Short conversations that aren’t work-related – so-called ‘water cooler moments’ – can be a welcome break from everyday office life. Now, a new meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS One, has pulled together evidence to look at whether short microbreaks could help with workplace wellbeing.
Scientists at Romania’s West University of Timișoara (WUT) have examined data from 22 studies from the past 30 years to find out whether the type of activity a person engages in during a 10-minute microbreak can affect overall mood.
Tasks varied between the featured experiments, and included work simulations, actual work-related tasks or cognitive tests. After the tasks, the participants took a 10-minute microbreak, where they could enjoy activities like stretching, walking, watching videos, or just relaxing.
The microbreak sometimes involved activities like helping a colleague, or some other work-related task.
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The researchers discovered that, when it came to assessing whether the break had a positive or negative effect on an individual’s mood, the activity engaged in during the break was an important factor.
Participants found physical breaks to be particularly helpful. The authors noted that, “physical activities such as stretching and exercise were associated with increased positive emotions and decreased fatigue”.
But if the microbreak activity involved helping a colleague or something else work-related, it led to negative emotions, decreased wellbeing and worse sleep quality.
Overall, the data appears to support the role of microbreaks for improving the wellbeing of workers and reducing fatigue, but there was insufficient evidence to suggest that microbreaks improve job performance.
With today’s employees experiencing burnout, long hours and ever-increasing workloads, microbreaks could offer a way to improve happiness. So go on, get that kettle on!