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  • Writer's pictureStela Lupushor

Rest OR Work? Rest TO Work? Rest AT Work?

In the relentless pursuit of productivity and efficiency the significance of rest often takes a backseat or even dismissed as a luxury. However, a growing body of research suggests that rest is not only essential for individual well-being but also plays a crucial role in fostering creativity, productivity, combating burn-out, and reducing errors.  All these behavioral and psychological benefits accrete to overall business success. So, what is rest and how can it be effectively incorporated in a way that does not disrupt business operations? 

Well…it is counterintuitive! 

Rest Institutionalized: Four-day Workweek Leads to a More Engaged and Productive Workforce! 

Recent studies have explored the potential benefits of a four-day workweek. A pilot study conducted in Iceland between 2015 and 2019, involving over 2,500 workers, demonstrated that a shorter workweek led to maintained or improved productivity and enhanced worker well-being. Similarly, a Microsoft Japan experiment in 2019 found that a four-day workweek boosted productivity by 40% (Microsoft Japan, 2019). Research by the University of York and the University of Florida found that a four-day workweek can lead to increased productivity, improved work-life balance, and reduced stress levels among employees (Kamerāde et al., 2019; Harrington & Ladge, 2009). 

Rest to Work: Breaks and Space for Wonder Foster Well-being and Innovation

Taking regular breaks throughout the day has been shown to have numerous benefits for employee well-being and performance. A white paper by The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review found that employees who took regular breaks reported a 28% increase in focus, a 30% boost in health and well-being, and a 46% increase in their level of engagement at work (Schwartz & McCarthy, 2007). Additionally, engaging in restful activities, such as daydreaming or taking a walk in nature, can significantly enhance creative problem-solving abilities (Goldenberg and Baird et al., 2012). By providing employees with the space and time for rest and wonder, organizations can unlock their creative potential and foster a more innovative work environment.

Rest or Work: Creative Pursuits Outside Work Improve Work Satisfaction

While rest is often associated with a complete cessation of work, engaging in creative pursuits during non-work hours can actually enhance overall well-being and productivity. A study by San Francisco State University found that employees who engaged in creative activities outside of work, such as writing, painting, or playing music, reported higher levels of job satisfaction and were more likely to be promoted than those who did not (Eschleman et al., 2014). This suggests that by encouraging employees to pursue creative interests during their downtime, organizations can indirectly support their professional growth and success. Researchers have explored the relationship between corporate-sponsored philanthropic programs for employee participation and some benefits like organizational commitment, enhanced jobs skills, and higher levels of engagement (Caliguiri, Raub)

Rest and Flow: Frictionless Workplace Experience Makes THE Flow Work 

In addition to traditional forms of rest, such as breaks and time off, it's important to consider the sense of rest that comes from being in a state of flow at work (Ribera). Flow, a concept introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to a state of complete immersion and focus in an activity, where time seems to fly by and distractions fade away. When employees are able to enter a state of flow, they experience a sense of effortless productivity and a reduction in mental fatigue. To foster a sense of flow and minimize interruptions, organizations must prioritize creating a frictionless workplace experience. This includes investing in user-friendly technology, streamlining processes, and minimizing unnecessary meetings or bureaucratic hurdles. By reducing friction and enabling employees to focus on their core work without interruptions, organizations can create a more restful and productive work environment.

Rest at Work: Business Indicators (surprisingly they are linked)

In addition to its impact on individual well-being and creativity, rest has been shown to have a positive effect on various business indicators. A study by the Rand Corporation found that sleep deprivation, which is a common consequence of overwork and lack of rest, costs the U.S. economy up to $411 billion annually due to reduced productivity and increased healthcare costs (Hafner et al., 2017). By contrast, companies that prioritize employee well-being and encourage rest have been shown to outperform their peers in terms of stock market returns, revenue growth, and employee retention (Seppala & Cameron, 2015.) It’s also important to recognize that rest is not idleness, and that allowing workers to rest at work can generate better performance outcomes (Goldenberg).

