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January 24, 2022 Amelia Wilcox

Surprising Keys to Improving Employee Productivity

How flexible work and frequent breaks increase employee productivity

Employee productivity is no longer confined to the 9 to 5. We’ve heard many HR leaders say that employee productivity has actually increased, despite the work from home shift.

Employee success and business productivity are strengthened by flexible work schedules and frequent break times. Here’s how.

Flexible Work Schedules

In a recent study, Gartner found that the main reason for increased productivity among workers was flexible work hours. The runner-ups were:

  • Less or no time spent commuting
  • Working more hours
  • Additional new technologies or devices

Even before the pandemic, companies were realizing the power of flexible work schedules to boost productivity and satisfaction.

An article from BenefitsPro shows that a flexible work schedule isn’t a threat to productivity and that the resulting boost in employee happiness makes for even more productivity. And an in-depth article from New York Times Magazine shows how work flexibility improves employee happiness and markers for success.

When employees are given more freedom in their work schedules, they can find balance with other priorities in their lives, such as their family and mental health. This makes focusing while on the job much easier.

Typical ways to provide work schedule flexibility include:

  • Telecommuting options. Allow workers to work from home full time or on select days throughout the month.
  • Flexible working hours. Ditch the 9-5 and let employees set hours that work best for them.
  • More vacation time. Some companies offer unlimited paid vacation days, resulting in no loss of productivity or increase in cost, but with a big boost in morale. Others are simply offering more PTO or 4-day work weeks.

Surprising Keys to Improving Employee Productivity—man writing on notepad at work

More Frequent Breaks

One suggestion for creating a more productive workday has been to follow the 52:17 rule. This idea comes from a study of the time tracker DeskTime that shows that the most productive workers tend to work for 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break, and then repeat the cycle throughout the workday.

The idea is that during a schedule like this, workers can have hyper-focus for a sprint-like period of work where they can get a lot of work done. Follow this up with a short rest period, and then hit the ground running again. The Huffington Post created a great infographic of what a day following this productivity technique would look like:

Improve productivity with flexible schedules

source: Huffpost Business

These findings are not a prescription for how to work best; instead, they’re merely an example of one thing productive workers happen to do.

In other words, just because that schedule works best for those most productive workers doesn’t mean the answer is in the schedule. For those productive workers who make the 52:17 schedule work, they’re able to compartmentalize their tasks, they’ve organized what they’re going to do before they get to their next work session, and the work they do can be allocated in ways that they want. Some of those aren’t available to every worker.

It can take workers an adjustment period to hit their stride with this schedule.

Here are some other productivity tips we’ve heard that are worth a try:

  • Keep your daily to-do list short. Write down your top three priorities for the day and focus on getting those things done. Making your to-do list too long can cause feelings of overwhelm and anxiety before you’ve even started working.
  • Work on the thing you least want to do first. That way, it’s not hanging over your head all day long.
  • Block in 15-minute breaks between meetings on your calendar. This will give you a chance to refill your coffee or stand up and stretch, or even get something done between meetings. Those bumpers can also reduce your stress throughout the day and minimize Zoom fatigue.
  • Have strategies in place to avoid burnout. This article on burnout goes in-depth on recognizing, combating, and preventing burnout in the workplace.

It all boils down to what is best for the individual employee. Encourage your managers to talk to their direct reports about time management and productivity. Encourage conversations about prioritization.

Related: Your Guide to Running An Incredible One-On-One Meeting

Your Next Steps

Encouraging workers to take several small breaks throughout the day is a significant first step. If employees can get a walk around the block, a healthy snack, or a stress-reducing massage during their breaks, it’s even better.

For more on taking great breaks to increase productivity, check out this article: The Top Benefits of Taking Breaks at Work (Plus How to do it Right).

And while a flexible work schedule might not be an option for every worker in every industry, it’s worth finding ways to increase some work schedule flexibility to ensure employees’ work-life balance.


I am member of a team, and I rely on the team. I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because we are the team not the individual, is the ultimate champion.

Amelia Wilcox

Amelia Wilcox is the Founder and CEO of Nivati, a leader in corporate massage and employee mental health support since 2010. Her high-growth B2B company provides employee stress management tools that arm businesses with actionable data and positive employee experiences to improve wellbeing, boost morale, and increase engagement.

Amelia has exponentially grown her company from a solo living-room service business to an international technology brand.

Recently listed as a Forty Under 40, Fast 50, Inc 5000 Twice awarded National Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Massage Therapist since 2002
Member of American Massage Therapy Association
Served on Utah Worksite Wellness Council from 2012-2015

Attended Utah College of Massage Therapy
Educated in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Utah

Massage Magazine (AMTA's publication)