How (and Why) You Should Take a Break at Work

Yet another excuse to grab a cup of coffee.

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Photo by MarcusPhoto1/Getty Images

Given that Americans spend more than one-third of their days working, it's no wonder employees end up feeling stressed, burnt out, and exhausted. Science has a solution: get up and take a break. Just make sure it’s the right kind of break—the type that leaves you feeling energized and focused. Researchers from Baylor University explain exactly what you should do when you tell your boss you need to “take five.”

The researchers surveyed 95 employees between the ages of 22 and 67 over the course of a five-day workweek, and asked them to record the breaks they took during the day. These breaks could be formal (like a lunch) or informal (like a coffee run or email catch-up), and essentially covered any activity that was not work-related (not including bathroom breaks). Each person averaged two breaks per day, and from the 959 breaks recorded, scientists were able to figure out several key factors that make a successful workday break. The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology,

First, the best time to press pause is mid-morning. "When more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break," reads the study. The best breaks involved activities that employees enjoyed—the catch is, those tasks could also be somewhat work-related. The only requirement is that you derive pleasure from the task.

Additionally, while you may find a two-hour break enticing, scientists found that short, frequent breaks were most beneficial—although they didn't pinpoint an exact length of time.

"Unlike your cell phone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day," lead author Emily Hunter, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Successful work breaks resulted in better health and higher job satisfaction for employees—“successful” being defined as earlier in the day, and by doing something enjoyable. Scientists saw those people had fewer symptoms of headache, eyestrain, or lower back pain following the break. There was also a decrease in burnout.

Feeling better after that quick coffee break? Here are three more easy workspace tweaks that will improve your health and your mood.