Not long ago, ergonomic experts were advising that computer users take microbreaks of one or 2 minutes as often as every 10 minutes throughout the day. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that people found that downright distracting! The most recent research results counter that recommendation about such short, frequent breaks, yet confirm that extra breaks can prevent or alleviate symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), and eyestrain. Plus, these studies show that more breaks make workers more productive.
A report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the IRS [Galinsky et al.] concluded that taking a total of 50 minutes of break time each day helped prevent or alleviate both musculoskeletal discomfort and eyestrain. (That 50 minutes includes the two 15-minute breaks required by law for anyone working an 8-hour shift.) Another investigation [McLean et al.] found that, "Microbreaks had a positive effect on reducing discomfort in all areas studied during computer terminal work, particularly when breaks were taken at 20-minute intervals."
Researchers who conducted a different NIOSH study [Dababneh et al.] compared benefits of taking either 12 three-minute or 4 nine-minute breaks. They found that, "Neither of the two experimental rest break schedules had a negative effect on production, and the nine-minute break schedule improved discomfort ratings for the lower extremities." So the basic conclusion is this: By allowing your employees to take more breaks, you can avoid potential problems and actually increase their alertness, job satisfaction and productivity.
Dababneh, A. J., Swanson, N., & Shell, R. L. (2001). Impact of added rest breaks on the productivity and well-being of workers. Ergonomics, 44 (2), 164-174.
Galinsky, T. L., Swanson, N. G., Sauter, S. L., Hurrell, J. J., & Schleifer, L. M. (2000). A field study of supplementary rest breaks for data-entry operators. Ergonomics, 43(5), 622-638.
McLean, L., Tingley, M., Scott, R. N., & Rickards, J. (2001). Computer terminal work and the benefit of microbreaks. Applied Ergonomics, 32(3), 225- 237.