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Why Your Employees Are Scared to Take a Break

It may sound counterintuitive to some, but a new study says you should actually be encouraging your team to take more breaks.
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Ask psychologists, management professors, and a whole host of other experts, and they’ll all agree-- breaks aren’t for the lazy. Taking regular pauses is actually essential for maximizing your productivity. That’s just how the human brain works.

But according to a new survey from Staples, it seems your employees probably haven’t really gotten that memo.

Chained to Our Desks?

When the office-supply company spoke to more than 200 office workers, it found that managers and frontline employees alike acknowledged breaks were important--90 percent of bosses claim to encourage breaks, and 86 percent of employees agree that taking breaks makes them more productive. But it turns out that what employees say they should do and what they actually do often don't line up.

More than a quarter of employees polled owned up to never leaving their desk besides for lunch. What effects are all that sitting having on workers? Predictable ones--41 percent of employees surveyed said they feel burned out.

That burnout is bad for both employers and employees, and it appears that management may bear much of the responsibility for this shocking lack of breaks. More than half of those Staples spoke to (55 percent) said they don’t feel they can leave their desk to take a break, while 1 in 5 employees blamed guilt for their failure to step away from their desks. In everyday words, that means that tons of employees are too scared of their boss’s disapproval or judgment to take the vital step of refreshing their brains.

An Incredibly Simple Solution

Staples self-interestedly advises bosses to address the problem with a well-stocked break room, which certainly can’t hurt no matter which brand of office furniture you use to decorate it, but there’s an even simpler takeaway--just tell your people it’s OK to take a break. This may sound to some like telling monkeys it’s OK to swing from trees, but the survey shows your employees are probably less likely to take a few minutes away from their desks than you think they are.

Give them a little nudge, and both happiness and productivity may improve.

Are you unwittingly burning out your employees by scaring them away from breaks?



IMAGE: Complot/Shutterstock
Last updated: May 22, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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