The impact that the work environment is having on the ability for people to maximise their output is critical to business success. The likes of Google and other Silicon Valley companies have already taped into the ability to enhance people’s productivity by setting up spaces that allow for recovery, during the working day.
Take an athlete who is managed by a coach. The coach’s job is to help the athlete perform at his or her highest level when it matters – on competition day. The rest of the time it is about building towards the most important day. That programme has peaks and troughs so the athlete can recover and perform better next time, having allowed the body to respond and adapt to the training ‘stress’.
What if that athlete never got a break? What if the coach just expected ongoing high performance without a break – the athlete would break right!?
Same in the workplace. If we do not let our brains and bodies have the down time they need we will be heading for a ‘breakdown’.
The setup and culture of an office environment can make the difference between being able to take micros breaks even while working perhaps but also taking breaks that allows people to totally disengage with what they are doing, reset their hormones to a health balance and then continue on with work at a better pace with a clearer mind and a better quality output.
For example a busy open plan office may well cause some people a stress response due to the over stimulation of senses all day along with trying to have conversations that may be affected by the background noise. Equally people may shift their workday to earlier start or later finish to attempt to avoid some of this over stimulation to get some ‘quality’ work done without interruption. This ‘shifting’ of hours may be a good thing from a productivity point of view but may also affect sleep routine if rising extra early or family time if arriving home late – all potentially negatively impacting the recovery part of a working persons day.
So what’s the solution?
A small study showed a group of people who spent one week in a normal working week in the traditional office where no particular emphasis was put on recovery or breaks. The second week of the study they were moved to a different environment where they were given the opportunity to take breaks in ergonomically designed workstations and encouraged to take breaks to recharge away from screens.
The participants reported feelings of lower stress and better sleep during the second week. Activities they were encouraged to do were: deep breathing exercises, creative writing in a quiet, pod like space.
Heart rates were measured as was heart rate variability – a measure of stress levels in your body. These two are inversely related, meaning the higher your heart rate normally the lower your heart rate variability. If your variability is low this indicates your body is under some level of stress. If it is high then the gap between beats is different and your body is under less stress. Having higher variability means the body is more able to adapt to different things put upon it. Think of this as being ‘workload’. If you keep piling work load onto your ‘plate’ there has to be a breaking point somewhere, just like the athlete – ideally a break you take in your day rather than a break down!
Rich Ellis is Health Coach, Speak and Mentor
He works with businesses to maximise productivity