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The New Science of Workplace Well-Being

As you have probably noticed, time is a nonrenewable resource; there are only so many hours we can work in each day. Energy, however, is renewable. Thankfully, more and more employers are becoming wise to the fact that by replenishing our energy stores regularly we can operate at peak performance.

Running on empty

When we are running on fumes, exhausted, stressed out, we all know we aren’t very productive.

“The way we’re working isn’t working,” says Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, citing the title of his latest book.

The Energy Project has identified four core needs that even small workplace changes can support: physical health, emotional happiness, mental focus and spiritual purpose.

“What we are beginning to see enacted in corporations across the country is nothing short of a paradigm shift,” Tony says.

One shift we can make, suggests Tony, is to work according to our natural ultradian rhythms: Doing high-demand, focused work in blocks of no more than 90 minutes, then taking a break.

The end of face time?

Many corporations have traditionally promoted a culture of face time and endless work hours to the detriment of employee work-life balance—and even to the detriment of a company’s own balance sheet.

Researchers are finding that those who work constantly, check their phones at all hours and never take vacation days are on their way to burnout, which results in lost income and time for both employer and worker.

A changing workplace

On the other hand, things that may seem counterintuitive, like taking a short afternoon nap, meditating and engaging in enjoyable non-work activities during work hours, in some studies seem to increase productivity. 

Dr. Colleen Georges, a positive psychologist and coach, often sees the negative toll that an organizational culture of ceaseless working can have on employee satisfaction and performance through her clients. She will often suggest they try “booster breaks,” such as physical activity and meditation during the workday.

The power of the nap

This concept was pioneered by Wendell Taylor, Ph.D., of the University of Texas, among others, who found that these activities can increase employee job satisfaction, energy and productivity, reduce stress, and potentially decrease healthcare costs and improve organizational image.

Furthermore, studies consistently show that employees who take breaks at work to relax and reenergize are happier and more productive at work than their counterparts who use breaks to catch up on emails or run errands.

What does this look like in action?

In their own firm, The Energy Project employees start with four weeks per year of vacation time. They can work from wherever they want, and are encouraged to leave the office for daytime breaks. Their open, modern office—punctuated by colorful graphics and the words “passion” and “focus” on the glass walls of the conference room—includes “renewal rooms” for naps or meditation. They hold community meetings to check in with how people are feeling and check in with the mission.

Seeing the results

Ron Zumstein is vice president of manufacturing and a 27-year veteran of Ablemarle Corp. [[link]], a Louisiana chemical company, a client of The Energy Project. Ron says what they learned through working with The Energy Project has empowered their employees, which helps them drive the company forward and creates leaders.

But even if we don’t work for one of these forward-thinking companies, we all have the ability to more effectively manage our energy. Creating rituals to ensure we get enough sleep, exercise and downtime supports our core needs.

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