And stay­ing shiny

A qual­ity break from the grind will boost your per­for­mance at work, writes Ben Pike

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RE­TURN­ING from a qual­ity break can im­prove your per­for­mance at work by up to 40 per cent, ac­cord­ing to an ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert.

And far from be­ing a bludge­fest, short breaks taken by read­ing the news­pa­per or in­ter­act­ing on so­cial me­dia can ac­tu­ally im­prove a per­son’s per­for­mance by up to 9 per cent.

The fig­ures fly in the face of tra­di­tional think­ing that a lunch hour is the only time to re­lax dur­ing the work­day.

They are a wel­come respite given that Aus­tralians work an av­er­age of 44 hours a week, the long­est in the Western world.

Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney se­nior ed­u­ca­tion lec­turer Dr Tony Hol­land says peo­ple need to re­alise that hu­mans are hard-wired to lose con­cen­tra­tion and re­quire time to re­fresh.

‘‘ Most peo­ple work in jobs that re­quire a lot of men­tal ex­er­tion and the av­er­age per­son’s con­cen­tra­tion span is about 20 to 40 min­utes,’’ he says. ‘‘ Peo­ple can be sit­ting in front of a screen for two to three hours and not be pro­duc­tive. There’s a rea­son why school pe­ri­ods are only 40 min­utes long.

‘‘ Tak­ing in some ex­er­cise is the best way to take a break. An en­gaged worker can be 30 to 40 per cent more pro­duc­tive af­ter com­ing back from a qual­ity break.’’

Hol­land says talk­ing to a col­league for a few min­utes, hav­ing a cof­fee, or sim­ply go­ing for a walk around the block or up and down stairs are good ways to im­prove per­for­mance.

‘‘ Of course ev­ery­one needs a lunch break, but for those short breaks it’s best to keep them to no more than 10 to 15 min­utes,’’ he says.

‘‘ Af­ter that time you lose your train of thought.’’

Melbourne Univer­sity mar­ket­ing and man­age­ment lec­turer Brent Coker found in a 2009 study that if em­ploy­ees spent less than 20 per cent of their day surf­ing the in­ter­net for fun, they ended up be­ing about 9 per cent more pro­duc­tive. But he says em­ploy­ees neg­a­tive per­cep­tions about tak­ing work breaks are best dealt with by be­ing up front with your boss, Max­imus In­ter­na­tional man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Vanessa Ga­van (pic­tured) says.

“It’s about mak­ing your out­comes vis­i­ble to em­ploy­ers and en­sur­ing that they know it is all about what you pro­duce, not the in­puts,’’ she says.

“If you’ve made your out­comes clear and have shown them that you are per­form­ing, then you tak­ing small breaks won’t mat­ter as much.

“The re­la­tion­ships with your fel­low col­leagues are just as im­por­tant as with your man­ager so it’s need to be care­ful not to take it too far.

Speak­ing dur­ing a video in­ter­view with Melbourne Univer­sity, he says: ‘‘ What we found is that em­ploy­ees who surf the in­ter­net for fun were about 9 per cent more pro­duc­tive than those who didn’t or couldn’t. We found that (us­ing) more than 15 to 20 per cent of time spent at work surf­ing the net had a neg­a­tive im­pact on pro­duc­tiv­ity. Those who were surf­ing ex­ces­sively were pretty poor work­ers.

‘‘ Not all breaks are cre­ated equal. Walk­ing through the for­est, for ex­am­ple, is known to re­store peo­ple’s con­cen­tra­tion much faster and to a higher de­gree than sit­ting in the lunch­room.

‘‘ Surf­ing the in­ter­net is an en­joy­able ac­tiv­ity that en­ables em­ploy­ees to re­store their con­cen­tra­tion.’’ vi­tal that those is­sues are ad­dressed with them as well.

“Put your­self in the shoes of the em­ploy­ees you are work­ing with.

“The bot­tom line is that em­ploy­ees need to look af­ter them­selves both men­tally and phys­i­cally.’’

The study sur­veyed 300 work­ers. It found the most pop­u­lar forms of on­line ac­tiv­i­ties (in de­scend­ing or­der) were search­ing for prod­ucts and prod­uct in­for­ma­tion, news web­sites, so­cial net­work­ing such as Face­book and Twit­ter, on­line games, and video stream­ing site Youtube.

‘‘ The key is short, sharp breaks at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals through­out the day,’’ he says.

The Syd­ney Har­bour Fore­shore Au­thor­ity has man­aged to turn what was a prac­ti­cal way to trans­port its staff be­tween the fore­shore au­thor­ity’s of­fices into a novel way of en­sur­ing staff get the kind of qual­ity breaks needed. The gov­ern­ment em­ployer bought bi­cy­cles for staff to travel be­tween of­fices. But be­cause of the ben­e­fits, it now of­fers the bikes to all staff.

It also has ne­go­ti­ated a cor­po­rate rate with nearby gyms to keep staff ac­tive.

The au­thor­ity’s em­ploy­ment man­ager He­len Gors says since in­tro­duc­ing the pro­gram in 2006, more than 60 per cent of 200 full-time staff have been in­volved in its Healthy Life­style Pro­gram.

‘‘ We wanted to be an em­ployer of choice, be a happy and healthy work­place,’’ she says.

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