Updated 08 September 2015

Taking micro breaks at your desk - does it work?

Studies have found that taking micro breaks at your desk can improve your work performance, reduce your fatigue as well as reduce your aches and pain.


Does it pay to take time out during the day to rest your body and mind? And if you do, what will the impact be on your work? Most of us are nervous of slowing down in anyway.  We’re worried we’ll lose our train of thought, lose our impetus or motivation, do less work and, worst of all, get into trouble with the boss.

We feel that we’re meant to work flat out, like a train at high speed trying to get to our destination as soon as possible. We think that if we, like trains, make stops, it will slow our progress down.  But will it?

Read: Working longer hours increases stroke risk

Contrary to our fears, there are a number of studies that show that micro breaks at your desk can in fact improve your work performance, reduce your fatigue as well as reduce your aches and pain.

This is good news. It means that being human, and taking a necessary (and often well deserved) breather, can be good for us, and just as importantly, it can be good for your company and their bottom line (which, let’s be honest, is good for us too, not least since it keeps us in a job).

Now, the question remains, how many of these little breaks should we take and for how long?

Researchers agree that more needs to be done to determine the optimal micro break schedule, however, the findings of some studies suggest taking a 5-minute break every half hour or 2 x 15-minute breaks and 4 x 5-minute breaks throughout the work day.  Additionally, it was found that it was detrimental to work for 4 hours or more without a break.

The bottom line?  Take at least 4 mini breaks throughout your work day in addition to your normal lunch and tea breaks.  Get up, stretch, do a few exercises, walk around.  Give your brain and body a chance to relax and reset and then get back to work rejuvenated and watch how you amaze your colleagues with your improved vigour and concentration despite of a little time out, in fact, because of it.

Read more:

Take breaks to get up and move and lower blood sugar

Is your office chair affecting your health?

How to sit for a healthy back


1. CS Body Health

2. P., Tucker. 2003. “The impact of rest breaks upon accident, risk, fatigue and performance: a review.” Work & Stress 17 (2): 123-137.

3. Galinsky T., Swanson N., Sauter S., Dunkin R., Hurrell J. et al. 2007. “Supplementary breaks and stretching exercises for data entry operators: A follow-up field study.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 50 (7): 519-527.

4. Balci R., Aghazadeh F. 2003. “The effect of work-rest schedules and types of task on the discomfort and performances of VDT users.” Ergonomics 46 (5): 455-465.

5. Grimby-Ekman A., Andersson E.M., Hagberg M. 2009. “Analysing musculoskeletal neck pain, measured as present pain and periods of pain, with three different regression models: a cohort study.” BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 10 (73). doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-73.

6. Johnston V., Souvlis T., Jimmieson N.L., Jull G. 2007. “Associations between individual and workplace risk factors for self-reported neck pain and disability among female office workers.” Applied Ergonomics 39: 171-182.


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