MPs have recommended the optimal breaktime for schoolchildren – and it could make adults happier, healthier and more productive, too
Schoolchildren should have at least 75 minutes of breaktime every day, say a group of MPs. Most schools, according to a report by the all-party parliamentary group on a fit and healthy childhood, have cut lunch and breaktimes, which has a negative impact on pupils’ concentration, health and social skills. This begs a question: if children need more than an hour of downtime a day, what about us adults?
The amount of time people take as breaks during the working day seems to be going down. If we do have some time off, it is for lunch. But that is often spent eating a sandwich at our desk, catching up on work. If we are lucky, we get a “working lunch” – an unholy mashup of a meeting and a lunch hour.
But research shows that not taking time off during the day is a big mistake. People who have proper breaks are more productive, less stressed, less likely to burn out and sleep better.
Another major benefit of taking a break is that it gives staff an opportunity to build up informal social networks. One study found that employees of a bank who took breaks together tended to be more productive. Even taking a short break is good for us. An investigation of people working at computers found that taking a break of a few minutes every 20 or 40 minutes significantly reduced strains and pains in their neck and shoulders.
We are not productive for eight hours a day. A recent analysis of more than 2 million users of a task-management software found that people tend to be very productive in the morning and peak at 11am. It also noticed that productivity tapered off rapidly after about 4pm.
Breaks are a vital part of a productive working day, so maybe we should follow schoolkids and ensure we take a set amount of time off. But what is most important is that those breaks are genuine: that we either chat to colleagues or do something relaxing, such as taking a nap. If we don’t, it is likely that we will end up taking clandestine social media breaks, which do nothing to refresh and relax us.