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Take a Break! Tips for Taking a Better Work Break

April 18, 2017

Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu, associate professors of Management, collaborated to investigate the best way to take a break at work.

Hunter has conducted past research regarding counterproductive behavior at work or how employees break workplace rules like taking too many breaks, while Wu has past experience researching employee wellness, so the two came together to explore break-taking behaviors.

"Our goal was to figure out what makes the best break at work and give prescriptive suggestions for real workers in real environments," said Hunter. The duo tracked 95 Baylor University workers for five workdays. The participants were asked to complete a short survey after each time they took a break, which gave the two researchers very rich data and insight that was expressive of how the participants were feeling after a break.

Their study, "Give Me a Better Break: Choosing Workday Break Activities to Maximize Resource Recovery," was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and explored many break-taking factors, some of which worked and some didn't.

Overall, they found three main findings. First, workers should take a midmorning break because it is easier to relish energy in the morning hours, so rather than waiting until the late afternoon, take a midmorning coffee break. Second, workers should do something they enjoy and prefer during the break, rather than having a manager choose a break activity for them. Third, the team confirmed that breaks are helpful in terms of increasing energy, concentration, motivation and also decreasing illness symptoms.

According to Hunter and Wu, there is surprisingly little research surrounding effective break-taking, specifically in management literature.

Wu was intrigued some of their findings ran counter to conventional break-taking suggestions. For example, "Some say, 'Go out and take a walk,' or 'Get outside during your break...' but we did not find [evidence] to support that these activities are effective for replenishing resources," said Wu.

From a management perspective, Hunter and Wu hope managers will be supportive of their employees' break-taking times. That way, after their breaks, employees will be more "refreshed and energized" when they return to their work duties.

Their research has had a large amount of media coverage and has been featured by USA Today, Dr. Oz The Good Life, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Fast Company and New York Daily News.

"It has been very exciting for us," said Hunter. "Just to have public interest in our research and have the word spread, so that maybe we can have an impact on real employees."

"Our research has also been picked up by many different occupational groups, which is exciting," added Wu. Media outlets in countries like India, Canada and Switzerland have picked up their research, so the "global interest" is something for which they are both very proud.

Since their research has generated so much interest, they hope to continue to investigate better workplace habits with further research that builds on their findings. Next, they plan to explore how break time spent interacting with family or performing family duties have an effect on work results.

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