“Research shows that about every hour and a half it’s useful for the brain to have a break,” says Kristen Hansen, Neuroleadership speaker and trainer.
“Unfortunately, many people feel an overwhelming pressure to keep going so they use stress hormones or sugar or caffeine to override their brain’s natural need to recharge.”
Hansen, who specialises in the neuroscience of leadership and performance, says failing to take regular breaks can easily lead to increased stress and decreased productivity within the workforce.
“We want people to feel healthy and we want them to feel their workload and overall pressure is sustainable,” she tells HRD
. “A big part of that is having the chance to take some time for themselves during the work day.”
Having worked with the likes of Google, Allianz and ANZ, Hansen is well aware of the time constraints many leaders are under but says just a few minutes can make a big difference.
“Break breaks can be as short as five minutes – with a longer one at lunch – but ideally everyone needs a chance to recharge and make sure they’re in the right frame of mind to continue doing good work,” she says.
For a real break, Hansen says employees or leaders need to take their mind away from whatever they’re doing and onto something that’s not related to work.
“A brain break could include sitting quietly with a cup of tea, even closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, it could mean having a social chat to somebody for five minutes, it could mean taking a tea break, buying that coffee – whatever the break is, it shouldn’t be work-related and you should be mindful that you’re actually giving your brain a break.
“That means it can’t just be getting up and walking around the office while you continue to think about emails and the stress you’re under – it’s got to be a different topic, a distraction onto something else.”
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A top neuro-leadership specialist has called on HR professionals to encourage brain breaks within their organisations, saying too many people are turning to caffeine or sugar to push through their natural barriers.