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Time for a Break


Smiling crowd All work and no play makes Jack, and Jill, less productive, argues Annie Lawler.

We currently have a culture which encourages us to be on the go 24/7. Many of us feel obliged to arrive in work early, take lunch at our desks and then leave the office late, keeping the Blackberry on all evening in case something comes up. I constantly speak to delegates who say they would feel very awkward doing anything else, because everyone else in their company does it and they don’t want to be seen to be the "slackers".

But this method of working is misguided and unproductive. We're simply not designed to work like that and need periods of activity and rest. Recent research has shown that even breaks of a few minutes per hour result in at least 15% improvement in accuracy and performance levels. So, just getting up and moving around for a while or changing the task you are working on for a few minutes every hour, actually makes good business sense, as well as lessening the chances of RSI and eyesight problems.

A study by the National Institute of Industrial Health in Japan also found that workers who took a 15-minute nap during the post-lunch period showed that, "perceived alertness was significantly higher in the afternoon after the nap than after no nap." Harvard researchers also found that a midday nap reverses information overload and a lot of Spanish businesses which had started to ditch the siesta are reintroducing it for the same reasons.

Of course, rest isn't the only thing that contributes to effective working and wellbeing, but it is significant. You wouldn't expect an engine to run at full throttle without fuel and rest periods and to continue to perform at its best over a long period, so why would you expect that of yourself or your colleagues?

Taking a step back helps us to clear our minds and rest our bodies – and it's often during these moments of peace that our best ideas and inspiration come. If we're constantly on the move and never rest, we cannot perform at our best and often miss opportunities. We can also miss out on some real enjoyment!

The issue centres around company culture. If employees see their bosses rushing around in an unceasing flurry of activity, they will probably develop the belief that this is what it takes for them to get on in their career with that organisation. Conversely, if they see that there is a more positive and balanced example of effective working within their organisation, they are also likely to follow suit. Of course, each individual has to take responsibility for their own behaviour, but generally speaking, we do instinctively "follow the leader".

So for all the managers out there reading this, start to take a look at your personal working practices and then take a look at your colleagues and their behaviour. Is your organisation being as productive as it could be? What behaviour triggers the best results? Could there be a better way of doing it? How is your behaviour affecting that of your colleagues and your business? I'd be interested to hear your views.

* Breathing Space for Business works with businesses to help them reduce absenteeism, improve staff retention, morale and performance and avoid expensive litigation. Working with proven stress management techniques, we offer consultation at board level, group seminars and teleseminars, staff surveys, 1-2-1 coaching and counselling and more. For more information contact Annie Lawler on 0772 581 8884, email: [email protected]


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