Anyone who is a fan of 90’s pop culture should immediately recognize the iconic line from Friends, “We were on a break!”. Mind you, we’re not here to take sides on the age-old debate between Ross and Rachel. Rather, we want to take a “break” from a traditional mindset in the office environment: that employees are there to work from the moment they clock into the moment they clock out.
Indeed, when a small business depends on employee productivity to be profitable, it becomes easy to adopt a “you’re here to work” mentality. But let’s take a moment and look at this from a basic numbers analysis. Assume Employee A produces 100 widgets (where widgets are any form of work) in 6 hours whereas it takes Employee B 8 hours to produce the same number of widgets. Who is more productive? Obviously Employee A.
While Employee A is happier, Employee B is struggling to meet their 100 widget quota. What is the difference? It is our belief that taking breaks throughout the day allows Employee A to produce better work in a less amount of time.
Or to say it another way, employee breaks are crucial to your business.
Why employees need a break
Hourly manufacturing developed the concept of two 15 minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break for factory workers. Now, enter the 21st century where we’ve moved into more of a white collar and service economy. As many office workers move towards salary, exemptions create a dynamic where many individuals sit at a desk for 8 hours straight — often, taking their lunch at their desk because they have “too much to do.”
When the economy took a nosedive in the mid-2000s, many employees found their workload increasing as they absorbed responsibilities from laid-off workers. These individuals probably did have too much to do, but crunch time in America meant most people just accepted their new norm.
With our economic recovery in many sectors now in full swing, employees have more opportunities for mobility. An employee who is expected to sit at their desk all day without a break is a turnover waiting to happen.
Can your small business afford to lose your best talent?
How we define a break
Are we advocating the return of the two 15 minute breaks and half hour lunch? It depends on the nature of your business. Perhaps your employees need to walk away from their workspace more frequently. Larger corporations such as Google and Facebook are known for their game areas: would adding a ping pong table give your employees a chance to unwind?
We define a break as any opportunity for your employees to unplug from their responsibilities and take a breather. Did you know that Google’s Gmail service was developed because an employee was allowed to take a break from their primary job and work on a personal side project? If your business uses Google Apps for Work, its genesis can be traced back to the almighty break.
Breaks can be anything really: have you invested in sit-stand desks for your team yet? Sometimes, this change in posture is all they need to regroup their mind. More robust breaks include paid time off and sick time, perhaps even telecommuting options.
Do your employees carry a company cell phone? Are they expected to answer it at all hours of the day? Unless their personal ROI justifies it, at some point this team member might decide being connected to work all the time isn’t worth it. Develop ground rules before putting your employees on the clock 24/7.
All of this leads up to this mindset shift that takes time to implement: if employees are expected to produce, and are not bound by the clock to do so, allow them to develop their own way of working. You might find that they work best in 4-hour increments: 8 am to noon, and again later 6 pm to 10 pm.
Next, we’ll take a look at the benefits of a more open work schedule, review what the downsides are, and talk more about the mutual respect necessary for this to succeed. Check back soon for Part 2 of our series!