31st May 2024 Elise

In the ‘always on’ environment we work in, the pressure to maintain constant productivity can be overwhelming, whether it’s back to back zoom meetings, or reacting to urgent work. However, research shows that taking short breaks throughout a busy day is crucial for preventing burnout, boosting productivity, reducing stress, and enhancing overall employee wellbeing.

Prevent Burnout with Short Breaks

Our recent interview based research study looking into key workplace challenges with HR leaders and leaders revealed burnout is a significant issue in modern workplaces, often resulting from prolonged periods of stress and overwork, causing presenteeism and absenteeism.

According to a Microsoft study, continuous, unbroken work sessions can lead to a state of chronic stress, which is a major precursor to burnout.

The study highlights that taking regular short breaks helps to mitigate this risk by allowing the brain to recover from intensive tasks.
A study published in the journal Occupational Medicine found that workers who took short breaks reported lower levels of emotional exhaustion and burnout. Frequent breaks provide a mental reset, helping to prevent the buildup of stress and fatigue.
By incorporating short breaks into your daily routine, you can sustain high levels of performance without compromising your mental health, thus effectively preventing burnout.

 

Boost Productivity with Strategic Breaks

Contrary to the belief that working longer hours results in higher productivity, the same Microsoft study shows that strategic breaks can actually enhance productivity.

The research reveals that the brain works best in cycles of focused activity followed by rest. This aligns with the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break.

A study published in the journal Cognition supports this, showing that participants who took regular short breaks performed better on cognitive tasks than those who worked without breaks.

These brief intervals of rest allow the brain to consolidate information and recharge, leading to improved cognitive function and efficiency.
Employees who take regular short breaks are more likely to maintain high levels of concentration and accomplish tasks more effectively. Therefore, integrating breaks into your workday is a practical strategy to boost productivity.

 

Reduce Stress with Regular Pauses

Stress is a common byproduct of demanding work schedules. The Microsoft study found that taking regular breaks can significantly reduce stress levels.

As demonstrated physically by the image below, taken from the study, short breaks in between meetings using mindfulness exercises, offer a chance to step away from stressful tasks and reset mentally. This practice helps to lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress.
A study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that short breaks can reduce cortisol levels, especially when combined with relaxation techniques.

By regularly taking short breaks, employees can manage stress more effectively, leading to better mental health, better productivity, and a more positive work environment.

Enhance Employee Wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is a critical factor in achieving sustainable productivity and job satisfaction. The Microsoft study emphasises that short breaks contribute significantly to overall wellbeing.
These breaks provide opportunities for physical movement, mental relaxation, and social interaction—all of which are essential for a healthy work-life balance.
Rather than waiting for something to go wrong to signpost a solution, integrating short breaks into the working day is a proactive way of maintaining productivity and mental fitness and preventing problems.

 

Practical Tips for Taking Short Breaks

Our brain works best in short, 25-minute chunks of focused activity followed by brief 5 minute timed breaks. This is the basis of the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method, that we teach in the Focus module of the Thriver programme, has been shown to improve productivity and focus. Research published in the journal Cognition supports this, demonstrating that such cycles enhance cognitive performance.

  1. Implementing short breaks into your daily routine doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some practical tips to help you get started:
    Schedule Breaks: Use a timer or scheduling tool to remind yourself to take a break every 25-30 minutes. A study in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that setting reminders significantly increased the frequency of breaks and improved overall productivity.
  2. Move Around: Stand up, stretch, or take a quick walk during your breaks. Physical movement helps to prevent the negative effects of prolonged sitting and refreshes your body. Research from the Journal of Physical Activity and Health indicates that short, frequent walks can improve mood and reduce fatigue.
  3. Practice Mindfulness: By trying a daily Mindful Moment 2-3 minute guided breath work exercise in The Pocket Mentor app. Membership to this is included in our Thriver programme. A study in the Mindfulness journal found that short mindfulness exercises during work breaks can significantly lower stress levels and enhance concentration.
  4. Disconnect from Screens: Step away from your computer or phone and engage in a non-digital activity, such as reading a book, doodling, or simply looking out the window. Research published in Environment and Behaviour suggests that looking at natural scenery during breaks can improve mood and cognitive function.
  5. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Use your breaks to drink water and have a healthy snack. Staying hydrated and nourished is crucial for maintaining energy levels and cognitive function. A study in the Nutrients journal highlights the importance of regular hydration for cognitive performance.

