Spotlight on: taking proper breaks

With Legal and General’s Health Uncovered research showing that 23% of full-time British workers never take a break from work, does the UK workforce need to be told to have a rest?

One in 10 (12%) of senior managers say they don’t take holidays from work, which results in “genuine health and safety problems,” says Kevin Hogarth, HR director at CapitalOne. “We simply would not allow people not to take statutory holidays.”

Talk a walk

But what about the breath of fresh air that can make such a difference to your productivity?

Dr John Delfosse, medical officer for the Legal and General group, says: “A basic rest activity cycle needs to be established, which means working for between 120 and 180 minutes, and after that taking a break. Go for a walk mid-morning, step out of the workplace at lunch time, and again mid-afternoon. It has been proven to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism.”

Dr Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo Consultancy, believes that our perception of success is at fault. “We see very successful entrepreneurs, these people who have a huge capacity for work, and believe they never take breaks,” she says.

Productivity myth

“It is a myth that we can all keep going and be productive the whole time.

“The top execs that I see work incredibly hard but take three or four weeks off, and the times they haven’t they say they have regretted it.”

But how far can HR police people’s breaks?

“My view is that compulsory breaks are difficult to enforce,” says Delfosse. “It is important for HR to talk about the afterglow of efficiency that occurs after a break or a holiday.

“HGV drivers have tachometers that set a point after which drivers need to take a break as they are becoming less safe. HR could set a limit for unbroken work and point out that after that point you are actually becoming unproductive,” he says.

“You just can’t be too prescriptive,” says Hogarth. “Our philosophy is about offering variety. We have lots of informal meeting areas, two coffee bars, and break-out areas. A light, airy, visually stimulating environment is one of the ways we ensure that people remain productive.

Offer a choice

“You have to give people choice about how they work best. Some people can plug into their i-Pods and really work solidly for two hours.”

So in among the hundred things you need to do today, you now have another – take a break.

Time-out tips

  • Coffee does not make a break, as it can raise stress levels. Try stretching, taking 40 winks, or see if you can set up pilates classes
  • Set the timer on your PC to alert you at one-and-a-half-hour intervals
  • If you have a holiday-resistant member of staff, it may represent a psychological problem that needs addressing with therapy
  • When you do go away on holiday, leave your BlackBerry behind. No-one’s indispensable.
  • Consider offering a ‘leave work early on Fridays’ policy, to show that you understand your employees have a life outside work

Source: Stress Management Society

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