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Studies in the US have shown that impatience and a desperate sense of urgency increases the risk of heart disease. Japanese men living in America and adopting the practice of hurried meals were five times more likely to suffer heart disease than their counterparts in Japan who were eating the same foods (Bee Wilson ‘The way we eat now’). We all need breaks at work.

Regular breaks

The French do it with bread, the Japanese with ginger. What each does is to provide an interlude to refresh the taste buds so as to fully appreciate the next course or the next bite of sushi.

Deliberate breaks at work leave us fresher for the next task, or provide a new perspective on a problem with which we are wrestling.

Work breaks also reduce eye strain and avoid the health risks of sitting for long periods.

The equivalent of bread or ginger could be to walk round the building, making a coffee, having a ten to twenty minute power nap, or allowing a little mindfulness.


Internationally the lunch break is shrinking. Perhaps increasingly because we feel pressured by time; maybe the availability of fast food, protein bars and meal deals is partly responsible. Or it could be that the feeling that somehow eating is less important than working. Long commutes could be a factor too. Why spend an hour on lunch when by cutting it in half you could be home half an hour earlier?

Yet we may miss the opportunity to catch up with colleagues over that lunch. Alternatively we could take a walk in the park, which reduces stress levels by 10%. Breaking up the work day gives the opportunity for topping up on energy and creative reserves.

Why it matters to a business

Measuring productivity by time is like measuring the input without taking notice of the output. That is the wrong way round. Whether it is widgets, service, quality or innovation; output should count first.

Why it might matter to you

In a hurry? The studies show that heart disease could come sooner than you expect.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice