No, your workers aren’t slacking off
No matter how much the most dedicated workers try to power through a busy day, many will still struggle to stay awake their entire shift. On a dreary day in the (home) office, workers might be tempted to steal a few minutes of work time to check their social media accounts, play with their pet, solve a puzzle on their phone, enjoy a good cuppa, or watch one or two YouTube videos. Are they really slacking off?
New research suggests, these “microbreaks” are an essential part of a productive workday. Without these brief moments to relax and recharge, employees will likely lose focus and give into exhaustion. All it takes is about five minutes – just enough to pull away from their desk and take their mind off work, according to researchers who published their findings in The Journal of Applied Psychology.
“A five-minute break can be golden if you take it at the right time,” said Sophia Cho, a psychology professor at North Carolina State University and study co-author. The right time is often in between intensive tasks.
The researchers observed that workers who felt tired throughout the day were more likely to take frequent unplanned microbreaks to boost their energy. They measured how often workers took “short, informal breaks taken voluntarily during their work hour” and tested these against data on their sleep quality as well as their levels of fatigue and engagement at work.
The findings pointed to a pattern: poor sleep quality might cause workers to feel drained during their shift. However, exhausted employees also tend to take microbreaks as a coping mechanism. As a result, these employees exhibited “higher work engagement during the day and lower end-of-work fatigue,” the researchers said.
The idea of taking a break frequently isn’t always welcome in some corporate cultures. Because of this, some employees are forced to remain at their desk even when their mind and body are telling them to recharge – even for a little while. But this could also lead to burnout.
Read more: COVID-19: Why burnout is on the rise
“Our study shows that it is in a company’s best interest to give employees autonomy in terms of taking microbreaks when they are needed – it helps employees effectively manage their energy and engage in their work throughout the day,” Cho said.
Employees who freely and frequently take microbreaks also feel supported at work. They believe their managers care for workers’ health and well-being, the researchers found.
“When people think their employer cares about their health, they feel more empowered to freely make decisions about when to take microbreaks and what type of microbreaks to take,” Cho said. “And that is ultimately good for both the employer and the employee.”