As employees are facing the highest ever rates of burnout due to workplace stress, companies and researchers are increasingly looking for ways to prevent this toll on the workforce. their labor.
One such company is Exos, a performance coaching company, which teamed up with psychologists from Hofstra University to conduct a study on how they could take advantage of the concept of “flow,” a The coveted optimal state of consciousness with high performance and satisfaction is often reported by advanced professionals. successful people in the workplace. They found that taking periodic short breaks dedicated to exercise, meditation, and goal setting can help increase flow while working, which in turn can prevent fatigue. exhausted.
The big picture here, according to Exos senior director of applied neuroscience Dr. Chris Bertram, is the choice employers often face between employee well-being and business outcomes Theirs is ultimately a false dichotomy. Bertram says that by using interventions designed to build workflow, employers can simultaneously increase productivity while reducing stress.
Flow reduces stress and increases engagement
Over the course of a month, 150 Exos employees were divided into two groups: one continued to work as before and the other received what the researchers called flow-supportive interventions. These interventions include basic education about flow and how it can increase your productivity.
The intervention group was informed three times a day to have a goal-setting break during which they would clearly outline what they wanted to achieve in the next 1 hour and 20 minutes of work. This is called flow activation.
“[Having clear goals] doesn’t necessarily get us into flow, but it’s one of the first steps that helps us focus on a task, and flow follows focus,” says Bertram. “Flow can be a practice on purpose but a lot of people think of it just like this magically happens, when all the stars and the universe align and we get this crazy performance from ourselves.”
In addition, employees in the traffic group are also encouraged to take 10-15 minute breaks, divided into two to three times during the day. During these strategic short breaks, employees will practice mindfulness meditation or light exercise. The exercise doesn’t have to be a workout but is enough to get employees out of their chairs and moving.
Everyone in the study wore a FitBit so researchers could monitor their heart rate and sleep quality, which they used to calculate Heart Rate Variability, a physiological indicator of stress based on participants’ physical reactions. Throughout each day, participants were asked to rate the level of stress and flow they felt that day as well as their level of engagement with their work.
By the end of the month, Bertram and his team found that their intervention had doubled their reported traffic and quadrupled their reported engagement with their work. This increase in flow leads to a decrease in reported stress and stabilization of physiological symptoms.
On the other hand, employees in the control group reported stable stress levels but had increasing symptoms of stress in their bodies, similar to people going through periods of extreme physical stress. physical or mental. Participants in the Flow group left work feeling less tired and actually had time after work to rest and recover, preparing for the next work day with focus and energy. higher.
“Rest and recovery, even in this small amount, will provide a huge return on investment,” says Bertram. “There’s a popular saying ‘stress + rest = success,’ we’re changing that a bit to ‘flow + rest = success.’
Rest is important for flow
The study’s findings imply that incorporating these short ‘rest periods’ into the workday may help prevent burnout by giving employees the opportunity to recover from stress.
Bertram describes flow as part of a cycle that begins with a period of struggle. It’s similar to jogging, in that the first few minutes your body struggles to keep up with energy expenditure until you hit a rhythm and feel relief from the struggle. Bertram says this point of relief is when you can let yourself go into the flow.
“Flow is a high-energy state, so it takes energy to maintain flow,” Bertram said. “A very important part of the flow cycle is getting energy back into the system so that when the next bout of difficulty comes, you’re attacking it from a better foundation, a place of better recovery.” This period of rest and exercise will return depleted energy to your body, allowing you to continue participating in your work, says Bertram.
Exos was so pleased with the results of the study that they added flow interventions to their company culture and performance rules. After seeing the importance of rest in this study, Bertram says they are now looking at switching to a four-day work week as they team up with Adam Grant and the Wharton School of Business to conduct a study. research on its effectiveness.
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