March 3, 2021

Contributing author

Breaks matter: The simplest productivity tool

Recently, the French government changed their rules to allow workers to eat lunch at their desks in a reversal that’s left many French people upset, and workers elsewhere confused – why wouldn’t this be allowed? But when you dig into the psychology behind the matter, you’ll discover that there’s more to this issue than first meets the eye.

New French Rule Causes a Stir

To Americans on the outside looking in, French business culture has always been a tad peculiar. In many regards, it’s much more relaxed and less rigid. While hard work is appreciated, busy work for the sake of “putting in the time” is not something that’s valued or lauded.

Traditionally, one of the more unique aspects of French business culture has been the longstanding prohibition on eating lunch at your desk. The lunch break, known as the “la pause déjeuner,” has been sacrosanct in France. Until recently, French labor code actually forbade employers from letting their workers have meals inside the workplace. Instead, French workers are encouraged to enjoy slow-paced meals with coworkers and friends at nearby bistros.

In a decision that’s ruffled some feathers in France, the French government just issued a decree that suspends this longstanding prohibition in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The idea is that this will cut down on the number of people frequenting bistros and make it easier for workers to isolate.

“The temporary rule applies to offices with more than 50 employees and where the layout of the cafeteria does not allow for social distancing,” CNN reports. “People must be at least one meter apart when not wearing a face mask.”

Many are pushing back on this new rule, anticipating that it’ll have much more far-reaching effects. Some even believe this paves the way for new expectations of lunch hours moving forward. Some employees will use this as an opportunity to work more, which could put pressure on other employees to do the same – zapping any chance of enjoying a meaningful break during the workday.

Breaks, Balance, and Productivity

The new French ruling regarding desk lunches brings an interesting issue to light – one that American employers and professionals would be wise to consider moving forward. We’re talking about the importance of breaks and how, contrary to popular belief, they actually improve productivity.

Research shows that taking breaks at work actually increases productivity by giving the mind and body time to recharge. More specifically, benefits include:

• Lower rates of accidents and injuries in the workplace

• Significantly higher employee productivity

• Improved posture

• Higher employee morale

“Taking breaks at work does increase productivity, even if machines and computers are idle for a few minutes,” mentions. “The short time away gives employees the chance to stretch tired muscles, find relief from sustained positions and postures and retain any information they might have learned in the last hour or so.”

Breaks provide much-needed separation from work and personal time. Whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, this time spent away from work is invaluable. It resets the brain, reduces stress, and allows workers to return with a recharged mind that can focus.

To enjoy an effective break, it’s important that you physically remove yourself from your normal workspace and shift gears. It’s highly recommended that you do something other than scroll through your phone. Options include:

• Going for a walk

• Practicing meditation or deep breathing

• Enjoy a healthy snack

• Daydreaming

• Journaling

• Listening to music or a podcast

• Playing with your pet

There have been countless studies on ideal break times and how to balance work with breaks. One common option is to take a 15-minute break after 90 minutes of work. This seems to be a very reasonable setup, as 15 minutes is enough time to reset the brain.

Rethinking Productivity in the Workplace

As Americans, we often believe that more is better (in all areas of life). But perhaps we could learn a thing for two from our French counterparts and learn to prioritize breaks and work-life separation. In doing so, we may just discover the solution to greater productivity and higher job satisfaction.