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Editorial Team
23 May 2018

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Why Breaks are Worth the Hype?

employee productivity

Inside the Science of the Spirit of Watercooler Talk.   

Can working during lunch-break be a gross misconduct and violation of corporate rules? You would unarguably say no and think of this act as an extreme level of corporate allegiance. But in some parts of the corporate world, this is akin to unprofessionalism. 

In 2012, plaintiff Sharon Smiley won a case she brought against denied unemployment benefits after being fired from a job for the reason cited above. She isn’t alone. In the past, a few Target employees have also complained of losing their jobs by working off-clock as reported by Time and The Huffington Post.  

Uber specifies its drivers to have a six-hour break between long shifts. To ensure adherence to strict policies happen- GPS and telematics are leveraged. This comes in the wake of National Sleep Foundation and Governors Highway Safety Association’s relentless pressing upon statistics pointing to drowsy driving leading to a majority of accidents. 

Let’s be clear about this. This was regarding the matter of life and death. And in such scenarios, breaks become the resort. But what about corporate corridors where death is never a result of not having intermittent breaks? Maybe stress, anxiety, musculoskeletal disorders, insomnia, or cardiovascular diseases. But death? No. Never.  

What about negative publicity? Not taking breaks can call upon the attention of the world just like it happened with Amazon a few months back when workers were forced to pee in bottles to avoid time wastage and deliver 240 pieces per day.  

A Piece of Mind on Peace of Mind. 

Earlier people used to meet up at the watercooler for quick conversations, of course coincidentally! (Otherwise, it will call upon a manager’s chagrin). An accidental chat at the water cooler would lead to fun and sociability.  

MIT conducted a wide-spectrum study on the spirit of watercooler effect. Watercooler conversations aka breaks say a lot about the company culture which is born from shared ethos, camaraderie, and interests. 

When people connect on a personal level- social awkwardness and anxieties are lost to social bonhomie. It leads to a fair share of entry into the idiosyncrasies and behavioral psychology of people and how they operate. Consequently, it works as an ice-breaker for people to collaborate and removes the wrinkles of forced networking. Long-lasting relationships, an increased productivity, and employee engagement are many other benefits (This space may fall short to write about the others) which can be driven out of breaks. 

Without downtime, it’s hard to channelize fresh energies into work. Into this ferment has exploded Project: Time Off and The Energy Project. They are essential resources on how to increase productivity and plan vacations to get rid of mental afflictions. Google, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Green Mountain Coffee, Apple, and Ford are an influential line-up of clientele already making the most of such projects. 

Facetime VS Facebook 

Never undermine the importance of cohesiveness. The University of Michigan says cohesion or social interaction enhances cognitive functioning, memory, and performance by releasing feel-good hormones like Oxytocin. 

As also emphasized by psychologist and author of The Village Effect- Susan Pinker according to whom, hindrance of building strong relationships is partly because of lack of social contact and majorly due to no-break business we all exercise. 

The Human Dynamics Group of MIT Media Laboratory developed a Sociometric Badge to note down predictive human behavior, patterns of social affinity, and unconscious social signals. These badges micro fitted with a radio transceiver, microprocessor, and microphone studied voice inflections, direction, and location of the wearer. It measures what happens when one person meets another and data showed an increase in productivity. 

Rev your energy with a break of your liking which can be: 

  • Personal Projects: Work on any hobby you have- art or music and complete such projects weekly, monthly, or daily. 

  • Meditation: Apps like Headspace, Calm, and Tide can be used in break time for stimulating neurons with short meditation sessions. 

  • Exercise: A desk stretch, walk around the building, or climb up and down the staircase can be a good break that helps avoid musculoskeletal disorders and cardiovascular ailments. One can easily attend calls in conference rooms while walking and give much-required phone calls to relatives and friends. Running errands to avoid burnout at the end of a day is another alternative. 

  • Nap: The chronotype decides the sleeping patterns and requirements of an individual. It is different for different individuals based on their circadian rhythm which is an internal clock that directs, eating, sleeping, and other biological patterns. Journal of Sleep anoints lack of sleep to a loss in productivity. Companies are developing Sleep Pods, a kind of hibernation chamber for power naps. A 10-15 min nap boosts vigilance, mood, and alertness. Such power naps in Japan have been quite popular for some time. Many companies in the rest of the world have already emulated this practice, some of which are- Zappos, Capital One labs, Ben & Jerry’s, and PwC 

  • Games: Mind-training games like Google’s Quickdraw and Lumosity developed in collaboration with neuroscientists are brain teasers and productivity enhancers. 

  • Online Search: Check a few notifications on Facebook or chat on skype with a colleague. Search for inspiring stories on mindfulness and positivity. Watch TED talk videos, follow LinkedIn influencers, or else spruce up your professional profile 

  • Daydream: Brain mapping studies have concluded increased activity in different brain regions when our minds are left to run wildly into free chariots.     

  • Lunch: The kitchen must always be full of food as it gives an inspiring fodder for potential projects. 80-hour week mustn’t be the calibration employees are measured against. Lunch could be an opportune time to get other’s opinions on important projects. Moreover, US Department of Labor asks states to have mandatory lunch breaks. 

  • Nature: A little sun adds to a fulfillment of daily vitamin D requirement. Google’s biophilic design is giving rise to the consciousness of ‘forest bathing’ which is backed by University of Rochester studies. 

To see the action actually takes place on grounds, heed to: 

  • Pomodoro: Francesco Cirillo developed this technique for maximum production. It’s a timer for 25-min of work followed by 5-min break which in turn is followed by a working session of 25- min. After 4 such sessions, a longer break of 30-min is exercised.   

  • 90-min Work Blocks: It works with natural biological rhythm. Going by sleep researchers Nathan Kleitman, William Dement, and Professor K. Anders Ericsson, focused sessions can be limited to 90-min which must be followed by a break. Some call this cycle Ultradian Rhythm.     

  • 52-17 Method: Use apps like Focus Booster and DeskTime which are set for 52-min work followed by 17-min of break and then getting back to work again.   

  • 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20-min look at objects 20 feet away for at least 20-sec.  

  • 2 fifteen minutes break per day: Two breaks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon could be great rejuvenators. 

Scratch the surface. Breaks look like a shot of hope injected into a bloodied and bleak landscape of corporate business. At the heart of the philosophy of breaks, lies the truth that humans aren’t robots.

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