Valérie Fernandez

By Valérie Fernandez

February 3, 2017


Worktime Breaks: Simple and Necessary

Article revised on 8 June 2017

5 questions for Maude Villeneuve, a workplace mental health expert

Maude Villeneuve is an expert in the strategic prevention of mental health issues in the workplace. She holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Relations and is in the process of completing a PhD in Business Administration at Laval University. She also acts as a lecturer and research professional at the university’s Chair in Workplace Health and Safety Management.

When I sat down with her for an interview recently, I asked about the importance of taking breaks at work. Her advice may convince you to take a break during the day, even during those hectic periods.

Stéphanie Chrétien: Why do we have to take breaks at work? Are they really necessary?

Maude Villeneuve: Yes, absolutely! Breaks are essential! When you take a break, you think about something else, get a boost of energy and temporarily disconnect from the task you were working on. That way, you’re a little sharper when you get back to it. Taking regular breaks and dividing your workday into a number of smaller, more manageable segments reduces stress and fatigue and limits the risk of error and injury. A break is far from being a whim: It’s actually an investment!

SC: How long should a break be, ideally?

MV: Whether the break lasts five minutes or half an hour, the important thing is to disconnect from work. Walking around and keeping things fresh with a change of scenery can make things easier. For example, someone who has a desk job might like to take a five-minute stretch break. A factory worker who is constantly standing might like to sit down outside and have a chat about something other than work. Hence, there’s no “ideal” formula. It all depends on your job and your situation. The main thing is that you allow yourself to completely pull the plug and take a break from your work routine.

SC: What advice do you have for employees whose breaks are regulated, i.e. scheduled and mandatory, to be taken at specific times during the day?

MV: Take your breaks! Even if you don’t feel tired, you’re moving along well in your work and you don’t think you need to take a break. Worktime breaks are a preventive measure that promotes well-being over the long term, reduces the risks of burnout and improves performance. Taking breaks is a good habit, one you owe to yourself to adopt.

SC: What advice do you have for people who work jobs where breaks are not regulated and you take them at your own discretion?

MV: It takes discipline. Some people set reminders to ensure they don’t forget to take their breaks. After all, it’s not always easy to stop working, especially when things are moving along well. It’s worth it, though! Studies have shown that giving your brain a rest, even for just a few minutes, promotes creativity and improves performance. Just remember that taking a break doesn’t mean you stop performing a difficult task to replace it with one that is easier. You need a complete brain break from your work.

SC: What can employers do to encourage their employees to take breaks?

MV: The good news for employers is that most of the measures to be put in place cost very little, although they do require organizational willingness. To begin, employers must establish clear policies in favour of regular breaks. Breaks have to be promoted, and reminders must be established among team members to maintain and instill the habit of taking pauses. For example, budgeting funds provide rest areas that are welcoming and comfortable is a possible measure. This must be integrated into the company’s organizational culture. As with anything, when the executives set a good example, others are more likely to follow.

To find out more about Maude Villeneuve’s work, visit the Chair in Workplace Health and Safety Management website.

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