In the classic industrial paradigm, taking a break from work was a necessary evil rather than a key component of keeping the employee productive. With the modern approach and a slide toward creative and analytical work instead of repetitive manual labor, taking breaks can be a life-saver, or at least, a productivity booster.

When thinking about breaks during the work, there is an imminent conflict between overworking oneself, being unproductive, and abusing the breaks. The approach toward a break in work also varies depending on the country and the company culture.

From this text you will know:

  • What is the history of breaks at work
  • Is the beer-break a new idea
  • How to boost productivity by taking a break
  • Can be taking a nap in a work a good idea
  • Why you shouldn’t skip a lunch
  • How important is to take a break from a computer

The history of breaks at work

Unsurprisingly, the right to take a break used to be highly dependent on the relationship between the employer and the employee. Slaves were, obviously, in the worst condition, with Pliny marking the existence of “diseases of slaves” coming from overworking and harsh conditions.

On the other hand though, people who have built the pyramids who were not slaves but free workers, had a right to take beer-breaks in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Today, employee rights to take a break vary depending on the legislation in their country or state with significant differences between the states in the US. The legislature of Texas or Florida does not recognize the employee’s right to take a break, while in California it is mandatory to give the employee time both for meal and rest. It is also not mandatory to pay the employee for a time he or she spends during the break, at least not in every legislation.

But is making the employee work for ALL the time he or she is paid for is so beneficial? Actually, not really.


Boosting productivity by smart break management

According to the popular myth, the key to effectively working or studying is to not get distracted for a long period of time. The research conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that the popular approach of seeing the attention as a limited resource to be “used” by sticking to a single task is not relevant.

Attention itself is not a “limited resource” comparable to the glucose in muscles that enable one to do heavy lifting or long-distance running. The brain rather just switches the attention and is focused on another thing. The experiment has shown that switching focus from time to time enables one to stay focused on a particular task better than the lack of interruptions.

What was researched by the University Staff was earlier cracked by various lifehackers. A popular trick called Pomodoro Technique exploits the same mechanism. The system is based on 25-minute work time broken with 5-minute breaks and with one longer (30 minutes) break during the day. A surprising name for the technique comes from a tomato-shaped kitchen timer used by its founder Francesco Cirillo.

The system is widely used and praised on the Internet with users claiming to squeeze their 40-hour workweek into 16.7 hours when using this trick. This is a rather extreme example of how breaks increase productivity without often taking leave days to stay rested.

A strict approach to the technique forces a 10-minute break every hour and an additional longer break every two hours of work. That’s a lot of time when it comes to traditional approaches and can be mind-boggling for a more sceptical manager.

Lunch break - a mind fuel

Lunch break, or a 30-minute meal break, seems to be an obvious one, with every human being needing to eat. On the other hand, though, going for lunch forces one to step away from the desk and stop working - a thing that in an increasing uncertainty of the modern world can require some courage.

According to the survey done by Tork, nearly 20% of US employees worry that their bosses will not consider them hard-working if they take a lunch break. Also, 13% of surveyed individuals are afraid that their coworkers will judge them. Apparently, this fear is deeply rooted in reality with 22% of US bosses thinking that the employee who takes a lunch break is not as hardworking as his or her colleagues.

The habit of skipping lunch breaks was coined during the great recession in 2009, when employers were cutting off every cost that was possible to reduce, including employees who were considered unproductive.

Yet the lunch break comes with multiple advantages, including:

  • Reducing the stress - assuming that the lunch is not eaten in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, taking a longer break from work comes as a great way to reduce stress and free mind from the daily routine.
  • Satisfying the hunger - brain is one of the most energy-hungry parts of the human body, consuming about 20% of all energy. Considering that, keeping grey cells properly fed with glucose, fats and other ingredients is crucial to assure its efficient work. One would be insane to think that it is possible to run a marathon without a proper diet and hydration - so why assuming that coffee and fast snacks are enough for the brain to run the marathon of the career?
  • Improving employee health - it is not only about eating - it is also about what is being eaten. Having a longer lunch break and eating away from the desk forces the employee to take a walk. It can reduce the backache and improve blood flow. Thus, it will limit the risk associated with sitting for a prolonged time. Also, when going out of office it is much easier to eat something healthier, like soup, salad, or a full meal from the kitchen of choice - a thing that is unseen in an office vending machine.

So in fact skipping off the lunch break can be killing for productivity rather than a sign of being dedicated.

Breaks from a computer screen

Computers transformed the way we work in the most significant way since the steam machine has been invented. Despite delivering a myriad of possibilities and a constant development of these tools, overusing them can cause multiple injuries like:

  • Back and legs pain due to the prolonged time in the same position
  • Eye dryness and irritation
  • Muscle and joint pains

Taking regular breaks from the computer can reduce the effects shown above.


The importance of taking breaks by skilled workers seen by the pharaohs can be disregarded by modern managers. On the other hand though, sometimes the best way to work is to not work at all for some time, just to refresh the mind, eat something and stop staring at the light cavalry of the computer screen.

Salvador Dali used to take multiple naps during the day, only to lose consciousness for a short period of time. This habit enabled him to keep his mind fresh, open, and creative. Considering that, taking a break using clock in/out tool or even without any software is a must when one wants to work efficiently and a short nap near the desk shall be the sign of the employee star!

And what's yourse experiences about increasing employees productivity? Let us know!


HR knowledge in your inbox

Get monthly insights and make HR simple with us

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We use cookies to make our site work and also for analytics and advertising purposes. You can enable or disable optional cookies as desired. See our Privacy Policy for more details.