Caught in the grind: How heavy workloads are keeping employees from taking breaks
Work can be demanding, and many employees feel the pressure to keep pushing forward, even when they're in dire need of a break.
A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Waterloo and published in the Journal of Business and Psychology sheds light on this concerning trend, revealing that heavy workloads may actually discourage employees from taking breaks, despite the negative impact on their well-being and performance.
James Beck, a professor of industrial and organisational psychology at Waterloo, explains: "Our research provides a comprehensive account of the processes involved in the decision to take a break and provides insights into how employees and managers can make more effective use of breaks at work, potentially improving both well-being and performance."
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To uncover these insights, the researchers interviewed 107 employees about their reasons for taking breaks and not taking them. They also surveyed another 287 employees twice daily over five days, delving into their sleep quality, fatigue, performance concerns, workload, and the number of breaks they took each day.
The findings were revealing. Despite previous research suggesting that breaks can benefit employee well-being and performance, the study found that many employees resisted taking breaks if they felt their supervisors discouraged them in the workplace. This pressure to keep working, even when in need of a break, was attributed to the employees' desire to meet deadlines and complete tasks on time.
Vincent Phan, the first author of the study and a doctoral candidate in industrial and organisational psychology at Waterloo, notes: "Although there may be a misconception that breaks are unproductive, many employees take breaks because they are committed to staying focused and maintaining high levels of performance."
The researchers urge employers to consider the impact of heavy workloads on their employees and to address conditions that can make work unpleasant. By promoting employee well-being, they may be able to reduce the number of breaks needed, while also improving performance and overall job satisfaction.
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"We recognise that it may not always be possible for employees to take more breaks," says Dr. Phan, "but if employers can create a supportive work environment that prioritises employee well-being, it can go a long way in helping employees manage their workload and reduce stress."
As the research continues to shed light on the importance of breaks in the workplace, the hope is that employers and employees alike will prioritise self-care and recognise that taking breaks is not only acceptable but essential for maintaining productivity and well-being at work.