or scrolling through social media. Spending break time practicing poor health habits won’t yield productivity and wellness benefits.
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Although employers can’t necessarily control how employees utilize their break time, they can certainly encourage healthy habits in the workplace. Here are some healthy break ideas:
Walking clubs. Team walking clubs are an excellent way to encourage regular breaks and physical activity. Encourage employees to form walking clubs with their colleagues and take two 10-minute walks each workday.
Healthy snacking. Stock company kitchens and break rooms with healthy snacking options like fresh fruit, veggies, hummus, and nuts. Encourage employees to take a midday break and do some healthy snacking together.
Gym time. If employees really don’t want to leave the workplace for lunch, encourage them to use the gym instead. If you have an onsite gym, allow employees 30-minutes of on-the-clock time to use the facility. If you don’t have an onsite gym, consider bringing in a weekly yoga instructor or providing vouchers for gym memberships.
Socialize. Quality work relationships improve both mental and physical health. They help reduce stress and boost job satisfaction. Encourage employees to take breaks together by providing a game room or fun weekly team activities.
Quiet time. Sometimes break time is best spent as quiet time. Offer employees a quiet area to retreat to when they need to clear their minds and recharge. Employees can use this space to meditate, read or listen to some relaxing music.
Encouraging employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, including lunch breaks, is an easy way for employers to boost employee wellness along with work performance. Employers don’t want overworked employees running their business – it’s terrible for the bottom line. Help your employees feel refreshed and reduce some stress by allowing them to take regular breaks throughout the workday.