 

The Role of Leadership in Empowering Teams

Leadership plays a crucial role in empowering teams to integrate short breaks into their workday. Managers and leaders should embody a culture that values regular breaks and model this behaviour themselves. This is so often said, but perhaps more challenging to integrate with the increased time pressures of leadership.

Available in The Thriver Programme, to provide tangible support here  we’ve developed a Mentor’s Playbook to help leaders integrate proactive mental fitness and productivity tools into their own day to day, whilst supporting their team to do so as well.

Providing employees with the flexibility and autonomy to take breaks as needed can significantly improve their wellbeing and productivity. Leaders should communicate the benefits of short breaks and ensure that employees feel supported in taking them.

By fostering an environment that prioritises mental health and productivity through regular breaks, leadership can help create a more productive, resilient and effective workforce, which unlocks the potential of the business.

The Science Is Clear – Be Proactive!

The importance of taking short breaks throughout a busy day cannot be overstated. This is an example of a proactive and preventative tool to unlock the potential of your team.

Most employee support is reactive, waiting for a problem to signpost a solution, which is a bit like waiting for your car to break down to service it!

Our research revealed that this reactive approach, whilst helpful for those colleagues in crisis mode, doesn’t support the majority of the team who aren’t in crisis, but who aren’t working and living to their potential down to mindset challenges in how they work:

  • Distracted from important work,
  • Being deflated by mistakes and setbacks,
  • Doubting ability and feeling low in confidence
  • Reacting defensively or emotionally instantly to situations,
  • Unable to switch off, impacting quality of home life.
  • Caught in negative thinking and catastrophising.

If you recognise these challenges in your team and see value in prioritising their greatest tool their mind, The Thriver programme is the vehicle to unlocking their potential.

Thriver provides a proactive toolkit, taken from the latest evidence based thought leadership and developed into a tangible toolkit to enhance mental fitness, productivity and engagement.

Learn The Thriver Toolkit:

-2 day in person workshop,

-4 mornings live on zoom,

– bitesize via 8 bi-weekly 1 hour zoom workshops.

Accountability To Implement The Thriver Toolkit:

  • ‘Plan – Do – Review’: Guided weekly review drop-in session.
  • Monthly masterclass: Deep dive solutions to specific problems. For example, ‘Stop Putting Off, Start Doing’.
  • Daily Mental Fitness Workout: 5 bitesize tools designed to fit into a busy day, via our Pocket Mentor app.

 

Review and Refresh:

  • Thriver online provides the toolkit broken down into bitesize chunks for an accessible refresh.

Leaders Support:

  • Mentors playbook provides conversation guides and exercise templates to help leaders help their team integrate the Thriver toolkit.

The Results

A recent Thriver cohort experienced:

  • 50% less likely to be distracted from important work
  • 75% reduction in experiencing unhelpful limiting beliefs that make you doubt your ability
  • 50% less deflated by mistakes or when things don’t go to plan
  • 100% increase in feeling motivated and purposeful
  • 75% less likely to react instantly
  • 50% increase in being able to mentally switch off from work.

It Will Take A Bold Leader

With the urgency of operational life at the forefront of many organisations, it will take forward-thinking and bold leaders to recognise the importance of this proactive approach. Investing in mental fitness now will pay dividends in building a resilient, engaged, and high-performing workforce in the future.

It involves seeing yourself and your people as your greatest tool to success—whatever that looks like to each of us and the organisation—and truly investing in prioritising their mental fitness and personal effectiveness, trusting this will combine to have a big impact on the organisation.

Organisations can either stay stuck in these challenges or start prioritising their teams’ greatest tool—their mental fitness—to thrive in the challenges and opportunities of the 21st-century workplace and beyond.

Prioritising proactive mental fitness care, through a tangible and accessible evidence-based toolkit that provides the necessary accountability and ongoing consistency for long-term meaningful change to the individual, is the robust way to overcome key workplace challenges and create a thriving workforce.

See The Thriver Overview Here

 

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