The importance of taking short breaks at work, as 80% admit to taking 'secret breaks'

Young adult black woman taking a break at  office and making tea using coffee machine for hot water. Coffee break during hard working day.
Getting up and making yourself a hot drink can help you take a quick break from work to reset. (Getty Images)

Working continuously for long hours can be detrimental to your physical and mental health - but new research suggests that British employees are worried about how taking breaks aside from their lunch break might impact their work.

A nationwide poll commissioned by popular mobile game Candy Crush Saga found that just over a third (37%) of UK office workers take regular breaks, with the majority (80%) sneaking away in secret to get some much-needed me-time.

Of those who admitted to taking secret breaks, locations such as the bathroom, kitchen, meeting rooms or outside the office were named as popular places to take a breath and clear one’s head. Some respondents even said they have hidden in the bin room, store cupboard or another company’s office to avoid being seen taking a quick moment to themselves.

The survey found that Generation Z workers were very reluctant to take short breaks, with 70% saying they feel conscious about what their boss might think of them. In contrast, more than a third (36%) of Boomers - people born between 1946 to 1964 - said they would already have taken a break by 11am.

However, Gen Z workers are more likely to take their full lunch break (81%) compared to Gen X (60%) and Boomer (59%) colleagues.

A man with a worried expression on his face rests his forehead on his clasped hands, as he sits in front of his laptop
Not taking a break when you need one can lead to difficulty concentrating, reduced motivation and less productivity, experts say. (Getty Images)

Taking short breaks is good for you

Dr Felicity Baker, clinical psychologist and co-founder of workplace wellbeing and resilience training provider Ultimate Resilience, tells Yahoo UK that taking short breaks during the work day is important to help prevent stress.

“Without short periods of recovery from pressure and demand our stress levels can rise, contributing to difficulty concentrating, reduced motivation and undermining our productivity,” she says. “Taking regular breaks during the working day will provide moments of rest and recovery, preventing the build-up of stress.

“It is also important to take short breaks when we need them. Too often we might notice signs that we need a break - fatigue, bodily tension or poor concentration - but ignore the urge. We tell ourselves we’ll take a break when we get to the end of a piece of work or at lunchtime. But without a break, productivity slips, and it takes longer and longer to complete tasks.”

Career expert Catri Barrett added: “There is a common belief and fear among older generations that taking breaks at work can be seen as ‘lazy’ or show a lack of dedication. But, we cannot sustain peak productivity 100% of the time, and attempting to do so often leads to burnout. Instead, taking well-planned breaks should be seen as an essential part of healthy and sustainable productivity.”

Short breaks lead to increased productivity

Research shows that when people take a break they tend to work more efficiently and productively than when they don’t, Dr Baker says. “Also, the benefits of taking breaks on employee productivity can be further enhanced if coupled with a lighter or more manageable workload.”

Barrett added that participating in “leisure activities” during these short breaks can activate the brain’s “reward centre”, which keeps us “feeling more engaged and motivated”.

She recommended carrying out “enjoyable activities”, such as playing a game on your mobile for five minutes, to “boost your overall mood, wellbeing and energy levels”. “It’s almost like a ‘mental refresh’ which can facilitate increased motivation and productivity when returning to work tasks”.

Two women smile and laugh as they look at one person's phone. They are both holding mugs
Taking a moment to play a game on your phone, talk to a colleague, or meditate can give you the 'mental refresh' you need during work. (Getty Images)

Dr Sandi Mann, Senior Psychology Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, says that even taking a few minutes to daydream can help you feel better if you're stressed.

"When we feel like work is getting on top of us, a daydream break can be a useful time to take. I’m a big advocate of a daydream break," she tells Yahoo UK. "Breaks to eat, talk and even change our viewpoint on a particular issue are important. These can really help creativity. A break where you can let your mind wander, however, is extremely valuable."

Short breaks to help you reset

  • Getting up and making a drink

  • Going for a brief walk around the block

  • Light yoga

  • Mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises

  • Switching tasks

  • Doing a crossword puzzle

  • Reading a newspaper

  • Chatting to a colleague

  • Noticing three good things that have happened during your day

  • Phoning a friend

  • Getting outside into nature

  • Daydreaming

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