Concept of Micro-Breaks and Their Influence on Employee Well-Being and Productivity

Take a quick water-break. Stretch your neck and arms. Walk hundred steps to your water cooler or printer. Grab a quick bite off your favorite sandwich. Or, sip your Starbucks or ice tea! You are likely to come across so many micro-moments in your office that seemingly feel like means to distract yourself from ongoing work. These are called micro-breaks. Ongoing research have revealed powerful effects of taking micro-breaks to neutralize the effects of prolonged screen exposure, of seating in wrong posture, and of dehydration. If you are seeing a dip in energy levels of your employees, you should explore ways to encourage micro-breaks at your workplace.

Here’s why.

Modern organizations can be distinguished from their older counterparts in so many ways. One key distinction in the way organizations function today is their outlook toward breaks during office hours and their duration. Taking breaks at workplace are no longer view with skepticism. On the contrary, modern HR managers and business owners are encouraging their employees to take breaks to recharge their energy levels and prevent fatigue and exhaustion. In a research on micro-breaks and their effect on  employee well-being and productivity, it is found that micro-breaks have a positive effect on employee well-being by enhancing vigor and reducing fatigue, but have little or no impact on performance¹.

What are Micro-breaks?

Seonghee (Sophia) Cho and Matt Shipman of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) define micro-breaks as a short break that is 5 minutes or less. Average micro-break is 24.7 second according to this research. Cho and Shipman’s research found employees who reported² to workplace in a fatigued state tended to take more micro-breaks to maintain their energy levels and accomplish the tasks in an effective manner. So, micro-breaks are great  at keeping employees engaged and energized. But, is micro-break really a “medicine” to counter workplace fatigue and workplace injuries?

Let’s find out.

In this research specifically, it is shown that micro-breaks can vastly improve performance of individuals that are engaged in creative or clerical tasks, but not much when it involves cognitive tasks. So, taking short breaks can help you to overcome physical exhaustion, but if you are tired mentally, short breaks may not be useful.

Workplace-related fatigue and anxieties are taking a toll on the body. Musculoskeletal injuries at workplace can be attributed to poor seating or standing postures, poor hydration and lack of activity levels. With the rise of automation and online activities, employees are found to be spending less on physical movements and instead, distributing this time to screen gazing and headphones. Ill-effects of such a workplace could lead to watery eyes, ringing ear, tingling on fingers, tennis elbow, arthritis and foot pain. Micro-breaks can come as a rescue in preventing these at workplace.

Why take short breaks?

Everyone needs a breather. Lack of breaks could cause burnout and result in disturbed organizational climate. These could result in interpersonal conflicts.³ The duration of break may vary from person to person, and the kind of activities they undertake during the office hours. Personal fitness levels, mental strength, access to automation, and job functions influence how much fatigue an employee feels at office, and how they cope with the exhaustion.

Why managers should encourage micro-breaks?

Frequent micro-breaks is a culture thing. While energy levels keep fluctuation throughout office hours, people who take short breaks are able to maintain their effectiveness and performance throughout the day. These improve decision-making and reduce mistakes at workplace.

Here’s what a micro-break session could look like:

Squeeze balls: Squeeze balls are popular stress-busters. Employers should encourage employees to do forearm exercises by providing them with fidget spinners and finger twiddling game consoles.

Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Twitter News Feed: Social media and video content are found to be very invigorating in beating workplace exhaustion. Of course, if you are a social media manager or spend too much time already on social media or video platforms, this may not work for you.

Snack bars: Keep a snacker break every 3 hours, and to encourage healthy lifestyle among employees. Protein bars, candies, gums, and fruit salads are quick outings that everyone enjoys!
Movers n’ shakers: Yes, a quick stretching or Zumba step could be enough to break the monotony at workplace and reduce stress that comes with working long hours. Encourage people to dance their way out of stress and fatigue.

20-20-20 exercise: Sit for 20 seconds staring at an object that is 20 meters away and do this every 20 minutes. You will see a rush of energy and renewed concentration.

Drink water!

Breath, stretch and walk.

Solve a puzzle!

Power nap.

Here’s a wonderful model to organize a micro-break culture.

Source: Stanford University


HR Technology to manage micro-breaks

HR technology software can be a great help in managing micro-breaks and analyzing their impact on overall employee performance. Employee management suites that monitor tasks and digital exposure during office hours are excellent platforms to ensure micro-breaks are taken voluntarily without any kind of fear of backlash or reprimand from the management. There are many ways to fight digital fatigue, technology fatigue and workplace fatigue. Time management tools and calendars are still excellent options to streamline your breaks and ensure employees are enjoying their mini breaks away from desk or at desk.

So, how do you see micro-breaks in your organization? How many micro-breaks would you rate as “conventional” versus “over the top” in your organization?

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Automationbreaksemployee management softwareHR ManagementMental Healthmicro-breaksworkplace effectiveness
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