Taking workday breaks is essential for our mental and physical well-being. These breaks bring many benefits that improve our work functioning. Read here about 10 powerful ways to reduce employee stress from taking breaks during the working day and how these breaks can be best taken.
The pandemic is still causing us to change our lifestyles. Many more people around the world are working from home than previously. They work full-time or part-time in hybrid mode or at home for part of the week and are based in the office for the rest of the week.
WFH and hybrid are here to stay. The working from home culture has its benefits but comes with a price. The price is your health and relationships with loved ones. Hence, taking breaks and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial when working from home.
In the US, most professionally qualified employees work from home at least some days per week. When workers with graduate qualifications are engaged in hybrid or WFH employment, the total proportion of people working at least some days per week at home is 56% of the professional working population. A survey published by WFH Research in February 2023 found that 44% worked entirely on-site (the office), 40% worked in hybrid mode, and 16% worked fully WFH.
Management needs to act to reduce employee stress
According to the World Health Organization, work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope. Stress occurs in a wide range of work circumstances but is often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and colleagues and little control over work processes.
An average of 44% of the world’s workers experience daily stress, according to an international survey conducted by Gallup Inc. and reported in its State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report. This is the highest-ever level of stress measured around the world, as shown in the graph, right, published in the report:
Lack of engagement creates more stress than work location
Gallup analysis finds that engagement has 3.8 times as much influence on employee stress as work location. In other words, what people experience in their everyday work — their feelings of involvement and enthusiasm — matters more in reducing stress than where they are working.
Gallup consultants observe that no work location can ‘fix’ poor management, and the office alone has no magic to create a great organizational culture.
Nevertheless, remote work can be more stressful than office work in various ways, according to ComputerOne Australia in a 2021 article, as listed below:
- Technology-related issues. Uneven technical support, unstable and choppy internet connections at home, and data security issues.
- Increased delays and reduced productivity due to logistical issues caused by being unable to solve immediately at the office. More frequent online meetings.
- Isolation and reduced social contact with colleagues.
- No breaks from home and family issues.
- Longer working hours from trying to show good productivity.
- Distractions at home cause a loss of focus. For some workers, excessive freedom to move around and take breaks at any time can erode discipline, focus and good time management.
- A higher degree of autonomy and fear of being accused as a slacker due to distant supervision. Without direct supervision, workers must make some decisions independently, which can add to the uncertainty.
- Changes in routine. Initially, changes in routine and the need to handle previously standard tasks and processes differently may cause stress. Workers may get frustrated at developing new systems for a hybrid or WFH environment.
Public relations / professional communication is one of the most stressful careers
Career surveys consistently find that public relations / professional comms is usually a stressful career. It has been regularly rated in the top 10 most stressful careers in the US. This is true internationally as well.
For instance, the US career site, CareerCast, has regularly rated PR around number 8 on their list (although they haven’t surveyed since 2019). Also, in 2022 the London Medical Laboratory listed PR and marketing professionals in 8th position on a list of the 10 most demanding jobs “(excluding armed services and emergency responders).”
In 2022, the UK’s largest PR institutes worked together to produce the Workplace Mental Wellbeing Audit 2022. The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) “is the world’s largest professional PR body,” representing 35,000 PR professionals in 70 countries. They were joined in this project by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which has over 10,000 members.
Key findings from the UK PR mental wellbeing audit in 2022
- 91% of those in PR have experienced poor mental health at some point in the past year compared to 90% in 2021.
- 30% have found their job stressful, slightly up from 26% the previous year.
- 58% said an overwhelming workload was a key source of workplace stress, down from 67% the previous year.
- 51% said they had told someone at work that they have struggled with their mental well-being.
- 50% said they had too much work, which is the biggest barrier to taking time off to deal with mental health. Half of those who experienced poor mental health cited this as a reason for not taking time off.
- 63% say that working from home has improved their mental wellbeing.
- 81% support a mixed approach of office and home working.
- 71% of people were more likely to say their home environment was appealing compared with their office, in contrast to 53% who said the opposite.
- On the other hand, the office was more likely to be described as lively (47% v. 25%).
