Rest Assured, Breaks at Office Produce Better Work, Harvard Study Finds

Employees who get a chance to reflect on their work perform better, new research finds.
Employees who get a chance to reflect on their work perform better, new research finds. –Stock photo

Here’s a ray of light through the cloud of services that facilitate the always-on economy: Workers really should take some time to breathe.

So finds recent research from a team that included two Harvard Business School professors, according to the school’s Working Knowledge website.

Over the course of three experiments — two involving subjects who were tasked with brainteaser quizzes and one in an actual work setting — the team consistently saw that employees who were given time to reflect between waves of work performed tasks better the second time around, compared to those who went directly into those tasks. And those who were afforded the breather also said they felt more competent as they went into Round 2.


In a simpler, less connected time this might seem like common sense. But, today’s workforce has been overwhelmed with the constant buzzes and rings of their smartphones, and time to reflect on work is growing increasingly precious. A recent survey from staffing company OfficeTeam even showed that a full 29 percent of workers use their lunch break to — yep — work.

That’s not to say people would always, or even often, use breaks to reflect on their workday. But taking five or 10 minutes to think things through might ultimately lead workers to stronger overall performance.

“I don’t see a lot of organizations that actually encourage employees to reflect — or give them time to do it,’’ HBS professor Francesca Gino told Working Knowledge. “When we fall behind even though we’re working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection.’’

Who’d have thunk?

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