The Secret to Office Productivity- Group Breaks Promote Employee Wellness

Posted by on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 with 2 Comments

Looking to improve productivity in the workplace? You might want to start by examining your employees’ coffee and lunch break habits — and encourage them to take more!

A growing body of research shows that taking breaks, especially in groups, can lead to higher overall productivity in the workplace. It may seem counterintuitive, but then again, productivity isn’t a cut-and-dried equation in most offices. Attention, focus, creativity — these very human, very complex factors are what can make the difference between a productive employee and a sluggish one. And behavioral scientists are suggesting (quite strongly) that regular breaks and social interaction can have a direct impact on how effectively employees can concentrate and work productively in today’s office settings.

Coworkers eating sushi together

Employees who take breaks together tend to be more productive. Image source: flickr user seanhagen

Considering other recent surveys indicating American workers aren’t even taking real lunch breaks anymore, employers might want to pay attention to the research suggesting these workaholic habits are actually counterproductive.

For instance, in February of 2011, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign did a lab study where people worked on a repetitive computer task for nearly an hour. Different groups were provided with different levels of diversions during their work session — including one group who received no kind of break from the assigned task whatsoever. The group that experienced two brief diversions from their repetitive task, however, performed much better on their task at hand than those that merely kept their nose to the grindstone.

coworkers talking during meeting break

Taking a real break from the workday can enhance focus and attention. Image source: flickr user LetIdeasCompete

The study’s lead author, psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, ascribes the result to the tendency of our brains to “tune out” constant stimulus — much like we don’t even notice the sensation of clothing touching our skin because we become so accustomed to it. When it comes to attention, Lleras tells Science Daily, “We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused… brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”

Even more useful than simply taking a mental break? Chatting with a coworker while you do it. In 2012, business consultant Alex “Sandy” Pentland — an MIT professor known for creative data science — used theories of social interaction to help a major banking call center significantly improve their productivity.

Coworkers eating lunch together

Research suggests that group breaks boost productivity, and serving meals can help maintain energy levels and employee satisfaction. Image source: flickr user Chris Blakely

Pentland chronicled his research in The Harvard Business Review, describing how call center employees wore badges that tracked their movements and conversations to determine how they communicated with their team members. Pentland observed that “the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings.” This led him to suggest scheduling team members for coffee breaks at the same time: “That would allow people more time to socialize with their teammates, away from their workstations.”

The result? The lowest-performing teams increased their measurable productivity levels by 20% — and employee satisfaction saw a significant increase as well.

What does this mean for the average office? It suggests that employers should make a real effort to create a company culture where breaks are a valued, integral part of the day, and not a sign of slacking off. Make breaks a priority by scheduling regular staff lunches, so that team members can experience the kind of engagement and energy that only comes from leaving the desk or conference table behind, while forming the social bonds key to job satisfaction. As an added bonus, your employees will also benefit from the boost in energy levels and mental focus gained from eating wholesome meals, as opposed to sugary snacks from the vending machine.

The research doesn’t lie: for a more productive office, make time for employee breaks. And when it comes to providing office lunches or snacks for group breaks, there’s no more efficient method than the Virtual Cafeteria Service or prompt delivery found at

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2 responses to “The Secret to Office Productivity- Group Breaks Promote Employee Wellness”

  1. […] this gives me direction as to what information I need to specifically absorb to improve, such as encouraging breaks by doing it in groups, or closing email for periods of time to stop multi-tasking. These are things I can always improve […]