The importance of rest breaks at work for mental health

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Health Assured team

29 July 2019

A survey of 1,700 employees conducted by the National Charity Partnership in 2016 found up to 70% spend their allocated rest periods at work at their desks.

Of this figure, 24% admitted to working during this period—the other 46% admitted to browsing the internet.

There are regulations in place that govern your employees’ rights to appropriate breaks at work. They’re entitled to three different types of rest periods, which are:

  • Rest breaks at work.
  • Daily rest.
  • Weekly rest.

As well as the morale and productivity of your workforce, the effects of regular breaks in the workplace (or the lack thereof) may also reflect in their mental health.

In this piece, we explore breaks and rest periods at work. This includes identifying the benefits they provide, as well as offering tips on how you can encourage regular breaks in your workforce.


Workplace break laws

The legislation that governs an employee’s break entitlement at work is the 1998 Working Time Regulations. That, together with their contract of employment, determines what they’re entitled to—and how long for.

In general, all employees over 18 have the right to:

  • 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any 24 hours. - Daily rest.
  • At least 20 minutes' break when they work for more than six hours (although you may allow for longer or more frequent breaks). - Rest breaks at work.
  • Not work more than 48 hours per week on average (but employees may ‘opt-out’ of this to work longer hours). - Weekly rest.
  • Limiting their normal working hours to an average of eight hours in any 24 hours (applicable to night workers).


Break times at work and mental health

It’s not uncommon for some staff members to spend their lunch breaks at their desks. While it may seem like a good idea at the time, not taking breaks at work can end up having negative effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.

The first and most common effect on your employees’ mental health is an increase in:


Benefits of regular breaks and rest periods at work

We’ve established that working through break times in the workplace can cause stress, fatigue and other issues that can affect mental health.

Taking breaks at work benefits you and your staff. By encouraging them to take regular rest periods, you’re creating better employees.

From a boost in productivity to improved mental wellbeing, it has many research-backed health, wellness and performance advantages. Other benefits include:

  • A more engaged workforce.
  • Increased productivity and performance.
  • Reduced injuries in physically demanding roles.
  • A boost in creativity.
  • Reduced presenteeism and absenteeism.
  • Improved job satisfaction.


How to encourage employees and workers to take regular breaks

The culture at some workplaces is one where staff taking their lunch breaks at work are seen as lazy or slackers, while those who stay at their desk working are more dedicated. It’s important to change this mentality.

The first step to addressing this issue is to practice what you preach. If you want your employees to take more breaks, you need to do the same. When staff members see those in management taking regular breaks throughout the day, they're encouraged to do the same.

To encourage regular breaks, consider revamping break rooms in the workplace. It’ll act as a ‘safe space’ for when employees need to take some time away from their desks.

The space should be comfortable, with appropriate furniture for relaxing and eating. If you’re so inclined, you can even add a TV and maybe a games console.

Finally, while there’s no entitlement to paid breaks in the workplace, you can choose to offer this to your employees. If you do, remember to include the terms and conditions in their employment contract.


Expert advice

If you would like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on 0844 892 2493

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