First the coffee break, now the smartphone break?

While some of us may already use our smartphones when we are at the office (sometimes when we shouldn’t), there could be a possibility that it is okay and even healthy for us, according to new research from Kansas State University.

Doctoral student, Sooyeol Kim, has found in his research that allowing employees to have smartphone microbreaks, much like coffee breaks, during the work day can increase productivity and employee well-being.

Kim’s findings showed that when allowed to take smartphone microbreaks, that employees only spent an average of 22 minutes per each eight-hour work day on their smartphones. Kim was able to make these discoveries by having 72 full-time workers install an app to log their activity on their smartphones during work hours.

Kim emphasised the fact that taking microbreaks throughout the work day is very important to help employees cope with stress and workplace demand, as it impossible for a person to concentrate for eight hours without breaks.

Kim also emphasised the difference between an employee being addicted to their smartphone and taking smartphone microbreaks.

“If I would play a game for an hour during my working hours, it would definitely hurt my work performance. But if I take short breaks of one or two minutes throughout the day, it could provide me with refreshment to do my job.” Kim said.

It seems to have worked in Kim’s findings as the employees who were a part of this study reported improvements in their well-being. Whether they will become as common place microbreaks as the coffee break remains to be seen.

When I first heard about this research and read articles on it, while I thought the research was sound and interesting, I also thought that the idea of workplaces actually providing smartphone microbreaks seemed redundant. I mentioned the well-known coffee breaks at the office, well they’re really not coffee breaks anymore. Go to any workplace and you’ll most likely see nearly every employee using their smartphones when they are in the kitchen or lunch room. A lot of employees use their smartphones during work hours already, whether they are on a break or not. I don’t think they need a microbreak specifically for them, if they want or feel the need to use them during the day, they will, they don’t need to be directed.

The most interesting thing I found in this research was the small amount of time that the employees spent using their smartphones throughout the work day. A lot of employees generally have to sneak using or checking their smartphones, I wonder if this small amount of time comes from the philosophy of “wanting what you can’t have”. I wonder whether the employees who were a part of this study, checked their smartphones less because it was no longer fun to do so, now that they were actually allowed to and didn’t have to sneak using it. I do question whether these microbreaks are fulfilling a need or enabling a technological addiction? The increased productivity could be coming from these employees having their needs met, but what about those who don’t exhibit such restraint or self-control? How could employers implement the microbreaks and police them if they get out of hand?

As much as I find the idea of smartphone microbreaks redundant, I won’t be surprised if they actually do become as common place as the coffee break. In fact they might make the coffee break extinct, if the smartphone hasn’t done that already.

This article was originally published on Tech Reviewer on 20 July 2014 and can be found here.