Enhancing Work Breaks for Optimal Well-being and Performance, Backed by Research


Taking regular breaks throughout the workday is known to improve overall well-being and performance. However, the effectiveness of breaks can be influenced by factors such as break length, timing, location, activity, and even the presence of furry companions. A comprehensive review of over 80 studies provides insights into the best practices for optimizing work breaks. This article explores the key findings and offers recommendations for managers and organizations to encourage effective break-taking.


In our pursuit of productivity, we often believe that working longer hours leads to increased output. The prevailing wisdom suggests sacrificing personal time and relentlessly pushing through work tasks. However, this “always-on” mentality comes at a cost. A recent survey conducted by Aflac reveals that a staggering 59% of employees experience burnout, leading to decreased engagement and hindered performance. To address this issue, it is crucial to explore alternative approaches that balance well-being and productivity.

The Power of Work Breaks

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, our research suggests that taking breaks throughout the workday not only does not hinder performance but actually enhances it. By examining more than 80 studies, our team, along with our esteemed colleagues, Zahra Premji, Timothy Wingate, Connie Deng, Lisa Bélanger, and Nick Turner, conducted a systematic review of existing research on workplace breaks. We discovered that pausing work at regular intervals promotes well-being and increases productivity.

Understanding the Benefits

Similar to how batteries require recharging, both our physical and psychological resources have limits. Pushing through work when our energy reserves are depleted leads to diminished well-being and performance. In extreme cases, persisting without breaks can initiate a negative cycle, where tasks are executed poorly, leading to additional work and further depletion of resources. Consequently, excessive work can result in decreased productivity and a sense of exhaustion. Imagine reading the same sentence repeatedly without grasping its meaning.

Break Types for Optimal Results

Breaks come in various forms, such as exercise, social media browsing, short walks, napping, socializing, or having lunch. However, our extensive review confirms that not all breaks are equally effective. The way we take breaks significantly impacts their outcomes. Consider the following factors:

Break Length and Timing

A longer break does not always equate to a better break. Taking brief, regular breaks (known as micro-breaks) can effectively prevent exhaustion and enhance performance. Short breaks for snacking, stretching, or simply gazing out the window can provide the necessary respite. Additionally, the timing of breaks plays a crucial role. Shorter breaks are more effective in the morning, while longer breaks are beneficial in the late afternoon when fatigue accumulates, necessitating more time to recharge.

Break Location

The physical environment in which breaks occur can significantly influence the recovery process. While stretching at a desk and going for a short walk may seem similar, the latter offers greater potential for recharging. Our review highlights the importance of taking breaks outdoors and embracing green spaces for replenishing employees’ resources, surpassing the benefits of remaining confined to a desk.

Break Activity

Engaging in physical activity during breaks proves highly beneficial for both well-being and performance, particularly for mentally demanding work. However, the positive effects of exercise are short-lived, necessitating regular physical activity to achieve long-term benefits.

Though exercise offers advantages, it is not the most prevalent break choice among employees. Surprisingly, our review indicates that browsing social media during breaks is the most common activity, with nearly 97% of individuals reporting engagement in this behavior. Nevertheless, researchers have found that excessive social media scrolling can lead to emotional exhaustion, resulting in reduced creativity and work engagement. Thus, this type of break may not effectively boost performance.

The Role of Furry Companions

Preliminary research suggests that interacting with dogs can lower stress levels, as indicated by reduced cortisol hormone levels. However, further investigation is needed to determine the impact on performance. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that spending breaks with furry companions positively affects employees. Interactions with pets significantly enhance individuals’ psychological well-being, which in turn influences performance outcomes.

Encouraging Effective Breaks

The mere availability of breaks does not guarantee their utilization or effectiveness. Workers may not make the most efficient use of their breaks or may even forgo them altogether. As decision-makers and role models, managers play a crucial role in promoting effective work breaks. Here are some strategies they can employ:

Fostering Positive Attitudes

While employees generally recognize the benefits of breaks for performance, managers sometimes fail to share this sentiment. It is vital for managers to be well-informed about the positive effects of work breaks on performance. Human resources managers can incorporate this knowledge into wellness training programs, and organizations can implement “wellness moments” to discuss effective break strategies and brainstorm enjoyable break activities. Displaying posters that highlight the advantages of taking breaks and best practices can also contribute to a positive break culture in the workplace.

Leading by Example

Managers can communicate the importance of breaks by consistently taking effective breaks themselves. For instance, a manager who frequently walks her dog in a nearby park can inform her employees of her break routine. This approach not only sets a positive example but also establishes clear boundaries that protect uninterrupted breaks. Leading by example helps combat the stigma and guilt associated with taking breaks. It is encouraging to see more organizational leaders acknowledging this issue and expressing remorse for not prioritizing adequate time off work.

Scheduled Break Times

Our review reveals that many employees struggle to take regular breaks or feel discouraged due to social stigmas. Therefore, we recommend that managers and organizations schedule dedicated break times. However, it is crucial to implement such schedules thoughtfully. Rigid break schedules, with predetermined timings and fixed durations, can diminish employee autonomy and even have detrimental effects. We propose offering flexible break periods, such as one hour a day, allowing employees the freedom to decide when and how often they take their breaks. Moreover, organizations can explore innovative break initiatives like “break tickets” that grant employees the choice to take an hour off according to their preference. On-site social or physical activities can further enrich the break experience.

Creating Break Spaces

As mentioned earlier, the location of breaks significantly impacts their benefits. Organizations can signal their commitment to facilitating work breaks by creating dedicated spaces. For instance, a small park or indoor green space within the workplace can communicate the organization’s support for breaks and amplify their positive outcomes in terms of employee performance. Additionally, designating an off-leash dog park area can cater to employees who enjoy interacting with animals. This approach may also serve as a recruitment tool, considering the rising demand for pet-friendly workplaces and the adoption of pet-friendly policies by many companies.

For organizations with remote employees, utilizing available spaces through online park meetings can enable participants to join the meeting while walking or sitting in an outdoor location of their choice. Alternatively, organizations can allocate a “break budget” that allows employees to create their own personalized break spaces. For example, employees can purchase an indoor plant or a yoga mat to enhance their break experience.


Employee performance and well-being are paramount concerns for organizations, prompting increasing efforts to address these issues. Work breaks serve as a powerful tool to improve both aspects. Organizations must recognize the significance of breaks and actively promote their effectiveness. By fostering positive attitudes, leading by example, scheduling dedicated break times, and creating break spaces, managers and organizations can cultivate a break culture that optimizes employee well-being and performance.

Incorporating these strategies will contribute to a work environment where breaks are valued and utilized to their fullest potential, benefiting individuals and organizations alike.

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