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