Improving the Quality of Employees’ Work Breaks

It’s in a company’s best interest to ensure employees are at their most energetic and alert. Fulfilling work breaks can make that happen.

I once had a colleague who seemed to spend all day traipsing from his desk to the office kitchen and back. He had undergone a significant weight loss, which he credited to healthy eating of small portions throughout the day versus saving up all his calories for the typical three square meals. I had to wonder, though, whether the frequent roundtrip journeys to the kitchen had more to do with boredom than his health regimen.

Some employees leave their desk frequently to smoke or go to the restroom. When I was in middle school and high school, I used to go the restroom primarily to escape people and things I wanted to avoid. I bet employees often go to the restroom for the same reason. I’ve heard that people in hourly jobs, in which they have to stay on their feet, go to the restroom for the luxury of sitting down in private for a few minutes.

Breaks from work are a huge part of an employee’s day in your office. Solitaired recently surveyed more than 1,200 Americans who work traditional desk jobs to learn more about employee productivity and the most common workplace distractions. Key findings include:

  • The average worker estimates they take 42 minutes of breaks each day…when in reality they take 2.7 hours on average.
  • Some 89 percent of workers think they take 60 minutes or less of breaks each day, but only 9 percent actually do.
  • Employers expect employees to take 43 minutes of breaks each day. Workers are on break five times longer than their employers expect.
  • The top ways Americans use break time:
  1. Biological needs
  2. Entertainment
  3. Thinking about things
  4. Communicating with friends, family, partner
  5. Communicating with colleagues

If you know employees will take up to two hours (or more) for breaks, it’s worth making those breaks count. The more recharged your employees are, the greater the energy they will be able to expend on their work. If you provide a workplace that acknowledges the employee need for breaks, and you help employees get the most out of those breaks, there’s a chance they will work later in the office without even realizing it.

I’ve heard that the reason tech companies deck out their offices with ping pong tables and other diversions is because they want their employees to enjoy their work environment so much that they will have less reason to leave. I wouldn’t agree that it’s a good thing to encourage employees to practically move into the office, but there’s something to be said for having a workplace in which you DON’T have only two options for breaks—the kitchen and the restroom.

Companies with limited space might consider creating a corner of the office where books and magazines could be collected within a reading nook that fits five to 10 people at a time. If you have a separate room available, you could create a room in which movies play throughout the day. Employees could stop in whenever and for however long they wanted to watch the movies.

If I were a business owner, I wouldn’t worry about employees wasting time because I would make it clear that whatever frills and creature comforts we offer employees, we expect all of their assignments to be done on time and in good quality. If employees understand that your expectations haven’t changed, and that not meeting those expectations will result in termination, there is no danger to offering nearly any in-office diversion. If an employee spends large swaths of their time watching movies but gets all of their work done and does a great job on that work, does it matter?

If you have a spare area of the office that’s away from employee workstations, you could offer video games and pinball machines. I would guess that pinball machines would be better as an energizer because it gives employees a break from computer screens and requires physical movement and standing versus sitting and only using their fingertips.

If your office is in the suburbs and you own the building, consider adding a porch or patio. Being able to sit on a porch or patio in the fresh air, even when it’s cold, can be a great way to refresh an employee’s mind. You could even add heat lamps for winter and include an overhead cover so employees could use it on rainy days. (Note: This would not be a smoking area—a designated smoking area away from the porch or patio would be recommended.)

If your company is fortunate enough to own the building and surrounding property, you could create a walking/jogging track. Even a small track would give employees a chance to stretch their legs and could do double duty for “walking meetings.”

It’s in a company’s best interest to ensure employees are at their most energetic and alert. Fulfilling work breaks can make that happen.

What kind of resources does your company offer employees to help them take effective work breaks?