If you want to boost your business’s productivity, encourage your employees to step away from their desks every now and then. Research both old and new has found a positive correlation between the ability to take short breaks and employee productivity rates. Here’s what those studies say about employee breaks and how you can (and should) act on their findings.
Staples has conducted extensive research on employee breaks, and the findings are consistent and eye-opening.
In 2014, a Staples study found that more than 85% of employees believed taking regular breaks during the day would boost their productivity. Overall, more than one-quarter of workers didn’t take a break other than for lunch.
The research discovered that one in five employees said guilt is the reason they don’t take any breaks, while 55% said they don’t feel they can leave their desk to take a break.
The study also revealed that breaks can combat workplace burnout: 59% of those surveyed said more breaks would improve their work happiness, and 43% said it would boost their personal happiness. Additionally, 37% said regular breaks during the day would improve their health.
The research shows that the key to getting employees to step away from their desks to recharge may lie in company break rooms. Nearly 60% of those surveyed said a well-stocked and comfortable break room would encourage breaks, while 76% said break rooms would allow them to unwind and relieve stress.
The study was based on surveys of more than 200 office workers at organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada.
A 2019 version of the same Staples study found that 90% of employees would feel increased morale from more flexible work arrangements. Part of such flexibility could include more capacity to take breaks.
Similarly, 67% of employees said they would leave their jobs if their work arrangements became less flexible. The study otherwise focused on connectivity, workplace design and employee wellness.
Employees seek the flexibility to take short breaks on their own terms.
A North Carolina State University study published in March 2021 found that employees, especially fatigued ones, benefit from “microbreaks.” Occasional five-minute employee breaks led to increased energy and a greater likelihood of setting and achieving work goals.
Upon the study’s publishing, other experts added that breaks can redirect blood flow from overworked parts of the brain and refresh cognitive functioning.
The study found that employees in workplaces that emphasized employee health and wellness often took more breaks. They typically met their goals best when they had complete autonomy to take breaks on their own accord.
John Trougakos, associate professor of management at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said job-related stress is an alarming trend plaguing workers and costs companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year overall.
“However, these costs can be reduced with regular work breaks while improving employee effectiveness [and] satisfaction, and reducing strain and fatigue,” Trougakos said. “Disconnecting from work can do wonders for people’s energy and mindset.”
“It’s important that employees understand the value of taking a quality break,” said Tom Heisroth, senior vice president of commercial and enterprise sales for Staples Advantage. “Disconnecting can increase their happiness, health and productivity.”
To help employers encourage breaks, Staples and Trougakos recommend several strategies:
Although federal labor laws don’t mandate employee breaks, they do regulate how you must pay employees for their breaks. Under federal law, short breaks of up to 20 minutes qualify as fully compensable work time. However, if you offer a break period with a clearly established maximum duration, you don’t have to pay for breaks longer than that period.
Federal law doesn’t consider meal breaks compensable. However, employees may feel more valued if you pay for their meal breaks as you would for other breaks. The best employee monitoring software can help you keep track of breaks. (For more information, read our review of InterGuard, which is especially helpful if you have remote teams.)
Additionally, certain states have their own employee break laws that supersede federal law. In Maryland, for example, retail employers must give employees working four consecutive hours at least one 15-minute break. For six-hour shifts, the break period increases to 30 minutes. Eight-hour shifts require one 30-minute break and, in the law’s words, “an additional 15-minute break for every additional four consecutive hours worked.”
When in doubt about whether you must pay for certain employee breaks, consult a local employment law expert. Though federal employee break rules are clear-cut, expert help can help you stay abreast of local laws – and any unexpected changes.
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.