The top stress causes were having too much to do (58%), followed by impending deadlines (47%).
The continued stress from working in PR and other professional communication highlights the important benefit to the pros in the industry from committing to regular workplace breaks. We now discuss in some depth the value of workplace breaks and how to commit to them.
What does ‘taking a break’ mean?
A break at work (or ‘work break’) is when an in-office employee is allowed to take time off from their job, or a person working from home decides to do the same because they work semi-independently. They can take regular meals, tea, coffee, or lunch breaks, which usually range from 10 minutes to one hour. WFH workers, in particular, can take a work break when they wish (within reason, of course!).
Breaks allow you to break your demanding work time and refresh so that you resume your work with renewed vigor. This is backed up by research including a 2021 North Carolina State University study, and views by experts who added that breaks can redirect blood flow from overworked parts of the brain and refresh cognitive functioning.
The North Carolina State University study found that employees in workplaces that emphasized employee health and wellness often took more breaks. These workers typically met their goals best when they had complete autonomy to take breaks independently.
At the same time, it is important to ensure employees are taking healthy breaks. For example, employees could potentially use break time for unhealthy habits such as eating fast food, smoking or scrolling through social media on their smartphones. Spending break time on poor health habits will undermine productivity and wellness benefits.
Why do employees avoid taking work breaks?
Workers around the world can feel feelings of guilt when taking breaks. In the US, a Forbes article in 2018 reported several reasons why employees don’t have breaks while working in the office:
- Nearly 20% of North American workers worry their bosses won’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, so they feel guilty about taking breaks. And 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.
Seems like slavery!
The onus is on employers to reduce employee stress
Companies can make employee schedules online, which include suggested times of breaks. It will help increase employees’ productivity and lead to organizational growth. Also sensible would be for employers to outline suggested work break times to WFH workers, which would help these workers to reduce workday stress.
Working from home begins to wear you down unless you take sensible breaks. Let’s understand the consequences of not taking breaks when working from home.
What happens when you don’t have breaks?
1. You lose attention and focus
You often believe taking a break distracts you from your job, but this isn’t the case. If you have had trouble concentrating recently or are experiencing fatigue, you haven’t taken sufficient breaks. According to research by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, even brief breaks boost concentration and attention. Conversely, more appropriate breaks are needed to ensure productivity.
2. You develop neck and back problems
Spinal problems are often caused by extended immobility in a single position. If you don’t rest between tasks or within a reasonable time, the anti-gravity muscles in your back become exhausted, causing discomfort and stiffness.
Moreover, neck pain develops or recurs due to inappropriate working positions. To avoid these problems, take frequent breaks to perform stretching exercises that help to maintain your muscles in excellent condition.
3. You feel constantly exhausted
Have you ever felt perpetually exhausted? You may not be allowing your body and mind enough time to rest. Long work hours without breaks often result in significant exhaustion and prominent physical and mental health issues.
4. You sometimes develop an emotional attachment to your work
Having insufficient breaks can cause unhealthy psychological attachment to one’s employment. Psychological separation from your job life is vital since it allows you to mentally and physically unwind. So, it’s vital to take breaks to refresh and unwind.
5. You need help in making decisions
Judgments become incredibly challenging when your mind and body aren’t well rested. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences published research that revealed how judges who skipped breaks throughout their shifts were so exhausted that they made the simplest rulings.
6. You tend to get solitary
You seem to feel alone and alienated if you miss lunch breaks with your family or weekend trips with your pals. Therefore, taking breaks to communicate with family, coworkers, and friends is vital to avoid isolation, particularly during these trying times.
A variety of psychological concerns have been reported by those who’ve been working from home for the previous several months. This results from a lack of social interaction with friends and family. Mental health is deteriorating due to the absence of the traditional office culture and atmosphere.
7. Your eyes become seriously strained
Being attached to a screen for extended periods often cause eye strain. Two potential causes of eye strain are prolonged screen use and inadequate light in work rooms at home. This results in headaches and a change in the strength of your glasses.
Why are breaks so essential?
