How many times have you been told that hard work and long hours pay off?
Well, here’s a little twist on that age-old wisdom: Taking breaks from all that hard work and those long hours pays off.
You heard that right: Refreshing and recharging actually improves your performance and boosts productivity.
That’s because the human brain can only focus so long—our bodies can only work so hard—and then we need to disengage to rebuild.
Before you power through one more hour, work through one more weekend, or ignore those mounting vacation hours, check out the growing evidence:
Too much work without a break to offset the energy burn can send stress levels soaring. And that can lead to burnout. This doesn’t just affect your contribution at work, it also affects your health and well-being.4
Researchers looked at the health records of employees who worked 40 to 60 hours a week without regular breaks. Long hours were associated with a host of health issues including hearing problems, back pain, cardiovascular disease, injuries, depression, insomnia, and more.5
There’s an art to treating yourself to the breaks you need and deserve. Think strategically about every hour, every day, every week, every month, and every year. Here’s a framework to start.
Micro-breaks last from a few seconds to several minutes and involve anything from making a cup of coffee to striking a yoga pose to simply walking to the restroom.
They’re tiny, but they can have a powerful impact on your health and your mood.
Microbreaks improve your ability to concentrate, boost your attitude about your job, and even help you avoid the health risks that come with staying tied to your desk all day.6 When they involve even the smallest physical movements, micro-breaks reduce your risk of disease. That’s because sitting for long periods of time has about the same daily health risks as smoking a pack of cigarettes.
Experts recommend stretching, strolling, or even just standing at least once every hour throughout the day for optimal health.
It’s time to bring back that protected mid-day time for enjoying 30+ minutes of free time while refueling your body and mind. There are countless reasons to clock out for lunch.
It may feel productive and loyal to spend your “off hours” thinking about or even doing your work. But using your evenings and weekends to detach better prepares you to deal with job challenges.
Researchers studied workers who were faced with difficult or disrespectful coworkers. Employees who successfully disengaged with work after-hours or on weekends thought about the challenges of difficult colleagues less and experienced fewer sleep problems than those who did not.2
Yoga, walking, and listening to music were especially helpful to this group.
Other research has shown that employees who detach from work during their off-hours have overall higher life satisfaction and less psychological strain than those who don’t disconnect.2
Power up your “disengaged time” by spending time outdoors. Natural environments seem to have a special power to reduces stress and replenish cognitive performance.2
Just over a decade ago, Americans took almost three weeks of vacation a year (20.3 days). Five years later, in 2015, they took only 16.2 days. Turns out, this was when “time-saving” technologies like cell phones were exploding. But instead of allowing for more downtime, they’ve actually increased how much time people spend working.3
Go ahead and get away—based on more than one study, your boss will thank you.
In fact, researchers who study employee performance have found that each additional ten hours of vacation time employees take is linked to an 8% bump in year-end performance ratings.7
If you are not taking every last minute of the vacation time you’ve earned, you’re missing an important chance to reduce your stress and recharge your mind. And you’re eventually volunteering your time.
So close that computer. Put away the notepad. Clock out. Check out. You owe it to yourself, your family your future, and your employer. Because time off is a win-win for everyone.
See how MOBE can help you connect the dots between nutrition, sleep, movement, and emotional well-being—with personalized one-to-one support. Get started today.
1. Ariga Atsunori and Alejandro Lleras, “Brief and Rare Mental ‘Breaks’ Keep you Focused,” Cognition 118, no. 3 (March 2011): 439-443, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.007.
2. Kristen Weir, “Give Me a Break,” American Psychology Association Monitor on Psychology 50, no. 1 (January 2019): 40, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/break.
3. Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, “The Data-Driven Case for Vacation,” Harvard Business Review, July 13, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-data-driven-case-for-vacation.
4. Alan Kohll, “New Study Shows Correlation Between Employee Engagement and the Long-Lost Lunch Break,” Forbes, May 29, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/05/29/new-study-shows-correlation-between-employee-engagement-and-the-long-lost-lunch-break/?sh=4e8f7b114efc.
5. Sungjin Park, June-Hee Lee, and Wanhyung Lee, “The Effects of Workplace Rest Breaks on Health Problems Related to Long Working Hours and Shift Work among Male Apartment Janitors in Korea,” Safety and Health at Work 10, no 1 (December 2019): 512-517, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shaw.2019.10.003.
6. “The Tiny Breaks That Ease Your Body and Reboot Your Brain,” Zaria Gorvett, BBC Worklife, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190312-the-tiny-breaks-that-ease-your-body-and-reboot-your-brain.