How many breaks is acceptable at work?

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

Coffee breaks; smoke breaks; bathroom breaks… how many are acceptable in a working day?

If you’re asking this question, then you are either a) feeling that you deserve more than you currently take, or b) feeling that you might be taking too many and that you could be disciplined for it.

We need to take breaks

Breaks are important. They give us time to rest weary muscles, take a leak, recharge the brain. They also stop us from getting bored and fatigued by repetitive tasks (this is something that I personally suffer from very badly!)

A break also helps our memories store information. Our brains sort and shift data when we are not concentrating on a task. A break helps solve problems that feel insurmountable when we are tackling them with effort.

A break also helps us avoid accidents and injuries. Physical tiredness leads to mistakes and potentially dangerous situations.

So how many breaks are acceptable?

Short Answer: Depends.

Long Answer: It depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • The kind of work you do – heavy manual labor demands more breaks than lighter work
  • The policy of your employer – employers vary their policies on breaks; check out what your employer allows. Try searching your Intranet, or ask HR.
  • The laws in your state/country – the law in your place of work may demand that employers HAVE to offer their employees periodic breaks – the frequency and duration. Some countries are less generous than others. For example, in the USA at a federal level, employers are NOT required to provide breaks to their employees. However, under California law, if you are a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to meal and rest breaks; a meal break of 30-minutes if you work more than 5 hours in a workday, and a further 10 minutes breaks for every 4 hours you work. In the UK, the law is more generous: workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, only if they work more than 6 hours a day.
  • The generosity of your boss – it’s true that in most cases, the frequency and duration of breaks taken isn’t governed by law or policy, but instead what is acceptable and tolerated by your boss. Some bosses are entirely easy about their employees taking breaks whenever they want.

Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks

One reason you might be questioning your break-taking is because you feel guilty. Your colleagues are slaving away, whilst you sit with your feet up… This is the wrong thinking. As explained above, breaks are important – in fact essential. A break makes us more efficient, and increases our productivity. So if your colleagues choose to slave on whilst you take a breather, more the pity on them!

If your breaks don’t feel right, or fair, then ask for clarity

If something doesn’t feel right about your situation and the breaks you take, then ask your boss for their opinion. You might be feeling that your boss thinks you take too many; perhaps you’re right, or perhaps it’s just paranoia. Best to ask. Clear the air on your breaks, and you will find that when you do take them, you enjoy them all the more.

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