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Researchers look at why some workers won’t take breaks

Photo: PeopleImages/iStockphoto

Waterloo, Ontario — For some workers, the push to maintain a high level of performance or focus takes precedence over taking a break.

That’s a finding of a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo, who surveyed 107 workers to learn why they did and didn’t take breaks over a one-week period. They surveyed another 287 workers twice a day throughout the workweek to gauge sleep quality, fatigue, performance, workload and the number of breaks they take each day.

The top reason cited for not taking a break was job demands, which included a perceived lack of time. That was followed by “momentum” – the thought that a break would disrupt a task or a train of thought – and the desire to finish work quickly or meet a deadline.

The researchers also found that workers may resist taking breaks if they feel supervisors discourage breaks. Although there may be a misconception that breaks are unproductive, study co-author Vincent Phan notes in a press release, many employees take breaks because they’re committed to staying focused and maintaining high levels of performance.

“We recognize that it may not always be possible for employees to take more breaks, but if employers can promote employee well-being by addressing the conditions that can make work unpleasant, they may be able to reduce the number of breaks needed,” said Phan, a doctoral candidate in industrial and organizational psychology at Waterloo.

The study was published online in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

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