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When It Comes to Employee Productivity, Less (Work) Is Sometimes More

When It Comes to Employee Productivity, Less (Work) Is Sometimes More

Performance coaching company Exos has revealed the important role rest and recovery play in helping employees reach the “flow state”

Getting into a rhythm at work is more challenging than ever, especially with the countless distractions of the digital age. Between texts, calls, emails, meetings and reminders, employees are already in a swarm of stressors that prohibit them from entering a “flow state” — a positive and productive state of consciousness that allows them to be fully immersed in a task. It’s a beautiful place to be and one that Exos, a performance coaching company, has studied masterfully. 

In collaboration with Hofstra University, Exos has completed an in-depth study to better understand flow state — an important analysis, especially as employee satisfaction is low and the risk of burnout is high. 

Flow state is constructive to the workplace bottom line, but it also supports retention and Exos’s research shows it positively impacts employee well-being and performance while reducing employee burnout. It can be summed up in one simple equation:

Flow + Rest = Success

As part of the study, led by Dr. Chris Bertram, senior director of applied neuroscience at Exos, approximately 150 Exos employees were analyzed, half partaking in a “flow-based intervention” and the other half remaining as a control group. 

Employees in the “intervention” group received basic education on flow and its effectiveness at work and setting clear goals three times a day while mixing in “microbreaks” throughout. On the other hand, those in the control group continued working as they usually would on a typical day.

After four weeks, Exos discovered some interesting results that demonstrated the significance of flow on employees and their output.

Those in the intervention group experienced doubled flow and productivity and experienced less stress at the end of their work day. Even better, once employees became increasingly mindful of their personal needs and goals, they were almost three times more likely to enter a flow zone at work. Exos also found that flow states increase engagement, with those in the intervention group nearly four times more likely to be more connected with their work than those in the control group. The study also concluded that increased movement in the workplace promoted a flow state.

Workplace wellness benefits
credit: NDAB Creativity/

Finding Flow: Microbreaks, Movement & Meditation

The research and subsequent findings of Dr. Bertram and Exos call attention to the simple ways employers can promote a healthy working environment, resulting in high-performing employees who can reach their flow state.

Although it may sound counterintuitive to employers, allowing staff time to embrace and practice recovery can actually spark productivity. 

“Hustle culture is failing us, and the costs to our businesses and our human capital are enormous,” Dr. Bertram tells Athletech News. “It’s simply not a model of high performance that works.”  

As Dr. Bertram points out, a grueling environment would be akin to “overtraining syndrome” if deployed on athletes.

“We’d have them injured and out of their sport in a matter of months,” said Dr. Bertram. “It doesn’t work for athletes, and guess what? It doesn’t work for anyone else, either. But instead of calling it overtraining, we call it burnout. We call it languishing. We call it a failing of work-life balance. Pick your headline of the week. These are simply the predictable outcomes of a broken model of workplace high performance. We need a new model that can simultaneously support well-being and productivity.”

Instead of a packed schedule of meetings and work, supporting employees to take microbreaks for meditation, a chance to move or take a walk, or enjoy a healthy meal can have countless benefits and ward off burnout.

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Workplace wellness benefits

The Importance of Investing in Employee Wellness

It’s essential that leadership in an organization supports flow strategies and models them in practice, not just theory. It can’t simply be another corporate buzzword on a flier hanging in the employee cafeteria —leaders need to leverage modeling flow strategies themselves to build a healthy workplace. 

Even better news? Flow state-supportive strategies for workplace well-being and performance are also customizable across all industries, Dr. Bertram points out, giving power to employees and employers in all sectors. 

“Flow is a very individualized experience, and so too are the ways in which people recover and put energy back into their systems,” Dr. Bertram explained. “However, the key thing to note is that the triggers for flow – things like clear goals, autonomy, and distraction management – are the consistent levers to work with, and they can be tailored quite easily to meet the needs of different industry contexts.”

The biggest takeaway of the study, says Dr. Bertram, is demonstrating that workplace well-being and business bottom line aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. 

“When approached thoughtfully and intentionally, workplace cultures can be engineered for success in both of these critical domains,” he said. “It can’t all be about productivity and output, but it can’t all be about rest either. High performance is about being ready and able to turn the dials up when it’s time to work and then being ready and able to turn those same dials down when it’s time to rest and recover. That’s what a sustainable model of workplace high performance looks like.”

In its quest to seek optimal performance, Dr. Bertram shared that Exos is currently working with renowned organizational psychologist Adam Grant and his team at the Wharton School of Business as the performance coaching company trials a 4-day work week

Visit Exos to learn more about driving higher employee performance and developing an engaging and resilient team. 

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