The disruption, uncertainty, and abundant stress of the 2020 pandemic year and its aftermath have turned a spotlight on well-being. Individuals are paying more attention to their health, taking greater care to recognize and address both their physical and emotional needs.
Because stress at work has been estimated to cost businesses as much as $300 billion per year, many employers are taking action, too, applying activities and strategies that can help reduce stress and burnout in the workplace. From senior-level executives to frontline managers and team leaders, those who interact with employees are ideally situated to implement those activities.
Matthias Birk, PhD, a New York University and Columbia Business School faculty member skilled in meditation methods, has instructed leaders at top organizations (Google, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Ralph Lauren—even the United Nations) in techniques useful in workplace settings.
In a March 2020 Harvard Business Review article, Birk suggests that business and team leaders try guiding their teams through a simple breathing exercise that many organizations are implementing to help employees relax briefly before meetings to sharpen their concentration.
“Taking a moment at the beginning of a meeting (virtual or in person) to get present, notice your own emotions, and start the meeting with an increased ability to listen and be open to ideas can help teams to be more thoughtful about problem solving,” he says, adding that the exercise enables employees to feel more present and focused.
Stress at Work
Almost half of employees suffer from moderate or severe stress at work.
66% of workers report that stress interferes with their ability to focus on the job.
21% blame stress for missed deadlines or other errors at work.
Nearly 16% of employees cite stress as a contributor to conflicts with co-workers.
15% of employees say stress caused them to miss work days.
Commonly referred to as A Moment to Arrive, A Mindful Minute, and 60 Seconds to Center, the exercise is fairly simple. Meditation and mindfulness experts describe the process in terms of these steps that leaders can adapt for themselves and their teams:
The meeting leader (or designated other) begins by inviting attendees to join her/him in taking a moment to relax and breathe. Experienced leaders may choose to briefly share how applying breathing awareness has helped them feel calmer and more present.
Speaking in a quiet tone, invite attendees to close their eyes or lower their gazes and relax their postures so that they are sitting comfortably. Give those present a moment to settle in.
Direct participants to slowly inhale through their noses and exhale through their mouths.
Suggest that individuals center their awareness on those breaths, keeping them easy and noting how the breath feels as it enters and exits.
Then, remaining quiet, wait while participants continue focused breathing for about a minute.
At the end of the designated time, invite attendees to conclude with a final breath in and out. Then ask them to slowly begin physical movement, open their eyes, and return their awareness to the room.
The leader concludes the exercise by thanking attendees for participating, perhaps directing them to notice how they feel now. Employees may be quiet at first, but will often silently acknowledge their enhanced well-being with smiles or nods.
Birk urges business leaders to understand how important such de-stress techniques can be in today’s workplaces: “People inside and outside your organization are in distress right now. This is an opportunity to show compassion and care in difficult times, an opportunity to show your team and organization who you are as a leader.”