Why is taking a break at work so important?
As far back as the 1980s, businesses wanted to understand how taking breaks during an office day affected their workforce. To discover whether breaks could boost productivity or reduce stress, researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Ohio and Purdue University in Indiana created an artificial high-stress office environment and invited 20 participants to ‘work’ there for two days. For every 40 minutes that they worked, they were permitted to take a ‘microbreak’ (anything from a few seconds to a few minutes). What they discovered was that those employees who had taken slightly longer microbreaks maintained lower heart rates, suggesting that the break had calmed them down. Interestingly, at the end of the study, the work of those who took regular microbreaks required less correcting than that of workers who had remained at their desk all day.
Other studies have confirmed that ‘microbreaks’ throughout the day can be hugely beneficial. Taking a break from your desk to make a cup of tea, pot a few balls on a pool table or even just walk around can all impact employee productivity, health and quality of life. Studies have shown that microbreaks can improve concentration, meaning that a few minutes set aside here and there throughout the day for short breaks in fact leads to increased productivity within a workforce. In addition, for jobs with either repetitive elements or roles which involve being seated at a desk all day, microbreaks have been proven to help workers avoid injury and discomfort. Furthermore, for staff who are struggling to engage with their jobs, taking a series of short microbreaks throughout the day can be fundamental in reversing their attitude; changing the way they see their jobs and leading to greater employee satisfaction.
According to research by Inc. Magazine into the work lives of more than 200 office workers, about 25% admitted that they never leave their desk, except for lunch. However, the same survey found that both managers and frontline employees spoke about the importance of taking a break. In fact, 90% of bosses claimed to encourage their employees to take breaks, while 86% of employees reported that taking breaks made them more productive. So it’s clear from this data that what people say and what they do when it comes to taking down-time during the work day is very different.
So, how can we encourage employees to take breaks when necessary? It starts with a clear, written policy from a position of power. If managers are clear in contracts and in their day-to-day attitude that taking short breaks throughout the work day is not only permitted but actively encouraged, then employees are less likely to fear retribution for taking a few moments to breathe and regroup. If this policy is supported through the creation of an office recreation space, employees receive a clear message that taking a responsible break is, in fact, good for business.
What are office recreation rooms and what should I put in them?
Office recreation rooms are designated rooms within workplaces where employees can go to relax and unwind during the work day. These may be attached to or form part of a kitchen area, or they might be completely separate spaces. There are four key things you should consider when designing a recreation room:
Firstly, think about what space you have available for a recreation area. There’s no point planning to top Google’s efforts if all you have to work with is an empty corner of an office floor. Plot the exact dimensions of your empty room or proposed area so you know exactly what you’re working with; then you can choose appropriate furniture. Smaller rooms might work better with flexible solutions such as stackable tables and chairs, while larger spaces can handle permanent furnishings such as bench tables or booths. It’s all very well and good to want to put games such as pool tables in your recreation room, but if that’s the only thing there’s space for, you aren’t really serving the needs of your entire workforce.
Next, think about what you want to achieve in your recreation room. A good place to start is to ask the opinions of your employees. It’s all very well and good installing a top-spec yoga studio, but it won’t work as designed if the vast majority of your workforce don’t use it. Think about what kinds of spaces will work for the majority of your staff. Typically, comfortable seating areas, table seating areas, quiet zones and kitchen equipment all go down well, and play equipment such as pool or ping-pong tables, or even a ‘board game’ zone, can offer opportunities for workers to unwind.