Taking rest breaks at work (2023)

This advice applies to England

You’ll probably be entitled to rest breaks during your working day, as well as daily and weekly rest breaks. Most workers are entitled to rest breaks but some jobs mean you don’t have an automatic legal right to breaks.

Read more about workers who aren’t entitled to rest breaks at GOV.UK.

You might not be paid for your rest breaks - your employment contract will say whether you are.

Compensatory rest breaks

A compensatory rest break means that you can take the break at a later time. It should be taken within a reasonable time from when you missed the break and should last as long as a specific rest break would have lasted.

You might be entitled to compensatory rest breaks if:

  • you’re a shift worker
  • you work in a job where there has to be cover at all times, like a hospital
  • you’re a security guard

Read more about who’s entitled to compensatory rest breaks at GOV.UK.

Rest breaks if you’re over 18

If you’re aged 18 or over and work for more than 6 hours a day, you’re entitled to:

  • an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes, taken during the day rather than at the beginning or end (eg tea or lunch break)
  • 11 hours rest in a row between each working day
  • 1 rest day in each working week - this could be averaged out over 2 weeks, so you'd be entitled to 2 days off in a fortnight

Your contract might say you’re entitled to more than this, for example you might get an hour for a lunch break.

Rest breaks if you’re over school leaving age but under 18

If you’re over school leaving age but under 18, you can’t usually work for more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. You’re usually entitled to:

  • a 30 minute rest break if you work for more than 4 hours and 30 minutes in a day
  • 12 hours rest between each working day
  • 2 rest days per week

There are limits on the hours you can work at night if you’re over school leaving age but under 18.

You can’t usually work between:

  • 10pm and 6am - if your contract says you have to work after 10pm, you must finish by 11pm and not start again until 7am
  • midnight - 4am

There are some exceptions, for example for people who work in hospitals, agriculture, retail work, hotels, catering, bakeries, post/newspaper deliveries or people who work in connection with cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities.

If your employer won't let you take a rest break

Your employer legally has to let you take the rest breaks you're entitled to. If they don’t, speak to them to see if you can resolve the issue.

If this doesn’t work, you should raise a written grievance. Ask your HR person if you’re not sure how to do this. You should also get advice from your union representative - if you have one.

If you still need to take matters further, you could make a claim to an employment tribunal. You can’t do this without going through Acas early conciliation first. There's a 3 month time limit for going through conciliation. This starts from the date your employer didn't allow you rest breaks.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for specialist help.


Why are rest breaks important at work? ›

Breaks keep workers focused and engaged in their work which enables them to complete their tasks more accurately with fewer errors (Ferguson, n.d.). Breaks can also reduce stress. A stressful issue at work can contribute to negative behaviors such as irritability. Skipping lunch frequently can cause stress and fatigue.

How do I remember to take breaks at work? ›

Do this
  1. Add a recurring ten-minute meeting in your calendar with an alarm set to ring same time every hour throughout your workday.
  2. When you sit down to work, set the timer on your phone to 50 minutes.
  3. Once you are working, do so in intervals like in the Pomodoro-technique.
Aug 2, 2015

What breaks do you get during the workday answer? ›


Breaks during the work shift allow employees to rest during the working day. Normally they take the form of rest breaks, coffee- or tea breaks and meal breaks. They can also be taken for toilet breaks, prayer breaks or breaks to address other personal needs.

Is it okay to take frequent breaks at work? ›

How often should you take breaks? Every 30 minutes is often suggested, especially for people who spend most of their day sitting or are otherwise inactive for a significant portion of the day.

What are the consequences of not having adequate rest breaks? ›

Rest breaks

Your boss should offer you your break. If they don't you should feel entitled to request it. Working without breaks can lead to a loss in concentration and fatigue, and if breaks are denied consistently, this can lead to illness and an increased incidence of workplace accidents.

Why is rest important for productivity? ›

Performance and Productivity: Rest actually improves our performance. One study found that when people have predictable and consistent time off work, they are actually more productive overall because they feel more mentally rested, which increases motivation and work enjoyment (Perlow & Porter, 2009).

What is the longest you should work without a break? ›

You're usually entitled to: a 30 minute rest break if you work for more than 4 hours and 30 minutes in a day. 12 hours rest between each working day.

How often should you legally have a break at work? ›

Rest breaks at work

A worker is entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when daily working time is more than six hours. It should be a break in working time and should not be taken either at the start, or at the end, of a working day.

Is it more productive to take breaks? ›

For this reason, while it may seem counterintuitive, taking regular breaks can actually help you be more productive than working without stopping. Effective breaks can help to reduce your stress levels so that you're ready to re-focus when you return to your work. Taking breaks while studying can even improve recall!

What is a good break from work? ›

Sometimes you just need to take a break from stress long enough to disrupt the body's stress response cycle, and then get back into action. If you just need a quick break, take a hike or a bike ride, enjoy a movie, or even have a five-minute meditation session.

What are examples of work breaks? ›

Meal breaks, tea breaks, coffee breaks, or lunch breaks usually range from ten minutes to one hour. Their purpose is to allow the employee to have a meal that is regularly scheduled during the work day. For a typical daytime job, this is lunch, but this may vary for those with other work hours.

