Taking ‘microbreaks’ during workday will sharpen your mind, fight fatigue

RALEIGH, N.C. — Whether you have a “case of the Mondays” or just can’t find the strength to get through “hump day,” having low energy at the office is something all workers will probably go through at some point. While some may view an employee taking too many breaks as a negative, a new study finds taking “microbreaks” can actually boost a worker’s performance. A researcher at North Carolina State University says these short little respites help employees bounce back from morning fatigue and sharpen their skills for the rest of the day.

“A microbreak is, by definition, short,” says study co-author Sophia Cho in a university release. “But a five-minute break can be golden if you take it at the right time. 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 adds that these quick power-ups can range from having a snack, to chatting with a co-worker, to stopping for a stretch and a quick crossword puzzle. The new findings come from two studies in the United States and South Korea, looking at the energy benefits of microbreaks on exhausted workers.

Taking breaks leads to better work

In the first study, researchers had 98 U.S. employees fill out two surveys during their day for 10 straight workdays. Workers completed these questionnaires in the morning and at the end of their shifts.

In the second study, 222 South Korean workers completed three surveys each day over five workdays. Participants filled out this extra survey after their lunch break. In both experiments, researchers gathered data on each person’s sleep quality before showing up for work, their overall levels of fatigue, and their ability to engage with their work throughout the day. The team then measured how different types of microbreaks impacted performance on days where workers were low in energy.

The results reveal a pretty simple pattern; people take more microbreaks on days they show the most fatigue. However, workers taking these quick breaks also better maintained their energy levels throughout a work shift. This allowed participants to better engage with their work and stay alert in the workplace.

“Basically, microbreaks help you manage your energy resources over the course of the day – and that’s particularly beneficial on days when you’re tired,” Cho, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State explains.

Taking microbreaks also reveals a positive workplace atmosphere?

Researchers also discovered that people were more likely to take microbreaks if they believed their employers cared about their workforce.

“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 concludes. “And that is ultimately good for both the employer and the employee.”

The study appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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