Microbreaks may help to prevent workplace burnout
A new study, comparing 30 years of research, looks at how effective 10-minute microbreaks could be in helping to promote work-related wellbeing.
Short conversations that aren’t work-related – so-called ‘water cooler moments’ – can be a welcome break from everyday office life. Now, a new meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS One, has pulled together evidence to look at whether short microbreaks could help with workplace wellbeing.
Scientists at Romania’s West University of Timișoara (WUT) have examined data from 22 studies from the past 30 years to find out whether the type of activity a person engages in during a 10-minute microbreak can affect overall mood.
Tasks varied between the featured experiments, and included work simulations, actual work-related tasks or cognitive tests. After the tasks, the participants took a 10-minute microbreak, where they could enjoy activities like stretching, walking, watching videos, or just relaxing.
The microbreak sometimes involved activities like helping a colleague, or some other work-related task.
Read more about wellbeing:
- Could a four-day week really improve productivity and wellbeing?
- Gardening just twice a week improves wellbeing and reduces stress
- Money can't buy happiness, a neuroscientist explains why
The researchers discovered that, when it came to assessing whether the break had a positive or negative effect on an individual’s mood, the activity engaged in during the break was an important factor.
Participants found physical breaks to be particularly helpful. The authors noted that, “physical activities such as stretching and exercise were associated with increased positive emotions and decreased fatigue”.
More like this
But if the microbreak activity involved helping a colleague or something else work-related, it led to negative emotions, decreased wellbeing and worse sleep quality.
Overall, the data appears to support the role of microbreaks for improving the wellbeing of workers and reducing fatigue, but there was insufficient evidence to suggest that microbreaks improve job performance.
With today's employees experiencing burnout, long hours and ever-increasing workloads, microbreaks could offer a way to improve happiness. So go on, get that kettle on!
Neil is a freelance journalist and he has worked across a variety of BBC magazine titles, including BBC Sky at Night Magazine and BBC Music Magazine. He enjoys sky-gazing while camping in Cornwall.
Subscription offers you will love!
- Spread the cost and pay just £3.50 per issue when you subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine.
- Alternatively, lock in for longer and pay just £37.99 per year, saving 51%!
- Risk - free offer! Cancel at any time when you subscribe via Direct Debit.
- FREE UK delivery.