HR = Human Rest? 

HR professionals have a critical role to play in creating a culture that values and supports rest. Some key strategies include:

  • Encouraging breaks and promoting flexible work arrangements

  • Providing resources for stress management

  • Modeling rest at the leadership level

  • Investing in technology and processes that minimize friction and are enabling (not stressing) workers

Google, along with other large tech companies and organizations like the UK's National Health Service, has integrated nap pods into their campuses, highlighting their commitment to employee wellness and productivity. These pods offer a myriad of benefits, including improved alertness, mood, and performance. EnergyPods, in particular, are featured in quiet areas on Google campuses and are appreciated even by top-level executives for their role in creating a complete workplace (Sleep Foundation).

By implementing these strategies and prioritizing rest as a key component of employee well-being, HR professionals can help create a workplace culture that fosters creativity, productivity, and overall success.

Rest of Us Must Work at It 

While organizations play a crucial role in creating a culture that values rest, ultimately, rest is a personal responsibility. Even with the most supportive policies and resources in place, individuals must make a conscious choice to prioritize their own well-being and take the necessary steps to rest and recharge. This means setting clear boundaries between work and personal life, learning to say no to non-essential tasks or commitments, and actively seeking out opportunities for rest and renewal. It also means being mindful of our own energy levels and recognizing when we need to take a break or step back from work to avoid burnout. 

The power of rest in the workplace cannot be overstated. By recognizing the importance of rest for creativity, well-being, and business outcomes, organizations can create a more sustainable and thriving work environment. As we move toward a future of work that values human potential and well-being, rest will undoubtedly play a central role in driving innovation, productivity, and success. So, to companies, when you see your employee resting, don’t think of it as idleness, but as a way to enhance productivity. To all employees out there: take a break, please!


Haraldsson, G. D., & Kellam, J. (2021). Going Public: Iceland's Journey to a Shorter Working Week. Autonomy.

Kamerāde, D., Wang, S., Burchell, B., Balderson, S. U., & Coutts, A. (2019). A shorter working week for everyone: How much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being? Social Science & Medicine, 241, 112353.

Harrington, B., & Ladge, J. J. (2009). Work–life integration: Present dynamics and future directions for organizations. Organizational Dynamics, 38(2), 148-157.

Schwartz, T., & McCarthy, C. (2007). Manage your energy, not your time. Harvard Business Review, 85(10), 63-73.

Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Mrazek, M. D., Kam, J. W., Franklin, M. S., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Inspired by distraction: Mind wandering facilitates creative incubation. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1117-1122.

Eschleman, K. J., Madsen, J., Alarcon, G., & Barelka, A. (2014). Benefiting from creative activity: The positive relationships between creative activity, recovery experiences, and performance‐related outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 87(3), 579-598.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Hafner, M., Stepanek, M., Taylor, J., Troxel, W. M., & Van Stolk, C. (2017). Why sleep matters—the economic costs of insufficient sleep: A cross-country comparative analysis. Rand Health Quarterly, 6(4), 11.

Seppala, E., & Cameron, K. (2015). Proof that positive work cultures are more productive. Harvard Business Review, 12(1), 44-50.

Caligiuri, P.M., Mencin, A., & Jiang, K. (2013). Win–Win–Win: The Influence of Company‐Sponsored Volunteerism Programs on Employees, NGOs, and Business Units. Personnel Psychology, 66, 825-860.

Raub, S. (2017). When Employees Walk The Company Talk: The Importance Of Employee Involvement In Corporate Philanthropy. Human Resource Management, 56, 837-850.

Tucker, P. (2003). The impact of rest breaks upon accident risk, fatigue and performance: A review. Work & Stress, 17, 123 - 137.

Goldenberg, G. (2022). Rest is not idleness. Early Years Educator.

Ribera, A., & Ceja, L. (2018). Flow: Flourishing at Work.

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