How ‘micro’ breaks throughout the day can help decrease work burnout—‘flow + rest = success’

 In response to the increasing levels of workplace burnout, companies and researchers are exploring ways to prevent this toll on employees. For instance, Exos, a performance coaching company, collaborated with psychologists from Hofstra University for a study on leveraging the concept of "flow" to enhance workplace performance and satisfaction while preventing burnout. They discovered that incorporating short breaks dedicated to exercise, meditation, and goal-setting can increase flow during work, leading to decreased stress levels.

During the study, 150 Exos employees were divided into two groups: one group continued with their regular work routine, while the other received flow-supportive interventions. The intervention group was prompted three times a day to take goal-setting breaks, during which they outlined their objectives for the next hour and 20 minutes of work. These breaks helped create focus, a critical precursor to achieving flow. Additionally, employees in the flow group were encouraged to take 10-15 minute breaks throughout the day for mindfulness meditation or light exercise, aimed at getting them out of their chairs and moving.

The heart rate and sleep quality of all participants were monitored using FitBits to track stress levels. Participants rated their daily stress, flow, and engagement with work. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the interventions doubled the amount of reported flow and quadrupled the reported engagement with work. As a result, stress levels decreased, and participants experienced stable physiological symptoms. In contrast, the control group reported consistently high-stress levels, along with increasing stress symptoms.

Participants in the flow group reported feeling less drained at the end of the workday and had ample time for rest and recovery, ultimately enhancing their focus and energy for the following day. Rest and recovery, even in small increments, proved to be highly beneficial. Dr. Chris Bertram, senior director of applied neuroscience at Exos, states that "stress + rest = success" can be modified to "flow + rest = success," indicating the importance of incorporating rest into the flow cycle.

The study's findings suggest that integrating short-flow breaks into the workday can help prevent burnout by providing employees with opportunities to recover from stress. Flow is described as part of a cycle that begins with struggle and transitions into a state of relief and optimal performance. Bertram highlights the significance of replenishing energy through rest and exercise to approach future challenges from a more recovered state.

Impressed by the study's results, Exos has introduced flow interventions into their company culture and performance code. Recognizing the importance of rest, they are considering transitioning to a four-day workweek and partnering with Adam Grant and the Wharton School of Business to further investigate its effectiveness.  

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