The New Workplace Trend: Smartphone Mini-Vacations
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The Fiscal Times
July 11, 2014

Taking a mental vacation in your cubicle can actually be a good thing for productivity and wellbeing. A recent study shows that the new mental vacation may not be chatting about the weekend with a coworker or taking a walk to the coffee machine – it’s playing on your smartphone. 

Sooyeol Kim, a doctoral student in psychological sciences at Kansas State University, recently completed a study of 72 full-time employees from a range of industries. Kim created a smartphone app that measures phone use and had participants use it over several weeks. At the end of each eight-hour workday, the study participants noted their perceived wellbeing.  

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The finding? “A short break has power,” Kim said in an interview. “It contributes to our wellbeing in the workplace.” 

“Employees’ social activity and leisure activity during working hours, using smartphones, was positively associated with their perceived well-being,” he said. 

Kim says taking several short breaks—just 3 to 5 minutes at a time—is beneficial for both the employer and the employee. 

Kim refers to brief escapes from work as a “micro breaks,” which his study defines as nonworking-related behaviors during working hours. “Nobody can concentrate for eight hours every day without any non-work related behaviors. It’s not possible,” said Kim. 

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“We all experience work demands, work stress. Workers need to release their immediate negative feelings.” He believes smart-phone usage is one of the best ways to do that, but cautions against spending too much time on the device. 

Kim found that on average, the participants used their phones for 22 minutes per day, during a 9am to 6pm workday. 

Kim doesn’t think most employees would use their smartphones for much longer than that, and acknowledges that using a smartphone during working hours for a prolonged period of time may not be beneficial. “We don’t know the side effect of long-term smartphone usage [in the workplace],” said Kim.

He acknowledges that smartphone usage isn’t necessarily relaxing for all workers. “It depends on the individual,” said Kim. “Some workers may not want to talk with their co-workers in person because of their workplace environment.” 

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Reilly Dowd is a senior writer at The Fiscal Times. Based in Washington, D.C., she covers national politics, economic policy, technology, and elections. She has previously worked at Al Jazeera America, SnagFilms, ABC News, CNN and in the Obama White House.