Encourage Your Employees to Take Breaks for Safety

To increase the productivity and focus of your employees – encourage them to stop working. Taking occasional five- or ten-minute breaks, along with lunch breaks, helps restore your workers’ energy levels, reduces their stress, and helps them avoid physical injury and muscle strain. Breaks also reduce the occurrence of fatigue-related accidents, which can hurt people, damage equipment, and throw work goals off track. Ultimately breaks are good for your workers and for your business.   

The Benefits of Work Breaks

People are not built to work an eight-hour day or longer without a break. Research shows that short breaks actually increase a person’s ability to effectively focus on a task for extended periods of time. For people whose work requires creativity and problem-solving, a brief walk or talking with a coworker can give the brain a boost. Also, simply thinking or talking about something else can give workers newfound perspective on a tricky problem.

For long-haul drivers and operators of heavy machinery, restorative breaks are a matter of safety. But workers who interact with customers all day or lift heavy objects repeatedly also need time away from these tasks in order to do their jobs better.

Rest Breaks and the Law

There is no federal law requiring work breaks. Federal law does require that when rest breaks are offered, they should be considered paid time if they are between five minutes and 20 minutes long. Meal breaks are not required by federal law to be paid time.

Laws regarding meal break and rest period length requirements per hours worked are made at the state level and vary from state to state.

How to Encourage Your Employees to Take Breaks

The best ways to encourage employee breaks are to share how important they are and schedule them into your workers’ days. The break requirements should be clarified during the onboarding of all new employees, and readdressed with existing employees. A 2014 survey by Staples found that 20 percent of workers feel guilty taking breaks during the day beyond their lunch break. But if you clarify that breaks are considered an important part of the workday and the breaks are clearly scheduled, employees will be more inclined to take them.

If possible, provide a comfortable break or lunch room on site so employees have a designated place that removes them from their immediate work environment. According to the Staples study, 60 percent of the workers surveyed said this would encourage them to take more breaks. At some construction sites this may not be possible, but in these instances be sure there is a place for employees to grab a cup of coffee or snack, and that their breaks align with visits from the food service truck.

What Kind of Break Should Your Employees Take?

While you don’t want to micromanage your employees’ breaks, you can use work meetings, office posters, and newsletters to educate them about what makes a good break. The best breaks take employees away from the work they were doing physically and mentally. A lunch break taken while an employee checks email at their computer is not restorative. But conversing with coworkers in an appealing break room or taking a short walk in the fresh air can replenish their focus, creativity, and engagement. Workers in physical jobs should be encouraged to sit for a while or stretch gently to give their joints and muscles a much-needed rest.

Getting your employees to take breaks that are actually beneficial takes some effort. But creating a break-positive environment and educating your workers about the importance of mental and physical rest can help. And if you’re a business owner or manager, set a good example. Taking breaks yourself will help alleviate some of your workers’ worries, so they can take a break that is enjoyable, restful, and restorative.