Breaking up is hard to do

Back view of woman with crossing hands behind head during work with laptop. Person relaxing in chair in home office. Cozy workplace for freelancer. Stress-free employee

The importance of taking breaks

There are 18 million square kilometers of Canadian and oceanic airspace.  Canadian air traffic controllers’ direct thousands of planes, either from a control tower or on a radar screen in an area control centre (ACC), 24 /7.  They work pilots operating all many types of planes, from single-engine aircraft to large multi-engine jets sometimes in over whelming circumstances.  They also control movement on the ground on tarmacs and runways.  It’s among the top 5 most stressful jobs. (Truck driver top 20) Typically, they work in the on position for 90 to 120 minutes followed by a 30-minute break.  Controllers usually work rotating shifts nights, weekends, and all public holidays. The schedules are usually set 28 days in advance. In many countries, the structure of controllers’ shift patterns is regulated to allow for adequate time off. There is widespread recognition that Air Traffic Controllers must have breaks. Unfortunately, when we take a break, stress follows. We really can’t go anywhere without stress being involved. If we created our own new world there would undoubtedly be some stress. Perhaps it’s better to take on the life we have and control the stress. To do this however, we require regular breaks. Taking breaks enhances the development of overall strength. Even muscles grow and become stronger in response to breaks from stress. By taking periodic breaks your neurons become more resistant to diseases like epilepsy, migraines, and even dementia.  (stressed, followed by a period of rest) 

Here are just a few positive consequences of taking breaks…

Eye health improvesPrevents burnoutBetter motivatedImproved productivity
Improved memoryBetter problem solvingOverall better healthBetter focus
Energy boostRefocusRegroupingRefresh


Distraction is a good stress reliever. It does work when properly engaged.

ReadLight ExerciseBrief screen time 
Conversation with othersWork on your HobbyMeditation
Take a religious break Take a showerBrief personal tasks


Get to know those favorite break activities and work them into your routine – make time. It’s challenging but crucial for safety and well-being. It is notable with some engaging those plans may compound some stress extra anxiety we feel at turning our minds away from our problems temporarily.  Example: sleep breaks not only make us more capable of managing stress in the short term, but also help you develop the inner strength that makes you feel less stressed in the long run. 

The Canadian Government have a few guidelines to help assure we all get the breaks we need. Just prior to the pandemic start a provision was installed into the Canada Labour Code Part III under Break 169.1

Their amendment took effect on September 1, 2019. It is necessary to ensure a consistent interpretation and application nationwide of the expression “break of at least 30 minutes during every period of 5 consecutive hours of work”. To that end, the following questions will be addressed:

what is meant by the expression “break of at least 30 minutes during every period of 5 consecutive hours of work”? 

How does it apply to different work periods?

Interpretation of the GUIDELINE

“Break” means a short period of time during the work period when an employee is released from their obligations to the employer (or is not under the control of the employer) and may freely attend to personal matters in or near their workplace. “Consecutive hours” refers to hours that follow one another without interruption.

The Code provides at least one break every 5 consecutive hours of work, of a minimum duration of 30 minutes. Essentially, the break must be taken before the 5 hours are up (4.5 hours of work and 30-minute break). Thus, the break cannot be split (for example into two 15-minute breaks).

Every employee is entitled to 30-minute breaks, except those who are excluded from the Code’s hours of work provisions, namely employees who are directors or heads, or exercise management functions, or architects, dentists, engineers, lawyers and medical doctors.

Generally, the 30-minute break cannot be postponed or cancelled, even if the employee specifically requests it. However, the Code provides for an exception that enables the employer to postpone an employee’s break. That exception only applies when the employee is required to work to deal with a situation that the employer could not have reasonably foreseen and that presents or could reasonably be expected to present an imminent or serious threat. To ensure that the exception is applicable, the employer must conduct the test in IPG 091 to 094. If the exception is determined not to be applicable, the employer may not request that the employee work during their 30-minute break.

Given that the employee is not under the control of the employer during their 30-minute break, that break is not considered work time. Consequently, the 30-minute break is not paid. However, if the employer requires the employee to remain available during the break, for example if the employer asks the employee to remain at the workplace during the break to answer the phone, then the employee must be paid for the break.

Give yourself regular active, distractive breaks. You will notice the improvement a refresh will make.