Day 1 working in Naples I made my first (am anticipating more!) faux pas. I ate lunch at my desk. This was an old habit from working in an office and I hadn’t really been conscious of doing it.
I was told not to worry, but it was made clear they eat lunch together and from tomorrow I would join them. As the week went on I have observed a number of things about pace and breaks:
- When breaks happen everyone is included – even if it is a huddle around the coffee machine (which is much better than the vending machines in the UK!)
- Everyone has a hearty fresh lunch – no processed ready meals or pre-packed sandwiches
- During the breaks everyone laughs
- The energy in the office does not seem to change regardless of the time of day, it is a positive and relaxed vibe
In the UK we seem to value missed breaks, lunches at desks and working extra hours as a demonstration of our commitment and work ethic.
However research shows that our bodies follow a pattern called ultradian rhythms. These are cycles where the energy levels in your body slowly decline over 90-120 minutes. Your body then needs a break to recover and although the break doesn’t need to be long, it needs to be good quality.
Ideally you should take the break before your energy levels dip too low even when you are tempted to push on. Signs you have run out of energy include difficulty in concentrating, tiredness, hunger and restlessness. It is key that you stop before these feelings get hold of you as they are hard to shake!
So I challenge you to try being Italian for 1 week. This requires planning to make it work, so with your team pick a week and:
- Find out much ‘break time’ you are allowed and – being mindful of your ultradian rhythms – schedule times and durations into your diaries so everyone is included. The working time directive sets standards for breaks, and if you check your contract or with your HR team, you will have paid and unpaid breaks factored in to your working hours (see you are really entitled to them)
- Select the place for breaks (not in your immediate work area)
- Start sharing recipe ideas to plan in some simple but fresh food – doing this in advance means you can food shop wisely ready for your ‘Italian week’ – you could even try fruit tea and water instead of normal tea, coffee and coke!
- Talk to each other and see how many laughs you can generate naturally through spending time together
After your Italian week evaluate your energy levels and decide for yourselves how you can improve, adapt or, if you want, even abandon this new way of working.
My challenge to managers is to eliminate the old ways and champion new ways. Poor work practices are so embedded, managers have to overtly support – and role model – the change required.
Engaged, happy and energised teams lead to innovation, creativity and productivity. The result is less sickness, attrition, performance issues and better performance and morale.
It isn’t often a break can create a win/win situation for everyone!