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A “Culture of Health” at San Mateo County includes a supportive work environment that encourages all employees to be physically active during the workday and to have time to relax, refresh and re-focus.

The County Wellness Committee has identified cultural norms and touchpoints that employees, supervisors/managers and departments should strive for in creating a “Culture of Health” at San Mateo County, specifically as it relates to taking daily work breaks.







  • Increase employee and supervisor awareness about the individual and organizational benefits associated with taking daily work breaks.
  • Increase the number of employees who report taking at least one daily work break on most days of the week
  • Improvements in key elements of a supportive work environment (“healthy work practices”)

Planned Activities

  • Survey Monkey – to establish a baseline understanding of current practices about daily work breaks as of July 2016, re-administered in one year to document what changes have occurred
  • Themed posters / educational materials selected by the Wellness Committee
    • This is Your Brain (July 2016)
    • "Culture of Health" to support Work Breaks (October 2016)
    • Doing Something Different can make a Big Difference in Your Workday (Spring 2017)
  • Theme for Wellness booth at Annual Open Enrollment fairs in October 2016
  • Encourage and Support Department-level activities and sharing of Best Practices at Wellness Committee meetings
  • Use of Social Media (Yammer) to encourage employee dialogue and problem-solving

Key Messages

  • There are individual and organizational benefits to taking daily work breaks.
  • The County supports and encourages taking daily work breaks.   An Employee Relations bulletin provides guidance on this matter.  Some departments have special work rules associated with work breaks.  Current training for supervisors and managers includes understanding their role and responsibility in offering Work Breaks to staff.
  • With the emergence of an agile workforce, it’s important to extend this support and encouragement to all individuals who provide services on behalf of the County regardless of status (e.g. extra help, part-time, interns, volunteers, contractors) in a paid or unpaid manner, as deemed appropriate.
  • Employees should discuss their work schedule with their supervisor and ensure that they are both in agreement about when and how Work Breaks are to be taken.  Supervisors should create a supportive structure that ensures work breaks are given to those who want them.  Employees should be considerate of co-workers and be gone only as long as their Work Break allows.

Individual and Organizational Benefits

  • Studies report that taking regular breaks during the work day can improve productivity and mental acuity, reduce fatigue, relieve joint or muscle pain, and increase overall alertness.
  • Breaks keep us from getting bored and unforced, resulting in fewer errors and miscalculations.  There’s also less likelihood of getting injured because repetitive work ceases for a period of time;
  • Breaks help us retain information and make connections.  Problem solving and creative breakthroughs actually increase when we step away for a while from problems or projects (Google “diffuse mode thinking”);
  • Breaks allow us to re-assess our work and stay on track.  A brief intermission forces you to take a few seconds to re-connect with your goals/ objective/ purpose and be reminded of the “bigger picture”.

Creating “New Norms” about Daily Work Breaks

“Cultural Touchpoint”:  any tool or point of interaction, seen or unseen, utilized to create experiences and/or a series of experiences that shape behavior during the work day.

This is a list of “Cultural Touchpoints” associated with daily work breaks. This list was developed by the County Wellness Committee (May-June 2016) and reflects our collective understanding and agreement about what we are striving for in creating a more supportive work environment where more employees are able to take daily work breaks.

The Count Wellness Committee acknowledges and applauds County departments and Health Divisions that have already embraced some or most of these norms.  

  1. Employees and their supervisors are in alignment about scheduling Work Breaks, ensuring task breaks (alternative work for computer use), and supporting stretch or activity breaks at sponsored meetings and trainings. 
  2. Employees can easily state at least one benefit of how a Work Break can positively affect health, wellbeing and/or work-life balance, including greater social connectedness and engagement.
  3. Employees do not do work-related tasks during their Work Breaks.
  4. Employees feel comfortable in bringing concerns about current Work Break situation to their supervisors.  Supervisors confidently and easily find solutions to barriers associated with staff’s inability to take Work Breaks.
  5. Employees report feeling supported by co-workers to take a break.
  6. Employees report taking at least one Work Break on most days of the week
  7. Employees use clock signs or other props to indicate that they are on a Work Break.
  8. For employees with highly structured schedules or working conditions, there’s a widely known and accepted way of ensuring that employees get their Work Breaks   (e.g. sign up sheet at beginning of shift; assigned times for breaks with coverage provided, clinic appointment times pre-blocked out)
  9. For employees with less structured schedules, employees have determined their best method to reserve Work Break times in their work schedules  (e.g. calendar, Outlook, smartphone, post-it note)
  10. Stretch breaks and/or Work Breaks are automatically incorporated (upfront) into every formal and ad hoc project that involves more than one hour of continuous work time.
  11. Supervisors / Managers take their Work Breaks and actively encourage their staff to do so.
  12. Supervisors/ Managers can easily state at least one benefit of how a Work Break can positively affect employee productivity and performance
  13. There are visual and/or audio reminders about Work Breaks built into the work environment   (e.g. tune / bells over PA system; instant recess/30 second dance; LCD monitors with messages)
  14. There’s somewhere to go that’s pleasant and inviting.  An outdoor Work Break can be taken safely.
  15. When unusual negative situation(s) occur involving the public or clients, there’s a strategy in place that allows the affected employee to step out of the work environment on a short-term basis to re-frame/re-focus before returning to work.