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Why We Workation: How to Take Productive Breaks

David Cheng Former Head of Content, Gusto 
Why We Workation: How to Take Productive Breaks

Gusto is currently on workation right now in Truckee, California. What is workation? Think of it as a combination work retreat, hackathon, and vacation. The entire company breaks up into cross-functional groups to work on mini projects, and then we have a demo day at the end of the week to showcase our results.

Taking a break from the office is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. It’s also a good team bonding experience. During workation, we take team hikes, cook each other breakfast, and play board games. At Gusto, we strongly believe in the adage: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Workation is a great example of taking a productive break. Taking a break isn’t just good business practice. While there isn’t a federal law for mandated break time, most states require some form of meal or break time, paid or unpaid. For example, in California, you’re allowed 30 minutes of paid break time if you work more than six hours. Check your local state departments of labor to find out what your state requires.

After all, break time is important for both you and your employees! But if you look at the data, it turns out that more and more people are taking fewer breaks. For example, a study by office furniture provider Steelcase found that 55% percent of workers take half an hour or less for lunch. When you’re rushing through your day without breaks, it can take a toll on your productivity.

So, when can breaks be productive? There a few things we found in our research that not only gives employees the much needed time away from the desk, but it also makes them more productive when they get back on task. The first is to take a break for exercise. A University of Georgia study found that cohorts of people with low to moderate exercise intensity reported far greater energy levels than the cohort with no exercise.

There is, of course, a physiological reason for this. Physical exercise stimulates your body, which makes you more energized. In the context of a work environment, an exercise break may be just what you need to get more productivity out of your workforce. It’s also a nice perk to have as well. Many companies, from Google to 3M to Chesapeake Energy provide health and wellness programs for their employees.

Another productive break, surprisingly, is napping. Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, believes that “If we want people to be more creative we need people to be able to do less. Companies should allow naps in the afternoon. They should get rid of the habit of clocking in and clocking out.”

Sleeping isn’t just for resting; it’s also great for productivity. NASA found by mandating trans-Pacific pilots 40 minutes of nap time, they slept for an average of 26 minutes, which led to 34% improved performance and 54% improved alertness. Increased productivity is why you’re seeing more and more companies encourage napping in the work place. In a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, they found that 6% of workplaces had nap rooms. The National Sleep Foundation saw similar results. When they asked 1,500 adults, they uncovered that 34% of respondents said their employers allow them to nap at work, and 16% said their employers also have designated napping areas. Companies like Google, AOL, and Zappos all have designated nap rooms or nap pods to encourage that 15 or 45-minute work nap.

While it may seem counterproductive, a little break (even if it’s a nap) can yield better employee performance. Which brings us back to workations. Any company can take a workation, even if it’s just for one weekend or one afternoon. Try renting out an Airbnb nearby or do a company off-site at a nearby park. The key is to get out of the office together, into a more relaxed setting, so you can be more experimental and open to new ideas. When you’re able to give yourself a break and an opportunity to think creatively, you’ll be surprised about what can come up!

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