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The Necessity of Breaks in Work to Enhance Productivity

By Ritu Pandya

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of an endless series of checks that plague today’s workforce as it crawls through the day, putting a tick or a ‘later’ tag on the numerous things piling up. These are the symptoms of an entire generation of professionals who seem to have mastered, amongst other intoxications, the drug of work holism as well.

Workaholic: A Celebrated Tag in the 21st Century

“If you are cursed with an unconquerable craving for work and a reformed worker will aid you back to happy idleness”. This punning allusion to Alcoholic Anonymous appearing in the Toronto Daily Star issue of 5th April 1947 is the first known public appearance of the word 'workaholic'. Though a happy idea, the chances of a ‘reformed worker’ guiding us to happy hours of doing nothing seems very slim today, while the number of work-cravers seems continuously on the rise. The world over, a culture of putting in extra hours today for a relaxed tomorrow has resulted in generations of overworked, overstressed and unhealthy people.

Work today involves more use of one’s grey matter than physical exertion. As such, while it may seem that it is less tiring to sit in a fabulous office and tap away at a machine, the reality is almost the opposite. A new study in proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has observed that the brain, tiny little master room which takes up only 2 percent of our total body mass, consumes more than 20 percent of our total calorie in-take. It also states that a third of this portion is reserved for what researchers call ‘housekeeping’ or cellular health maintenance.

A Break before the Breakdown

It has been observed that many organisations fail to understand the need to have small power breaks, despite of the initial promises and commitment. Management fails to adopt such practices at the workplace.

It has often been observed that many professionals and companies make the same mistakes repeatedly. After demonstrating an initial promise, everything seems to be working the same as before. The productivity just remains frigid, at times even spiralling downwards. What seems to be the problem?

Losing one’s objectivity, as we enter into that ‘spaced-out’ work zone, we develop a routine or a habit of working at a specific rhythm and repeating the same things and mistakes. This is when we need to step back and look at things from the ‘outside-in’ perspective. This is where the necessity of taking active breaks from work comes into place.

An analytical frame of mind helps to find out the most efficient and effective way of doing a task. This skill tends to suffer when we are glued to our workstations for long hours at a stretch. Apart from the obvious ill-effects on health, this practice negates purpose of doing the work – efficiently and effectively.

Little practices go a long way in rejuvenating our ‘work-spirit.’ Having walks over meetings or taking a healthy break such as a round of table tennis with the boss can have a way healthier impact on one’s mind and body than eating junk at a neighbouring restaurant. The propensity to take healthier work breaks has to be encouraged at the workplace. Incorporating these elements in a ‘work style’ helps in keeping the bug of corporate boredom at bay by keeping things fresh, light and reinvigorating.

Conscious effort needs to be made towards doing stuff that really is ‘NOT WORK’ while taking a break. Finishing a little conversation which you had postponed till after-lunch during a supposed ‘break’ completely kills the purpose. Catching up on family, planning that long-awaited gathering of friends, or just looking out the window into the distant sky however, completely qualify.

Switching 'Off' Time to get Un-connected

Being completely surrounded by devices 24X7 has not really helped our cause at ‘reworking’ ourselves. Yes, workaholics existed even half a century earlier. Men carried physical documents back home with them. However, the problem is magnified today because our work is on devices that are with us when we sleep, are having dinner with our families, are out on a date and even when we are in the bathroom! The omnipresence of our mobile phones, laptops, tablets depletes our energy storage without us even realising it. Continuous distractions have limited our ability to carry out in-depth analysis of issues that may be bothering us. This leads to short-term, half-baked methods of operations that create more problems than solutions.

The New-age Entrepreneurial Dilemma

Entrepreneurs often tend to think the success of any organisation depends on how much labour the head of the organisation is putting in. This sparks off a dangerous chain reaction – while entrepreneurs keep on working to establish a work culture, the employees have no other option rather than adhering to the commands of the managers. The result is a vicious cycle of work that affects the overall health of the workforce.

It also has adverse impacts on the work structure of the organisation. Entrepreneurs believe in doing everything on their own. Consequently, management becomes heavily-dependent on the head for even menial decisions. The leaders are then stuck with doing routine, checklist things rather than innovating or focussing on strategic decisions that will lead to growth.

It is necessary for foreman to understand that they stand out because they have the vision that others don’t. Their perspective is different from others. A culture of free-thinking, and free living employees needs to be generated, that can focus on doing a job. They need to be told that completing a task quickly and efficiently is important. The number of hours they spend in their seats isn’t going to get them their next big pay hike!

HR also needs to play an active role in encouraging employees to opt for healthier options during breaks. Small yet significant changes such as replacing coffee-vending machines with a juice bar or switching those dreaded Dalda-heavy biscuits with protein bars go a long way in developing a healthier workforce. Furthermore, lunch buffets could include more salads, fresh veggies and super foods. They will not just be a welcome change from greasy curries but will also lead to a fitter and less lethargic workforce. Employees might also appreciate these changes so significantly that they are more likely to adapt them into their personal lives as well.

Such small changes at the workplace also send out the right signals that bosses don’t intend their staff to be mere work horses. It puts forth a clear message that healthy breaks make for a smarter, more motivated and more energised workforce.


An ideal scenario is one where we would not have to distinguish between the two, as both of these entities need to be mutually exclusive. A work atmosphere that provides and promotes an environment for the holistic development of an individual, giving fire to their latent talents while not compromising on productivity, should be on the top of any ‘to-achieve goals’ of an organisation. In this way, we can steadily reduce the amount of stress disorders, nervous breakdowns and depression cases on the rise. With an increase in the popularity of healthier alternatives at work, we might just see a ping-pong paddle or a hack-sack making its way into that dreaded checklist of the new-age professional. Fingers crossed! So, HR should practice such kinds of change to increase productivity. Ultimately, it is still only in the hands of top management but HR can take it forward considering human factors.


The Writer is HR Head, RAW Pressery




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