Taking 10-minute ‘micro-breaks’ helps prevent burnout, study finds

At work, breaks have a notorious charm. The person who seeks a deliberate moment of respite risks being seen as lousy, unproductive or slow – all adjectives that threaten to burst our productivity bubbles. But there may be some merit in committing to small work breaks between tasks: snacking, taking a walk, watching a video, or other activities associated with some form of recovery for a period of 10 minutes or less. They help reduce fatigue in people, according to new research.

Researchers at Western University in Timișoara, Romania, looked at nearly 22 studies published over the past three decades to piece together a puzzle of work and productivity. Their meta-review, published in PLOS One Wednesday showed that there is a link between short breaks improving worker well-being. Here, well-being was defined by the person’s ability to complete tasks at the end of the day without feeling low energy.

It is the science of “micro-breaks”, which seeks to legitimize the cultural movement of rest and leisure inside the office. The review not only recognizes that energy over the course of a day is an exhaustible resource, but also helps to challenge the guilt many people may experience at the thought of taking a 10-minute nap during the day. of work.

“It seemed pretty unintuitive to have a full week and wait for the weekend just to feel better, or have a hard day at the office and count the hours until evening,” the author said. of the study Irina Macsinga, associate professor of psychology. . Recovery is considered an exercise perfectly detached from work; his time and space never intersect with work.

Moments of respite at work are a contested use of time, but our current approach has proven untenable. Labor trends over the past few years show that people are working longer and also suffering from burnout — pandemic-induced and otherwise — like never before. Conversations about rest and recreation have resumed lukewarmly, only for the pendulum to swing back and people to feel guilty for not optimizing their “downtime”. It is both a crisis of debilitating exhaustion and an unattainable recovery.

The current analysis therefore calls for a reasonable inclusion of recuperation during the working day. Macsigna and his team looked at a range of experiments: simulations of student work in a lab, real work-related tasks performed by employees, and non-work-related cognitive tests. The geographic scope included literature from the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Brazil, China, Austria, and Japan. The type of work breaks people were taking included physical activities – like taking a walk, watching a video or even just relaxing without a clear agenda.

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But what do people do their work breaks are important, too. For example, when the micro-pause involved a work-related activity, such as talking to a colleague as well, “work-related micro-pause activities were associated with decreased well-being, decreased sleep quality and an increase in negative mood,” the study notes. On the other hand, walking around or mentally typing on work tasks had a positive effect.

While said micro-breaks helped usher in a feeling of rejuvenation, there was no direct impact on people’s performance. This observation also varied depending on the type of work in which people participated. For people engaged in creative or clerical tasks (such as writing or keeping data), longer breaks were indeed linked to better job performance. That corresponds with research on how work breaks help people retain information and be more creative. The brain works in two modes: the “focused mode” when we do things concretely and the “diffuse mode”, which refers to a more relaxed state of functioning. Research has revealed that the the diffuse mode also plays a role in determining our productivity; daydreaming itself “can allow the brain to connect and send back valuable information,” engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained. previously.

“A meta-regression showed that the longer the pause, the greater the improvement in performance,” the authors wrote. “Overall, the data supports the role of micro-breaks for well-being, while for performance, recovery from highly strenuous tasks may require more than 10 minutes of breaks.” Simply put, there is no one-size-fits-all approach here. Professions are different, and so are the people who bring them to life.

For those undertaking more cognitively demanding tasks, however, breaks did not directly translate to better quantifiable performance. Undoubtedly, in the discourse of work and recovery, this should be correct too; the sense of vigor does not always have to materialize in measured aspects of productivity.

People can take a break without having to consider this emotional moment. Addressing the guilt that accompanies breaks is a necessary component of this discourse. “The environment should be one in which employees feel they can take micro-breaks without being questioned and without having to feel guilty for doing so,” according to Katie Moore, a licensed clinical psychologist who did not participate. at the exam.

This review has some limitations because it relies on self-reported forms of well-being instead of objectively tracking how relieved or less tired people feel. Future research exploring the intersection of work and leisure could perhaps fill this gap.

But Moore adds that “in general, employees benefit from regular breaks between tasks” and that they “show less fatigue and more energy and enthusiasm after taking micro-breaks.”

The analysis reaffirms what the pandemic years teach us in the austere display: that willpower and motivation are exhaustible resources. The rhythm of a working day falls and rises with delightful uncertainty. What carries some certainty, however, is that breaks work like batteries to help fight fatigue.

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