The secret to getting the best out of your breaks



Stop working and take a break – it’s dangerous and illegal if you don’t.

Too often we don’t pause through a whole day in the office, on the tools or in the shop.

Sitting at your desk for lunch might save time. But it doesn’t produce a better standard of work. Experts say that breaks are an important workplace issue.

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However, when The New Daily contacted the Business Council of Australia for comment on this topic, the answer was surprising.

BCA said it had no position on how employers should grant their workers breaks, and that it had done no “work” into the matter.

But the Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Employment Rights, Clare Ozich, stressed the importance of taking legally entitled breaks.

Ms Ozich told The New Daily she’d observed a “trend of surveillance on workers and restrictions on breaks that is disturbing”.

coffee breaks at work

A quick coffee and a chat to a colleague throughout the day can be just as good as a walk outside. Photo: Shutterstock

She added: “A key principle that underpins any decent workplace relations framework is that workers should be accorded dignity.

“Employers should be encouraged to talk with workers about the nature of the work and the breaks that will fit best.”

However some staff might forego breaks to finish earlier, so they can pick up their children, or get to sporting commitments, for example.

“We would always encourage flexibility,” Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Kate Carnell told The New Daily.

“I’ve had people working for me who have chosen to work through to finish earlier,” Ms Carnell said.

“[Breaks are] important for stress levels and mental health purposes.”

But the unions don’t think breaks should be skipped.

ACTU President Ged Kearney told The New Daily it is important employers are “ensuring workers take the breaks they are entitled to”.

Some workers might not even be aware of the breaks that they’re entitled to under their award agreements.

The government’s Fair Work Ombudsman website lists the breaks all professions are legally entitled to.

In the graphic below you’ll see the breaks office workers, waiters, ‘tradies’ and retail staff are legally allowed to take.

work breaks tnd

But what’s the best way to break?

A new study into taking “better breaks”, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, laments “surprisingly little research [that] investigates employee breaks at work”.

The study asked 95 employees to document the “characteristics of employees’ workday breaks … over five workdays”.

organise work

Taking the time to organise yourself for the day is a way to break, said the study. Photo: Shutterstock

Its results suggest workers should take more frequent but shorter breaks, and not delay having a rest until late in the afternoon.

“Breaks later in the day seem to be less effective,” it said. “Micro-breaks helped reduce fatigue and increase vitality.”

Australia would also do well to look toward Sweden.

It has legislated that workers are entitled to one five-minute break, or “fika”, every hour.

“We satisfy our caffeine craving, and we talk about everything,” Swedish office worker Lasse Tjenberg told online news service Luxemburger Word of his breaks.

“A lot [of talk] about work, but also current affairs and a bit of personal stuff too,” he said.

At his office the workers save their breaks and meet once in the morning and once in the afternoon for a coffee break and a chat.

How to take a “better break”, according to the study

• Mid-morning is the best time to take a break.

• Don’t delay having a break. As soon as you need one, take it. Saving it for later will do you more harm.

• Take frequent, shorter breaks during the day.

• What you do on your break must be something you choose to do.

• Fresh air, walks, stretching, exercise are all good.

• However, short “work-related” breaks are good too. E.g. chatting to a colleague, organising a list of tasks, planning with a colleague.


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