What is the break policy in the workplace? ›

Rest periods

All employees are permitted a 15-minute paid rest break for each four-hour work period. Breaks are not permitted at either the beginning or end of the workday to offset arrival and departure times. Employees who voluntarily work through their rest breaks will not be paid additional compensation.

How many breaks should you have in a 8 hour day? ›

Rest breaks at work refer to staff entitlement to take one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during their working day. This applies when they have worked over 6 hours. The law on breaks at work for an 8-hour shift stays the same as for any shifts longer than 6 hours.

Is it OK to take small breaks at work? ›

Taking a break from work increases focus when employees return to work, thus improving their productivity. Additionally, taking breaks relieves some stress, which helps employees' mental health and well-being. These factors contribute to increased job satisfaction (Tork, 2018, p.

How often should you have rest breaks? ›

Regular rest breaks should be taken about every hour in a cooler (air conditioned where practicable) or shaded area to help your body cool off.

What happens when you get enough rest? ›

Lower your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease. Reduce stress and improve your mood. Think more clearly and do better in school and at work. Get along better with people.

What is the importance of adequate rest? ›

Good sleep improves your brain performance, mood, and health. Not getting enough quality sleep regularly raises the risk of many diseases and disorders. These range from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.

How does enough rest affect daily performance? ›

Lack of sleep leads to detriments in job performance, productivity, career progression and satisfaction, and an increase in job-related accidents, absenteeism, and counterproductive work behaviors. Conversely, better sleep has been linked to improved memory, knowledge acquisition, and learning.

How does rest improve performance? ›

Sleep helps everyone to retain and consolidate memories. When athletes practice or learn new skills, sleep helps form memories, and contributes to improved performance in the future. Without sleep, the pathways in the brain that allow you to learn and make memories can't be formed or maintained.

How rest pauses improves productivity? ›

The most obvious benefit of napping is that it increases alertness and decreases fatigue. Even a short nap of around 20 minutes boosts your ability to concentrate by giving your brain a chance to restore depleted energy.

How do you rest efficiently? ›

Take short breaks throughout the day. Set a timer to remind yourself to step away and take a few deep breaths. Create some space in your brain by writing down your thoughts on a notepad or in a journal. Give yourself extra time to disconnect.

How many hours is too long to work? ›

But there is such a thing as working too many hours. After extensive research, studies found that working over 45 hours each week is bad for the average employee. As this number goes up, so does your risk of health conditions like stroke or heart attacks.

How long of a break is long enough? ›

Anything from one week to a month should be enough time for one or both parties to determine whether they should stay together. “You may decide halfway through the agreed upon time that you want to be with that person, but you should respect the time frame,” Edwards says.

What is a compensatory rest break? ›

Compensatory rest breaks are the same length of time as the break (or part of it) that they've missed. A worker may be entitled to compensatory rest if: they're a shift worker and can't take daily or weekly rest breaks between ending one shift and starting another.

How long is considered a break in employment? ›

A break in continuous service is usually a period of one complete week, running from Sunday to Saturday between two contracts of employment, unless certain exceptions apply. These could include, for example, a temporary cessation of work or where an employee is reinstated after an unfair dismissal claim.

What is the power of taking a break? ›

Taking breaks has been shown to be important in recovering from stress [7], which can, in turn, improve your performance. Recovering from work stress can restore energy and mental resources and decrease the development of fatigue, sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease [2].

What is the 52 17 productivity rule? ›

It's the 52/17 rule: 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off. Downtime replenishes attention and motivation, creativity and productivity. This week, we'd like you to try this 52/17 method. Use a timer, if you'd like, and stick to the rules: when you're working, you can't do anything else.

Is it OK to take a break and do nothing? ›

Taking breaks helps you maintain your mental and physical health. You want to calm your central nervous system and shift brain states. Relaxing activities like walking, meditation and being in nature can improve well-being. Allow yourself time to do nothing and just be.

Why do people get rest breaks? ›

A rest break is a break which a student can use within an exam. Rest breaks benefit students who suffer from stress, lack of concentration, medical issues. The student must provide medical evidence to support this requirement.

Why everyone needs a break from work? ›

Everyone needs a break from time to time in order to relieve stress. Even if you can't take a big vacation, a staycation or short break can be a valuable way to feel restored and refreshed. It is also essential to take short breaks periodically throughout the day in order to recharge your attention and productivity.

Why is taking a break important? ›

As long as it gave you some downtime away from work, we're happy. The importance of taking breaks stretches far and wide. Breaks help your productivity, energy levels, and ability to focus — not to mention your mental health and well-being.

What is the importance of having a break? ›

“Taking breaks allows your brain and body to get the necessary recharge it needs to keep going,” says Brittany Johnson, a licensed mental health counselor. Keeping up the grind may seem fruitful, but it can negatively impact your long-term performance and mental health.

Do breaks help burnout? ›

Breaks are important. Not taking enough breaks leads to burnout and higher stress levels. Benefits of breaks: Increases productivity.

Do breaks prevent burnout? ›

The researchers found that workers who took breaks to do something they enjoyed reported fewer health symptoms such as headaches, eye strain and lower back pain. They also reported higher job satisfaction and lower rates of burnout (Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol.

Do breaks improve productivity? ›

For this reason, while it may seem counterintuitive, taking regular breaks can actually help you be more productive than working without stopping. Effective breaks can help to reduce your stress levels so that you're ready to re-focus when you return to your work. Taking breaks while studying can even improve recall!

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