Skipping Breaks: How Staff Are Losing More Than Just Money

Staff wellbeing has been a much debated topic in recent years, with businesses putting more focus on creating workplace environments that prioritise employee health – and ultimately, increasing productivity.

The productivity conundrum

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With reports that UK productivity growth is considerably lower than other major global economies like France and Germany, the pressure is on British businesses to increase productivity. In many cases, this pressure can be perceived as a call to work harder and longer hours without taking regular breaks, with recent figures indicating that the average lunch break in Britain is just 34 minutes. However, working longer hours without taking breaks can actually be having the opposite effect.

Understandably, office design is a huge contributor to team productivity – with everything from the colour of flooring to well-placed wall art creating visual stimulation. However, as well-designed as your office may be, it’s crucial that staff members spend time away from their desks and computers throughout the working day – and often, this is as easy as taking a five minute break outside. Today, we’re looking beyond the monetary implications to find out the effects that skipping breaks can have on employees.

The Telegraph published results from a survey conducted by DeskTime and revealed that workers who took 17 minutes time out away from their desk, for every 52 minutes they worked, experienced the greatest levels of productivity – which dispels the myth that working longer means you get more done.

The Huffington Post also provided five science-backed ways in which taking breaks can improve a person’s productivity, emphasising the human brain and body’s need for rest and recuperation after a certain period of exertion – in order to avoid physical and mental fatigue.

For this reason, employers should encourage staff to take regular breaks away from their desks, ideally once an hour, as it has the potential to deliver a significant impact on productivity. This downtime allows the brain to relax and refocus, in the same way that daylight desk lamps help, offering a fresh view and a renewed energy to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently, resulting in a better use of time and resources.

An increased risk of mental illness

Another concerning issue with employees not taking regular time out of their day is the effect it can have on their mental health. Missing breaks, whether it’s a full lunch hour or just a five minute break away from a desk, can have detrimental consequences for both employees and employers – not just in monetary terms, but also regarding productivity and an increased chance of mental health issues.

In workplaces where staff regularly forgo breaks by choosing to remain at their desk, there’s a much greater likelihood they will experience higher levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to burnouts, depression and even long-term sickness. These feelings can be reduced considerably when workers ensure they take the appropriate breaks – as physically moving away from their desks and leaving the office to get some fresh air, sunlight, exercise and a change of scenery will all have a relaxing effect. This in turn will help to improve concentration levels and productivity, and most importantly mental and physical wellbeing.

The physical effects

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Besides the higher risk of employees developing mental health concerns when regular breaks aren’t taken, there’s also evidence of physical effects on an individual’s health and wellbeing. Employees that are sedentary for long periods of time, eating lunch at their desks and rarely leaving their workstation for breaks, are at a much higher risk of developing physical health issues.

An article by Fit for Work published results from a BBC survey that reported 54 percent of employees regularly skipped lunch, of which, over 50 percent believed this to be a widespread culture in their workplace. The physical effects of skipping breaks or eating lunch at your desk, along with poor posture, can be an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders, as well as instances of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

The simple act of standing up and walking around for a few minutes will help to get the blood pumping faster around the body, which also feeds more oxygen to the brain to help with concentration.

When it comes to improving the productivity and profitability within a business, it’s imperative to remember staff are your most valuable asset. If you work towards encouraging employees to take regular breaks, it’s likely you’ll reap the benefits with a happier, healthier and more efficient workforce in the long-run.