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Give Employees a Break and Watch What Happens

Give Employees a Break and Watch What Happens

Work breaks serve an important purpose during the work shift. They are needed by every person, no matter their seniority, to achieve optimal performance and complete the day’s tasks. But do employees really have to take breaks?

What to Know About Work Breaks Facts

U.S. federal law notes that employers do not have to give short breaks. These are categorized as breaks in the work day usually lasting between five to 20 minutes. Employers can permit these breaks and they are compensated breaks. The key to compensation is clear communication about how long a short break can be. When an employee goes over that time period, it is the employer’s decision to punish the employee or deduct that over-lapsed time from their pay.

Federal law does not require staff to take lunch breaks either. A typical lunch or meal break lasts at least 30 minutes. These serve a different purpose than short work breaks, and, therefore, are not compensable time.

Employer Benefits of Staff Taking a Short Work Break

Employers who allow short work breaks gain more than they lose when employees can take a brief respite from their work.

Employees generally gain better health, mood and longer stamina during their shift. Below are some positive pluses of stepping away from work for a short rest:

  • More stamina throughout the shift.
  • Relieve and release stress.
  • Relax sore, stiff muscles and ease joint ache from sitting all day.
  • Relieve eye strain.
  • Free the mind and permit more creative thinking and solution finding.
  • Productivity is boosted and work is completed.
  • More satisfaction in the job overall.
  • Stronger feelings of loyalty to the job and the employer.

What Happens When Employees Don’t Take Work Breaks?

There are always a few people in the office who proudly state they don’t need to take a break. There is always a reason why they feel this way: they have so much work to get done there is no time for a five minute break, they simply don’t need a break, they are super focused and a break would be too distracting, and so on. These “super employees” are not all that healthy and probably taking medication for high blood pressure, migraines, diabetes, and could have bones joint issues later on. Thus, they could take more sick time off or raise health insurance rates for the business or company.

Other risks if employees do not take a short break, at least once a day, are stressed out staffers who are unable to focus on tasks clearly, crankiness toward colleagues and supervisors, lack of trust among peers and managers, fatigue which slows work down, eye strain which can cause typos and other errors, and depression which has been proven to affect productivity.

Full-Time Versus Part-Time Breaks

Generally, work hours for a full-time employee are 40 hours per week, with some people working more than that. Many U.S. states have now set standard part-time hours per week at 28. This means that employers may not permit short breaks for the part-time employee. Full-time staff is usually allowed two short breaks per work day, not including a meal break.

Does this mean that if a part-time employee needs a short break they can’t take one?
Not really. Short breaks can be as easy to take as standing up at the workstation, stretching, rolling their head to ease stiffness, or closing their eyes for a few minutes to ease eye strain. Or, they can fill up their coffee cup, buy a soda or snack from a vending machine, or get a drink of water.

But what if someone needs to use the rest room and is in there longer than five minutes?
Legally, what one does in the rest room is private business. If a part-time employee is in the bathroom for 15 minutes, for example, it is the employer’s decision what to do. Should they knock on the door and ask “what are you doing in there that’s taking so long?” That’s probably not a good idea. A little slack is a good thing for everyone. It takes some people more time in the rest room than others. But do say something if the long rest room breaks become a habit.

Do Employees Have to Take Breaks?

That’s a good question. No, they do not have to take a break. But it is always better let staff know that they can and should take a short break and to tell their supervisors beforehand. In fact, it would be a great idea for managers to schedule breaks for their employees. Here is an idea that was once relayed to an office full of stressed-out employees: get in your vehicle, turn it on and crank up the volume to favorite music and sing as loud as you can. Instant mood lifter and stress buster.

Breaks are beneficial to everyone. Even you, boss. Your break is over now.