When workers take breaks, their productivity increases. While that concept might sound a bit counter-intuitive, substantial research and studies support the statement. Short, fairly frequent breaks are generally regarded as having the greatest positive impact on productivity. Additionally, small bursts of time away from work help to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort for employees whose jobs require the constant use of a keyboard, monitor and mouse, such as data entry clerks.
Performance Increases with Short Breaks
An article published in 2011 in Cognition discusses research analyzing people who engage in sustained mental efforts, such as data entry. Research has demonstrated that performance almost always decreases with time as attention dwindles. However, when workers take occasional short breaks from tasks requiring concentration and memory, performance on those duties increases, according to researchers. They also found that the increases in performance will repeat with continued breaks in work.
Renewal Periods Energize Employees
Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, says he believes that people should be trained to manage their energy rather than their time. In an article in Harvard Business Review, Schwartz discusses how his company helped Sony Pictures Entertainment increase employee engagement by realizing that people perform best when they have periods of intense mental effort followed by breaks that Schwartz calls "renewal periods." More than 90 percent of employees said that introducing breaks helped them bring more energy to their jobs. Sony Pictures had its most profitable year ever after it changed how it managed employees and established renewal periods.
Rest Breaks Increase Worker Productivity
An article in Wellnomics WorkPace reviews research related to rest breaks and their impact on productivity, primarily in jobs involving a computer keyboard, mouse and monitor. Numerous studies have concluded that the productivity, speed and accuracy of workers engaged in mental tasks increase when employers allow short rest periods interspersed among periods of intense mental concentration. Recommendations on the optimal number and length of rest periods vary somewhat, with a majority of researchers concluding that short, frequent rest periods result in the highest increases in productivity, along with reductions in muscular discomfort from using a computer and its accessories.
Scheduled Breaks Have Greatest Impact on Productivity
A study published in Applied Ergonomics concluded that microbreaks among data entry workers increase speed, accuracy and performance and reduce worker discomfort. The study identified the need for a mechanism to remind employees to take breaks at regular intervals when they are given the discretion to choose when to take a short time away for the job. However, researchers found that the highest increases in productivity resulted from the groups of employees who took scheduled breaks, rather than discretionary ones.
- Cognition: Brief and Rare Mental ‘‘Breaks’’ Keep You Focused: Deactivation and Reactivation of Task Goals Preempt Vigilance Decrements
- Harvard Business Review: The Productivity Paradox: How Sony Pictures Gets More Out of People by Demanding Less
- Workpace.com: Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD) and Breaks
- Applied Ergonomics: Computer Terminal Work and the Benefit of Microbreaks
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