How a 15-Minute Pause Lowers Stress

Our work cultures are only as great as the people in them are. I believe with all the stressors of today's technology, 24/7 response time, longer hours are making it more challenging for employees to be their best selves. In fact, I discovered through my research that 75 percent of Americans experience some sort of physical symptoms related to stress in any given month, and 73 percent experience psychological or mental symptoms, according to the American Psychological Association, Stress in America, 2012.

Pause and think about it. Three out of four people are experiencing stress at such a high level that it is having a negative effect on their health, relationships and work. Are you one of the three?

This stress treadmill needs to stop. So, what can I do? I believe that with longer hours, we've actually become less productive, therein lies the challenge. Should executives change the policy and simply say go back to a 40-hour workweek and is that even realistic with a global economy? Should employees renegotiate the amount of hours they work each day?

There is no simple answer, rather each person needs to take a step back and ponder this question, "Am I enjoying my work, the people, and the environment? If not, then what am I going to do about it?" In my opinion, it means more personal accountability is needed to foster a more positive work culture. Collectively, we can change the culture if we want it to be less stressed, and then we need to make different choices. Working with various clients, there is an increase of people coming to work every day exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed out. I have had my share of struggling to find balance and juggling all that we have to do in today's fast-paced world.

I finally came up with some questions to help me navigate in the constantly changing environment and then gave them to some of my coaching clients as well.
  • Will I be glad that I did it?
  • Is this a must-do, or can I leave it for later?
  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • Will I have regrets if I don't do this?
  • Will a delay cause more or less stress?
  • Is it okay to say no to this?
  • What is stopping me from moving forward?
  • Is this a top priority? If yes, just do it.

These questions help me to pause and assess whether the work I'm doing is critical in that moment, and is it for a greater result. We have so many "to-dos" on our checklist that we are simply going through it and checking it off without regard to whether it's genuinely important.

In my experience, when employees take a 15-minute pause every day away from their desk, go to lunch in the cafeteria or at a cafe, took a walk or use the company gym that would help relieve some stress. It's all about the practice. Taking time out each day to have more time for family, friends and fun will definitely make for a happier and more energized employee that in turn would make for a more positive work culture.

Ultimately, I believe that the difference between effective and ineffective work cultures is that effective organizations have employees who are engaged, energized and work well together every day. They are committed to practicing being aware and accountable to ensure they are taking a "timeout" to lower their stress levels. I'm an advocate for helping employees and organizations cultivate positive, engaged and energized workplaces.

Michelle Burke is a Communication and Workplace Strategist, published Author, Consultant, and Speaker. She is Co-founder and President of The Energy Catalyst Group dedicated to creating more positive and engaged workplaces. Her years' experience working with Fortune 100, 500 companies, established her as a leading expert in bridging communication, gender and cultural gaps. Michelle consults with HR and leadership to focus on increasing individual, team and organizational energy. She collaborates with clients using her 3-A Model: Awareness, Accountability and (purposeful) Action. Clients include Stanford University, Visa, Sony, Disney, Receptos and Genentech. She authored, The Valuable Office Professional, and was featured in Business Week's Frontier Magazine, the LA Times, SF Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal. Her articles have been in Training, HR, and Chief Learning Officer Magazines. Please connect with her Michelle@energycatalystgroup.com.