This is the season when many companies are focused on planning to improve profitability and productivity in the coming year. Traditional approaches to that often focus on more — more hours, more projects, more email, and more output.
But for many organizations, this “more” focus may be misplaced. After a certain point, additional hours at work don’t necessarily translate into additional hours of productivity. Excess busyness can produce more errors, lead to declines in employee health, and lead people to emphasize reactivity over proactivity.
In fact, companies might be better served by giving their people opportunities to recover from periods of intense work, so their minds can clear and they can recognize what’s most important.
Leadership Muscles Need Recovery
With physical fitness, rest is required after exercise for muscles to recover and grow stronger. Leadership muscles are similar, and require opportunities to recover, too.
Companies can help employees step back and pause. In the process, they can help increase workforce resiliency, boost energy and passion about work, and reduce costs associated with stress, illness, and employee turnover.
There will always be times when your company needs to pick up the pace of work and ask everyone to sprint. But these high activity times need to be balanced with periods of recovery. The key for any organization that wants to be sustainable and competitive over the long term is balance.
5 Key Recovery Practices
At one time or another, we’ve all engaged in recovery behaviors. Sometimes it means taking that “mental health day” at the end of a busy quarter or taking a day just to be outside in nature.
For others, it might mean carving out time to reconnect with friends, or even going on a long run after work to shed the stress of a tough day.
Though individuals may have their preferences, research points to 5 key recovery practices:
1. Sleep. Sufficient sleep is a biological necessity for our physical and mental health. A 2013 Gallup poll found that in the U.S., almost half of adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep.
2. Exercise. Most corporate workers have sedentary jobs — sitting at a desk rather than engaging in physical activity — that are bracketed by commutes spent sitting in cars, buses, or trains. Physical activity can boost energy, mood, cognition, and performance.
3. Mental recovery. Being able to stay attentive and focused is critical to high performance. But that’s tougher than ever with the ever-present notifications from digital devices and workdays that, in multinational organizations, can extend far beyond the traditional workday. Contemplative practices such as meditation are ways to allow the mind to regain focus and clarity. Mindfulness exercises can train the brain to be better focused, resulting in clearer thinking.
4. Social recovery. Humans are social animals. Connecting, caring, and sharing with others can lower stress levels and boost moods. Organizations need to find ways to encourage positive social interactions at work and outside of work.
5. Expressing positive emotions. Positive emotions can increase energy and creativity. Work cultures are great at identifying the negative, but could be more intentional about identifying good and meaningful experiences at work. Demonstrations of gratitude, for example, can enhance mood and wellbeing.
When practiced regularly, these behaviors can help keep employees happy, healthy, and engaged. But simply telling people to get more sleep or exercise more is unlikely to change workforce behaviors.
Here are a few things that human resources leaders should consider to encourage employees — and managers — to foster resiliency:
- Educate people about resiliency. Help people understand that there are specific practices and habits that can help them feel better and perform better on the job. Help them connect these behaviors to their health and improved job performance.
- Provide resiliency-building opportunities at work. An onsite gym or reimbursements for fitness classes can make it more likely employees will exercise. Create parameters around the use of email so that people know they aren’t always expected to respond immediately, especially in the middle of the night.
- Consider contemplative practices. An increasing number of large organizations, from corporate giants such as Google to the U.S. Army, are using mindfulness programs to help people learn how to pause and quickly regain focus. Mindfulness programs can be offered a variety of ways, from self-guided courses to on-site classes. Mindful techniques can be employed at home, at one’s desk, and even in meetings.
There are many more things that HR leaders can do to build resiliency among workers. To learn more about how organizations can cultivate greater resilience and higher performance, download our white paper “How to Prevent Overwork from Killing Productivity.”