Encourage employees to go on Facebook and read the newspaper

by Stephanie Zillman27 Apr 2012

Encouraging employees to take a short break after 40 minutes of work is more beneficial to productivity than a long lunch break, an education expert has said.

Short breaks to read the news or browse on social media can boost a person’s productivity by as much as 9%. “Most people work in jobs that require a lot of mental exertion and the average person's concentration span is about 20 to 40 minutes. People can be sitting in front of a screen for two to three hours and not be productive. There's a reason why school periods are only 40 minutes long,” says senior education lecturer Dr Tony Holland from University of Technology Sydney.

Holland said employees who chat to a colleague for a few minutes, have a coffee, or even go for a walk around the block will have improved performance.

But not all breaks are equally beneficial. Taking in some exercise is the best way to take a break, and Holland says an engaged worker can be 30-40% more productive after coming back from a quality break.

While it’s unlikely that workers would have the opportunity to take in forest stroll, Brent Coker from Melbourne University found in a 2009 study that walking through the forest, for example, is known to restore people’s concentration much faster and to a higher degree than sitting in the lunchroom.

It is also important that employees who take their breaks by surfing the net don’t spend more than 20% of their workday browsing. “What we found is that employees who surf the internet for fun were about 9% more productive than those who didn't or couldn't. We found that [using] more than 15 to 20% of time surfing the net had a negative impact on productivity. Those who were surfing excessively were pretty poor workers,” said Coker.

The key is short, sharp breaks at regular intervals throughout the day.

Recent survey results of 1,800 employees on workday habits from recruitment firm Robert Waters found:

  • 41% are regularly bored at work – 51% said their boredom is highest in the afternoon (1.30pm-3.30pm)
  • 36% specified late afternoon (3.30pm-5.30pm) as their mental ‘switch off’ time
  • 10% specified mid-morning/noon
  • Just 3% are bored early in the morning (8.30am-10.30am)
  • 84% said they do things not related to their job throughout the day to keep themselves entertained
  • Entertainments included: socialising (53%); checking personal emails (52%); reading news/gossip/industry websites (42%); coffee break or walk (40%)


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