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Question: How often should shiftworkers take breaks?


In addition to a meal break, which is usually 30 minutes, workers on 8-hour shifts typically get two 15-minute breaks.  Those on 12-hour shifts often get three short breaks, plus a longer meal break.

While this is a common practice, it’s not necessarily the best.  Companies wishing to maximize breaks’ effectiveness may wish to take a different approach — shortening the meal break while increasing the number of short breaks.

This strategy offers several advantages over the traditional model.  First, the typical 30-minute meal break can be counterproductive on the night shift because it may inadvertently encourage workers to eat a full meal.

Due to fluctuations in circadian rhythms, we have great difficulty digesting food at night.  So shiftworkers are better off avoiding full meals between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.  Employees who choose to eat a normal-sized meal at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. are likely to have trouble working through the difficult hours from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.

With the time gained from a reduced meal break, you can allow additional short breaks.  Employees often find that frequent breaks are an effective way to reduce fatigue and boredom.

A 10-minute break allows workers enough time to leave their work stations and take a short walk or eat a snack — activities that go a long way toward reducing the feeling that they face a marathon stretch of work.

In environments in which workers can easily cover for each other, workers can take a 10- to 15-minute break every two to 2.5 hours.  This can mean as many as four breaks on an 8-hour schedule and five breaks on 12s (including the shortened meal break).

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