To keep employees engaged and energized, they should move often to re-engage their brains. Just one to two minutes of motion at 30-minute intervals during meetings and throughout the day can strongly mitigate stress and disengagement in the workplace.
Physiologically, causing muscles to engage activates brain receptors, which help to keep brain synapses stable. Even small movements cause improved brain processing speed, learning and short-term memory, and can have a big effect on overall health.
Activities such as walking to lunch, taking the stairs and even tapping your toes can raise metabolism and break down fat molecules at the cellular level. Standing up can improve one’s ability to think, and standing while working may help improve posture and reduces aches and stiffness. Researchers have reported that people who choose to stand instead of sit note that their minds feel clearer and they are able to concentrate better.
Janet Nikolovski and I studied a concept we call a “microburst,” where “micro” represents a small energy investment, and “burst” characterizes the disproportionately bigger energy return. It is a small — short in duration — intentional activity that results in a disproportionately higher return. A microburst can be physical, emotional, mental or connected to one’s purpose in life.
The microburst represents one to two minutes that can change your energy level and energy state, and it disrupts the nonstop world in a positive way. Humans are oscillatory beings, and biologically we run on natural rhythms that vacillate — EEG, EKG, sleep, circadian rhythms, etc. — but today’s workplace demands linearity, a nonstop pace and a go-go-go mentality.
Employees are often overscheduled and overcommitted, with inadequate rest or recovery. Microbursts break this cycle of continuous exertion and allow for one to two minutes to disengage, recover and re-energize, helping individuals to meet the society’s pace.
Microbursts need not be solely physical. Microbursts of mental, spiritual or emotional activities can also have a strong effect on energy levels. For example, a microburst like a conversation with a loved one is very short in length, but very powerful in impact.
Chief learning officers can use microbursts to create an organization in motion.
Encourage leadership large and small. It’s critical to put top- and line-level leadership in place to support an organization in motion. Because a motion-based organization is so counterintuitive, it’s important for leaders to start by running experiments. Managers can ask a small group of people who want to improve their energy levels to volunteer, and appoint champions who will set half-hour alarms at their desks and rally their colleagues to participate.
Encourage frequency. Employees should never go more than 30 minutes without moving. Even very brief low- to moderate-intensity motion is better than none. Ask employees to set their calendar alarms reminding them to get up out of their chairs and move.
Eliminate “permissions” to move. When in meetings, remember that people have permission to get up, stretch and move around the room while staying connected to the meeting at hand.
Consider these ideas to put your organization in motion:
When in meetings:
- Ensure that meetings last no more than one hour, and call for a one- to two-minute movement exercise at the half hour.
- Give people permission to move during the meeting — even small motions or stretching while sitting.
For employees working at their desks:
- Provide a standing desk, or a desk that rises up and down. If standing is difficult, provide balance ball chairs.
- Provide wireless headsets so employees can walk while on the phone.
- Discourage internal email. Encourage personal contact by walking to people’s offices to communicate.
- Before going into the break, encourage employees to disengage from what they have been doing, and then to get recovery.
- Walk two to three flights of stairs.
- Go outside and walk briskly.
- If going to the washroom, use one on a different floor, if possible.