Whether you decide to have lunch with colleagues or spend the time working, if you spend your lunch break doing what you want to do, you'll be less stressed and more productive on the job according to a new study.

Lunch Break
Flickr User Wolfgang Lonien

The University of Toronto study collected more than 800 surveys from workers over a 10-day period during which their lunch time activities were tracked.

"What it came down to was the question of having the freedom to choose what you want to do during your breaks. So, if you wanted to have lunch with your colleagues and that was your choice, it wasn't stressful or fatiguing for individuals," said John Trougakos, the study's co-author.  "When that freedom of choice is reduced, that's when we saw the fatiguing effect. By the end of the day, those were the people who were more stressed."

Researchers found that workers were least fatigued and least stressed when they were able to relax and make their own choices during lunch.  If they chose to work or chose to socialize during the break, the stress was much less if they felt it was something they wanted to do.

"I think it's important that companies invest resources into breaks and make it acceptable for employees to take them and use the time as they see fit. We found it was very important to have some time during the day to relax during a break. That had a very positive impact on the employees' well-being. Breaks are supposed to be about having the personal time to recharge in order to do the job better," said Trougakos.

According to the study, providing the freedom to employees only helps the company over time. "By giving employees the freedom not only helps the workers, but it also helps the companies by improving productivity and by reducing work-related stress absences, reducing employee burn out and reducing health costs that might occur over time," said Trougakos.




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