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Case study: what happened when we took a break at Slack

We ran an experiment encouraging employees to take a daily break—and discovered a simple way to boost productivity, engagement, and connection

Autor: Eliza Sarasohn13 de marzo de 2024

Making time for breaks during the workday improves employee productivity and wellbeing. And yet, research from Slack’s Workforce Index, a survey of more than 10K desk workers around the globe, shows that 50% of global desk workers do not take breaks throughout the workday.

The data shows that workers who regularly take breaks have 13% higher productivity throughout the day. They also have 62% higher scores for work-life balance, 43% greater ability to manage work-related stress, and 43% higher scores for overall satisfaction. On the flip side, workers who don’t take breaks are 1.7x times more likely to experience burnout.

When Slack’s Workforce Lab surveyed Slack staff internally, we found the same issue present among Slack employees. As seen in the global population, half of all Slack employees were also not taking breaks during the workday. Furthermore, only two in five employees (38%) said they felt comfortable taking breaks.

“To be honest, we were pretty surprised,” says Christina Janzer, who leads the Workforce Lab at Slack. “I would think most of us at Slack would say we have a really supportive, trusting, and employee-centered culture. And yet even here, a majority of employees don’t feel comfortable taking a break. It just goes to show how ingrained and pervasive this problem is across the workforce.”

What we did: How to run a break-taking experiment

To encourage employees to embrace the benefits of downtime, the Workforce Lab issued an invitation to all Slack staff to participate in a two-week break-taking experiment.

Workforce Lab Break taking invitation on Slack

Ultimately, more than 200 Slack staff signed on to participate. To start the experiment, participants joined a Slack channel called #workforce-lab-experiment-breaks. Joining the channel initiated a workflow that sent a starter survey to measure each participant’s baseline productivity and well-being.

For two weeks, participants received a daily prompt to take a break. They also completed a daily survey to track the number and type of breaks they took and to measure day-to-day changes in their productivity and well-being.

The experiment defined different types of breaks — “true breaks,” “errand breaks,” and “working breaks” — and laid out guardrails for how to participate.

Workforce Lab Breakt Taking instructions

In the Slack channel, participants were invited to interact — to share photos, ideas, and encouragement to take breaks. From day one, conversation flowed and channel engagement was high.

Workforce Lab Breakt Taking Sharing

In addition, Slack leadership posted messages reassuring staff that break-taking was welcomed and encouraged.

What we learned: results of Slack’s break taking experiment

“We had a hunch people would enjoy this experiment,” says Chrissie Arnold, who leads Future of Work Programs for the Workforce Lab team. “But pretty much right away, it was clear from the energy and conversation in the channel that the benefits were going to go way beyond what we had expected. And once we got the final results back, the quantitative and qualitative feedback was off the charts!”

Break-taking by the numbers

  • Many more people took breaks: 65% growth in number of people taking “true breaks” (from 48% to 78% of respondents)
  • Comfort level with taking breaks increased significantly: 58% growth in number of people saying they were comfortable taking breaks (from 38% to 60% of respondents)
  • Workplace experience scores rose dramatically: Productivity scores increased by 21%; Work-life balance scores increased by 73%; Ability to manage stress scores increased by 2.3x (230%); Ability to focus on work scores increased by 92%; Overall satisfaction at work scores increased 63%

While scores rose most among people who regularly took breaks, they also rose among less active break-takers. This indicated that participants experienced some benefit simply from joining in the experiment, even if they were not able to take daily breaks.

Participant feedback

Workforce Lab Breaktaking Qualitative feedback

Key takeaways from Slack’s break-taking experiment

–  The stigma around break-taking is deeply ingrained. There’s a reason that 50% of desk workers don’t take breaks. De-prioritizing downtime is a common and universal problem — even at companies with great work-life balance.

– Valuing downtime is not inherent. It’s a learned skill that must be continually reinforced. Many desk-workers hold a misconception that breaks cut against work and do not understand that break-taking is a productivity multiplier. Helping people see the value of break-taking and making them feel safe to take breaks is a mindset change that requires continuous reinforcement.

Leadership support is key. Leaders must model and normalize healthy break-taking habits. Managers should be transparent with their teams about when they’re taking breaks, and regularly encourage their direct reports to take breaks. Updating your status with a break-taking emoji and message is a great start!

–  There’s no one size fits all – different teams will find it easier or harder to take breaks. Some roles are more reactive and time-bound than others, and for those positions, it can feel nearly impossible to find the time to step away. For example, at Slack, the customer experience team is continually fielding in-bound customer support requests. This speaks to the value of setting Team Level Agreements to explicitly carve-out means for every person in every role to get a daily break.

–  Experimenting with making work better supercharges “weak ties” across a company. The act of coming together to tackle a problem has attendant benefits that go beyond the problem itself. “One of the nicest outcomes of the break-taking experiment was that we all got to meet people across Slack that we wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise,” says Workforce Lab researcher Lucas Puente. “There was so much energy and excitement on the channel, and you could see that reflected in participants’ scores as well as the comments they shared — so much good vibes!”


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