• Karen O'Keefe OTR/L

Why Mircobreaks Improve Productivity

Microbreaks are not a popular concept, even though everyone could benefit from them, especially someone who has a career involving repetitive movements, computer use, and prolonged positioning.


Whether you are stuck at a sitting or standing desk, tied to a computer all day, or repeating the same movements over and over again you will benefit from knowing, what are microbreaks?


What are microbreaks?


These are literally, micro breaks. Tiny, quick breaks taken throughout the work day. Even though they are small, these microbreaks have so many benefits, including improved concentration and decrease risk of work related injuries and pain.¹ ²


Examples:


  • Standing up to go fill your coffee, tea, or water

  • Setting up your printer at walking distance away

  • Watching a funny video on your phone

  • Scrolling through social media

  • Stepping outside for a quick breath of fresh air

  • Stretching, or any other form of movement in your workspace


What is the length of a microbreak?


An employee could benefit from a break anywhere between 20 seconds to 5 minutes in duration. However, these are typically on the shorter end and are less than 2 minutes.


They are best done at regularly scheduled intervals at 20 or 40 minutes apart.¹ ³


Try the 20/20/20 Exercise

  • Every 20 minutes

  • Look at an object 20 feet away from you

  • For at least 20 seconds


This version of the 20/20/20 Exercise is best to help reduce eyestrain. But you can easily substitute and modify portions of this exercise to fit your needs.


Here are other examples of exercises to take very 20 minutes

Microbreaks can range from stretching to a break to scroll Instagram
  • Stand up and march in place for 20 seconds.

  • Stand up and bend over to touch your toes, then reach up high to the ceiling, alternating for 20 seconds.

  • Scroll through social media for 20 seconds


If you want to take a “longer” microbreak you can take a walk around your workplace, move through some yoga poses, play a game on your phone, or read a news article or blog post.


What is the best activity?


So far, all of the examples listed above are great options for, ranging anywhere from 20 seconds to 5 minutes.


However, some people may opt to turn their microbreak into an opportunity to engage in different work related tasks, and not actually take a true break.


According to research, these people may actually have more positive benefits, even in productivity, if they choose to totally disengage from all work activities during their breaks.³


Fun, unrelatable to work, activities during these quick breaks improve attention, vigor, and decrease fatigue.


Interestingly, research found that short, quick breaks involving relaxation techniques resulted in the same findings of fatigue, decreased attention, and decreased vigor as taking work related breaks or no breaks at all.³


What are the benefits of microbreaks?


The research on microbreaks is abundant and nearly all of the research demonstrates only positive outcomes.


So far we have mentioned improving concentration and attention, decreasing pain, and decreasing fatigued levels.


But what are the other benefits?


Energy and well-being


We all know that the workforce is becoming more and more competitive. This is driving people to work harder and longer. The results of this work life balance is an overall decrease in energy and well-being.


People with higher levels of well-being are more healthy and full of energy. One way to improve your energy levels at work is by taking regularly scheduled microbreaks.


According to the American Psychological Association, it has not been determined why people start to lose energy or fade. But whatever it is, the brain does get depleted during demanding work related tasks.


Sort of like your mental fuel gets used up.


Microbreaks allow us to refuel, recharge, and replenish our working capacity.


Whether you:


  • Watch a funny cat video

  • Talk to a coworker

  • Take a lap around the building


These tiny, quick breaks will go a long way at improving your energy, well-being, and overall satisfaction while at work.


And these breaks, coupled with a wellness program, take employee energy and well-being to a whole new level.


Increased performance


Some employees may not want to take breaks, or they may fall into the category of taking a “break” by simply switching work tasks.


But, microbreaks can be taken throughout the work day without the hindering time it takes to complete work related tasks.This means productivity does not go down. ⁴ ⁵ ⁶


If you do decide to include these short breaks, your productivity can even increase, especially if you step outside for fresh air.


Decreased stress and improved attitude


Microbreaks help to decrease stress and improve employees' attitude about work.⁷


One study even found that with longer mirobreaks, employees' heart rates had a chance to lower, revealing that short breaks can have a calming effect and can reduce stress.


All of us can testify that decreased stress does allow us to enjoy what we do and improves our attitude and outlook on whatever task we are working on.


To get the most stress relief and improve attitude, employers need to allow the employees to engage in whatever activity they want during these small breaks.⁷


Improved communication


When these quick breaks happen frequently, every 20 or 40 minutes, communication between co-workers, or team members can grow.


One way to spend your time during a quick break is by chatting with a co-worker. This opportunity to talk may boost team morale, team building, and allows time to brainstorm work ideas.⁸


Without scheduled microbreaks, members of the team may choose to continue to work without the opportunity to ever meet with other team members.


So, to answer, what are microbreaks


  • 20 second to 5 minutes breaks

  • Taken every 20 or 40 minutes

  • Breaks centered around non-work related to tasks

  • Have the most positive impact when you watch a video, play a game, go outside, or talk to someone else.

  • Should be coupled with stretching, movement, a wellness program, and ergonomic assessment for the best work life outcomes.


And micobreaks improve


  • Concentration and attention

  • Pain and discomfort

  • Fatigue

  • Energy and well-being

  • Stress and attitude

  • Communication


Whether we take regularly scheduled microbreaks or not, we will always have work waiting for us. We may as well take frequent, quick breaks in order to gain all of the positive benefits in our work life.


As we all know, our satisfaction in our work life spills over into our personal lives.


Go ahead, take a minute or two and see what it can do for you.


References


  1. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0003687016302666?token=3DF0ED2C0649066B100B4443BE9A19A2995E41FCA5E90044D5519A516601C6B0ACC49602B6D08323105C4FA71CD50AD3

  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687000000715

  3. https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4949&context=etd

  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003687016302666

  5. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wk/sla/2017/00000265/00000002/art00022

  6. ttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11394463/

  7. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190312-the-tiny-breaks-that-ease-your-body-and-reboot-your-brain

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7251302/#bib45

 

Karen O’Keefe, OTR/L has combined her passion for Hand Therapy with the rewards Ergonomics can bring to her clients over the past 32 years. Co-founder of Exeter Therapy Associates and now Access Sports Medicine, she has specialized in Ergonomics in the workplace, along with musculoskeletal and neurological injuries.

Karen is equally passionate about hiking, biking and cooking. She lives with her husband in Kittery, Maine.

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