Taking work breaks – and why you shouldn’t feel guilty about them

Have you ever been sitting at your desk, looking at the time, thinking “it’s fine, I can just work through my lunch to get this done”?  Me too, and these are the reasons why I’m going change that habit.

A habit is indeed what it is.  There are occasions when a rumbly tummy and a tight deadline necessitate working through lunch, but for your own wellbeing and for your productivity, please keep it as an occasional activity.

You only have a small window throughout the day to let your mind rest.

Irrespective of what you do professionally, your brain is on hyperdrive all day, so make sure you give it a rest. You wouldn’t spend 8 hours in the gym pushing your body non-stop, you would stop, let your muscles rest, drink plenty of water and eat properly. It is important to view your breaks the same way…they are sustenance for your brain.

In truth, we spend more time working than we do at leisure, so treat your leisure time as precious. You need to rest, relax, let your mind wander, these things inspire creativity and help personal wellbeing.

It is NOT good for your productivity.

If you’re working through your lunch break because you want to be more productive – chances are you’re doing the complete opposite. There are a wealth of studies to support this.  Caffeine is not an alternative to rest (trust me, I know this from first-hand experience).  Breaks, particularly lunch, are an important part of recharging your energy levels.  I was in Paris recently and was stunned to find out that the law firm I was working with, take two-hour lunch breaks, WITH WINE, and when I asked if they found that counterproductive, the firms’ partners laughed and said that is when the team sat together in a relaxed fashion and chatted, which lead to some of their best ideas.

The firm encouraged proper lunch breaks as it meant that the lawyers were more productive and were happier in their work.

The world will not fall off its axis if you get some fresh air and a bit of Vitamin D

I don’t want to diminish anyone’s feelings of importance, but if you are not operating on someone, it’s going to be ok if you walk away from what you are doing for a bit. Not taking breaks leads to a lack of motivation, focus, energy and enthusiasm.  We are all programmed to believe that we have to be at our desks from 9:00 – 5:30, but what happens if you start at 8:30 and take your dog for a longer lunch time walk?  I regularly do just that and I come back feeling altogether better about my afternoon. 

Not an outdoors person?  No problem, as a recent BBC article points out, Sweden makes it mandatory to stop working and come together for Fika (where they come together for coffee, cake and a chat).  Even IKEA recommend stopping for Fika several times a day as they say the best ideas and decisions come out of that time.   If it works in Sweden, there is every chance it can work here, so start the trend by flexing your home baking muscles and bring in the cake.

Whether you have an informal work gathering, or take Rover for a walk, you will feel happier and more refreshed if you aren’t chained to a desk. 

Taking breaks is not a sign of laziness!

Taking breaks does not mean that you don’t love your job or that you aren’t a hard worker, it just means that you also value yourself as a person and want your employers to value you as well.  Staff retention rates go up considerably when workers feel valued and that attitude needs to start with you.  We are allowed to have evenings and weekends off in fact, we need them.  I cannot tell you how many candidates tell me they want to leave their jobs because their job feels like a relentless assault, so put some healthy boundaries in for yourself and stick to them, if you do, your employers are likely to follow.  If not, then it’s time to move on to something better.  If you feel you aren’t being valued and you want a better work/life balance, please contact me to review your career options.

If you would like to explore your career possibilities, please contact Jennifer on 0330 052 6362/07897 074 892 or jwellspeak@talislegalrecruitment.com

Jennifer Wellspeak has an extensive background in legal recruitment dating back to 2003, during which time she has held roles in both agency and in-house legal recruitment, with a focus on the London market.


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