Time for a break?

In November of last year the Irish Examiner reported that the average lunch break in the Republic of Ireland is just 38 minutes long. This shocking statistic is superseded by those in the North who take an average lunch ‘hour’ of 31 minutes. Further figures from the Eurest Lunchtime Report 2006 show that one in five workers never takes a break, or eats while working, because they perceive themselves as too busy to do otherwise.

Research from Cambridge University concluded that when staff took regular breaks, workplaces were happier and more productive. Plus, if it is possible for colleagues to take breaks at the same time, it can lead to friendships being formed, improving people’s social lives with the net result that they feel generally happier.

Dr Brendan Burchell, a senior lecturer at the University’s faculty of social and political sciences and who was involved in the study, says: ‘Breaks at work are hugely important for well-being. Working without them can lead to many health problems such as backache, eye-strain, respiratory and skin problems, and even an impact on family life.’

Burning out

Burn-out has been described as ‘exhausting one’s physical and/or mental resources’. Being diligent and conscientious can lead to over-performance, whereby someone previously good at their job can no longer fulfil their duties effectively.

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, five out of the top 10 medical problems world-wide will be attributable to stress-related disorders.

So, what can you do not to contribute to these statistics? The first step is to recognise some boundaries and accept that the ability to say no and take a break is as important as focusing on work and being reliable, efficient and productive. We must all ensure that the working day includes some ‘personal’ time, for example if you work in front of a computer screen you must have a break at least once an hour to rest your eyes. In addition, the longer someone puts a strain on their muscles, the more likely it is the body will suffer some unpleasant consequence. If you repeatedly over-use the muscles in your arms or hands, you may well develop repetitive strain injury (RSI) but it will be months or even years before it manifests itself as soreness or pain. As a dental professional you know better than most that prevention is better than cure. Try not to be in the same position for more than 20 minutes at a time without taking a short break; even a little stretching might well be enough.

A balanced life

Bad patterns can develop if you give in to your stress, such as coming in early and staying late. Of course this is sometimes necessary, but it absolutely should not be an every-day occurrence.

You are entitled to a life outside of work and I mean more than just going through the motions of leaving the practice and going home. You also need to be sure you leave your work-related worries behind. If I have had a bad day, I never go straight home because I don’t want that negativity in my house. I wander around a shop for half an hour until I feel better or go for a walk. The same can apply during the working day. Do take some time out at lunch, even if it is only 10 minutes for a wander. If you stay in the practice, frustrated and upset by your work-load, things will never get better. Remember, you work hard and, within the parameters of your contract and the law, are entitled to some time out.

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