When you’re fatigued, your body begs for rest. Here are some of the advantages of workplace breaks:
The following are the essential advantages of regular breaks:
1. Helps to avoid and reduce stress
Breaks help you to decompress and manage stress better. Chronic stress and ultimate burnout result from not spending enough time unwinding.
2. Creates a positive outlook
Breaks are a great way to break up a monotonous schedule and do something that helps you relax and improve your mood. Use your break to do something you love, such as engaging in social activities or pursuing a hobby. These will lift your mood significantly.
3. Taking breaks benefits your physical well-being
Taking a break is a terrific opportunity to exercise, especially if you spend the whole day seated in front of a computer. Even a tiny amount of movement per hour has long-term advantages and helps avoid more serious conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
How to reduce eye strain
Prolonged use of digital devices causes ‘digital eye strain’ or Computer Vision Syndrome. Over 50% of Americans get digital eye strain caused by using computers, smart phones, and tablets for more than two hours per day, according to optometrists. Digital eye strain can cause significant discomfort— sore or tired eyes, blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches, and even neck or shoulder pain. Eye doctors recommend this solution – The 20:20:20 Rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your computer at objects more than 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps your eyes to adjust better. Apparently looking at objects more than 20 feet away relaxes the eye muscles responsible for focusing, which reduces eye fatigue. Even better if you get up from your seated position and move away from your device to stretch and reduce tension in your other body muscles. You can even set the clock on your computer or smartphone to chime every 20 minutes to remind you.
4. Refreshes your motivation
Prolonged spans of work without breaks severely decrease your energy and motivation. Taking these breaks is essential, especially while working on long-term tasks because they help maintain your motivation for extended periods.
5. Stimulates your imagination
To discover a creative solution to an issue, take a break and do something different. Frequent breaks let you disengage and obtain a fresh perspective on the issue. And don’t work on something for all your waking hours – sleep on it, and when you wake up, you return to the matter greatly refreshed with a more creative perspective.
6. Enhances memory and learning
The experts say that mental and physical health issues will interfere with learning and memory when we don’t take time to regulate our nervous system. “Taking intentional brain breaks and using tools such as breathing exercises can go a long way in improving attention, [and] cognitive and memory functioning,” says Dr Roseann Capanna-Hodge, an educational psychologist.
7. Allows reassessment and maintenance of perspective
When you take regular breaks, you need to slow down, get perspective on the work or activity, and successfully re-evaluate new information and your progress. Ignoring these breaks leads to racing from one work to the next without considering the larger picture.
8. Minimizes tiredness and enhances focus
It isn’t easy to focus for extended periods. After around 25 minutes, the mind craves a break. Without such breaks, you deplete your energy without replenishing it. Also, you diminish your concentration capacity, feeling exhausted. Taking regular breaks helps you maintain a steady level of energy and restores your ability to concentrate.
9. Enhances mental health and general wellness
Breaks help ease mental exhaustion and refill mental resources, which positively impacts your general health.
10. Improves efficiency
Taking care of your mental and physical health is essential to your productivity. If you care for your psychological and physical health, you work more efficiently and effectively.
Top 10 tips for better workday breaks
Be more particular about taking a break from work while working from the office or remotely. Here are 10 suggestions for getting started:
- Take longer breaks in the first half of the day
- If working in the office, tell your boss you are starting to “run out of juice” due to overload and you need to take (discreet) breaks to recharge during your working day.
- When working at home, commit yourself to definitely taking work breaks. Google the wide range of things you can do on a break.
- When working at home, turn your smartphone off from notifications or put it in another room, and do something you enjoy during regular breaks. Also, turn off email notifications from your computer during your break.
- Consider eating
- Bring a change in your environment
- Have a snooze break
- Take mini-breaks every hour. Try deep breathing for two minutes each time
- Whenever you feel like you need a break, take one.
Observe your body! When you feel your concentration slipping or exhaustion setting in, relax your body. Understanding what works best for you is essential for maximizing the advantages of work breaks. During your break, pursue your interests. You deserve it!
You can read more about employee health support in my articles on the topic in this website.