More than Using the Bathroom: The Benefits of Within-Day Work Breaks

In recent conversations with friends the topic of ‘hiding’ in the bathroom during work has reoccurred. During an eight hour work day many of my friends go to the bathroom once every two-hours and not because they have to pee. One of them even has a specific stall they like to use for this workday ‘me’ time.

I started wondering why the guise of needing to use the restroom was necessary for getting to leave one’s desk. It is as if a Purpose is needed if one wants to get away from their screen and take a few minutes to themselves.

Why isn’t it more common in corporate working environments to simply take a break? Why is it uncommon to go on a walk for a couple of minutes, giving one’s brain time to digest?

Other than shortening the line for the bathroom, implementing a work culture that doesn’t frown upon taking breaks without a purpose would increase people’s productivity. Taking time to clear the mind with a fresh breath of air or quick walk up and down stairs could help one recover from the physical and emotional stresses of office work.

The hours people spend sitting in one position are bad for their bodies. In a study done by John Trougakos at the University of Toronto it is noted that “micro-breaks” during the work day are a great way to “alleviate musculoskeletal discomfort and strain” caused by “prolonged or repeated office-related tasks.”

Encouraging movement during these breaks (stretching, walking up and down stairs) would also help alleviate the stress put on one’s body from sitting all day. If one is spending ten minutes at a time in the bathroom — sitting — four times a day, that could be 40 minutes of physically beneficial activity.

With technology becoming an integral part in our everyday lives, our brains are starting to process information differently. It’s the nice way of saying that our attention spans are getting shorter. Taking a break would make it easier to focus on a task once its returned to. It briefly relieves the mind of the constant stream of work-related thinking that can cause emotional exhaustion.

Although I enjoy getting a good laugh out of my friends bathroom selfies I can’t help but wonder what a difference it would make if actually taking a break wasn’t seen as such a hindrance. If people didn’t feel the need to be ‘in the bathroom’ whenever not at their desk, if breaks were not only accepted but implemented, we would recover faster from workday stresses and thus be more productive.