If you want an energy boost and improved concentration, take a break at 11 a.m., a new study out of Baylor University reports.
The study, “Give Me A Better Break: Choosing Workday Break Activities to Maximize Resource Recovery,’’ looked at when, where, and how workers should plan their daily escape, and found that there are certain times and activities that lead to more refreshed employees.
“We tested many assumptions that people commonly hold about breaks,’’ the report noted, “like going outside or doing something that’s low effort or something that’s not work-related. All these things did not matter as much as two things, really: doing something you prefer and taking breaks earlier in the day.’’
Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu, associate professors of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, surveyed 95 employees aged 22 to 67, primarily in administrative jobs at a university, over a five-day workweek, asking each person to document every time they took a break.
Breaks were defined as any period of time during the workday where work-relevant tasks were not required or expected, and included lunch and coffee breaks, socializing with co-workers, and checking personal email. (Bathroom breaks were excluded.)
They asked the respondents to describe their levels of energy, motivation, and concentration both before and after their breaks, in addition to any somatic symptoms like back aches or eyestrain. And after analyzing over 959 breaks, Hunter and Wu found that mid-morning was the best time for an interruption of the workday, and the most rejuvenated employees were those who took their breaks doing activities they liked to do – even if those actions were work-related, so long as they weren’t directly assigned.
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“We found that when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,’’ the study states. “Therefore, breaks later in the day seem to be less effective.’’
This might mean the common practice of working nonstop till lunch is hurting the quality of your work. And if responding to some work-related emails in you inbox is what relaxes you, go for it: there was no evidence that non work-related activities were more beneficial.
Though the study couldn’t name an exact amount of time for an ideal break, Hunter said taking frequent shorter breaks was better than fewer longer breaks. (An article in The Atlantic named 17 minutes as the magic amount of time to recharge.) Most of Hunter and Wu’s respondents averaged about two breaks per day. Workers who took advantage of these moments reported less physical symptoms of burnout like headaches and lower back pain, and were more likely to report job satisfaction.
So go ahead, take that coffee break. Just make sure it’s before lunch.