Turning points typically happen when you’re faced with choices and you choose the direction of greatest change. I’d spent fifteen years working with large employers, most recently as the head of Benefits and Wellness at a national bank, and experienced first-hand how valuable healthy breaks can be. The change began with a single department through the practice of regular, scheduled breaks. Employees went from stressed out and disconnected to engaged and energized. The results were so compelling that I left my job and founded a company to encourage adoption of healthy work breaks for companies of all sizes.
My interest in creating better work environments has been profoundly influenced by many thought leaders in this space. Listen to most any audio book, webinar or TED Talk on the art of happiness and productivity at work and you will hear about the importance of mindful breaks in the work day. These insights and nearly a century of scientific evidence prove that breaks disconnect and reconnect our minds for optimal creativity and effectiveness. Breaks also make us happier. Isn’t that what most companies care about for their employees? Happiness equates to engagement, and companies with higher engagement are generally 14% more financially successful than their peers.
The largest, most successful organizations have employee mindfulness programs on their radar, yet until recently it has been challenging to roll out training to thousands of people in a meaningful way. Luckily, we now have new tools like Whil in the marketplace to make it easier.
Even with the best tools, it takes leadership and practice to change employee behavior. In 2014, Staples Office surveyed more than 1,200 managers to understand this better. While 90% of managers say that breaks are important and they encourage employees to take them, nearly half of these managers (46%) don’t take breaks themselves because, “They feel guilty.”
Studies confirmed that employees are hesitant to take breaks because managers and senior leaders are not seen taking them, yet breaks are exactly what our minds and bodies need in the work day. In a society that rewards longer hours and 24/7 connectivity, breaks are generally not part of our work culture. While wellness programs have improved employee movement overall, it’s the short mental breaks that are important to us humans. As efficient as we may be, we aren’t computers.
We need to address root cause and teach people how to include breaks in the their schedules. Mounting evidence supports short breaks away from the screen or a task every 50-90 minutes. There is no substitution for taking breaks while entirely unplugged.
An effective break takes less time than you may think. You can feel stress relief and connect with your team in just 2, 5 or 10-minutes. Think about your stops and starts during the day: between meetings, at the start of one (you know, when we’re typically waiting for folks to gather) or walking to and from activities, etc.
Try one of these break ideas:
Individual - 2-5 minutes:
- Smile Project: Walk around your office or building and try to make at least 2 people smile along the way.
- Visualization: Turn away from your work and picture your favorite place to visit, take 5 deep breaths and let your breath out slowly; allow yourself to truly relax.
- Gratitude: Write a thank you note to someone who isn’t expecting it. This is also a great way to start a team meeting. Bring in a stack of thank you notes, or send them virtually. Have everyone spend the first 3-5 minutes of a meeting thanking someone who isn't expecting it.
- Mindfulness: Take a short break to practice mindfulness meditation. It’s like a reboot for the brain.
Meeting Kick-Off - 5 Minutes
- 18 or Under: At the beginning of your meeting (in person or virtual) ask each person to reveal an accomplishment they achieved before they turned 18.
- In Common: Have people sit next to someone they haven't sat with before, or someone they seldom work with. Set the timer for 3 minutes and have people write a list of things/experiences they have in common. You can give a reward for the most unique discovery.
In a world of electronic connections, we are starving for unplugged experiences. Take time in your day to influence healthy breaks and human connections. It’s a fast and simple way to improve the culture of any company.
Elizabeth is passionate about creating work cultures that support the human in human resources. She was previously VP, Health and Wellness at TD Bank, leading employee health benefits and engagement strategies in the US. She founded BreakTogether in 2016, providing tools for short mindful breaks and team interactions in any work environment. She lives in Portland, Maine and loves mountain biking, cooking, and exploring nature. Elizabeth is a guest writer for the Whil blog.