Taking time ‘off’ from always ‘on’: Breaks in high pressure work contexts

My fellow academics, what was the last break you took? Did you step away from work for a refreshing nap or to browse the internet for leisure? Or perhaps you treated yourself to some candy while continuing to write or switched from a difficult revision to mindless data clean-up? The latter two examples would not be considered breaks, by our currently available definitions, suggesting that the study of breaks may be somewhat divorced from the lived experiences of employees in high pressure contexts like academia or management consulting. Our study takes a qualitative approach using the grounded theory method to analyze 29 in-depth interviews of individuals working in the consulting industry, from junior level to partner, at large consulting firms. What emerges is a typology of 6 break patterns on a spectrum of transparency from claiming a break whenever needed to the more concealed faking work to achieve a break. We also discovered 2 primary drivers, pressure from clients and pressure from internal firm members, that helped determine which break pattern was utilized, as well as several timelines on which those pressures fluctuated over time. Our study contributes to the literature on breaks and recovery by describing breaking experiences within high pressure work and providing a more nuanced definition for breaks to inspire future research.
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