The prefix “micro” means short or extremely small, but there’s nothing small about Microcare’s big potential to promote workplace mental health and productivity in a small amount of time. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 48% of the American workforce is searching for a new job opportunity, and many are looking for signs that companies care about them. Research shows that various forms of Microcare create a win-win for both employees seeking better working conditions and employers seeking to recruit and retain workers while promoting engagement and productivity along with the company’s bottom line. When we take short times out to rest and relax, we’re more engaged and productive—even more effective at our work tasks. There are five types of Microcare that yield big payoffs in a short amount of time: Microsteps, Microbreaks, Microchillers, Microweeks and Microcations .
Microsteps (Strategy 1)
Ariana Huffington, CEO and founder of Thrive Global, is a huge advocate of what the staff calls “Microsteps”—penned in their new book, Your Time To Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-Being, And Unlock Your Full Potential With The New Science Of Microsteps. “It’s the latest scientific validation of Reset, one of the most popular features in our Thrive App, which allows us to course-correct and lower our stress in just 60 seconds,” Huffington said.
Microsoft researchers monitored the brain activity of study participants and found that virtual fatigue begins to set in roughly 30 minutes into a meeting. Taking breaks between meetings, they discovered, stops cumulative stress from building up, giving our brains a chance to “reset.” In back-to-back meetings for two hours, subjects’ brains showed a steady increase of beta waves, which are connected to stress. But when participants took a break between meetings, the beta activity decreased. Even more fascinating, the beta waves remained low even when followed by four additional consecutive virtual meetings. Researchers also found that back-to-back virtual meetings weaken our focus and engagement, but when participants took breaks to reset, engagement held steady. According to Huffington, “Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab research is a testament to how much we can achieve without wear and tear when we learn to pause, rest and reset.”
Microbreaks (Strategy 2)
Research at North Carolina State University supports Microsoft’s findings. Scientists there have shown the value of taking “Microbreaks” throughout the workday. These short breaks of five minutes or less are effective energy management strategies and can be as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, gazing out a window at nature, snacking or having a five minute mindful meditation. In the first study, on days when full-time employees had poor sleep quality, they experienced higher fatigue the next morning and took Microbreaks more frequently at work. After taking Microbreaks, they had higher work engagement during the day and lower end-of-work fatigue. Study two replicated and confirmed the first study that poor sleep quality led to morning fatigue. When workers took Microbreaks, work engagement improved and end-of-work fatigue declined. “Our study shows that it is in a company’s best interest to give employees autonomy in terms of taking Microbreaks when they are needed—it helps employees effectively manage their energy and engage in their work throughout the day,” said Sophia Cho, a co-author of the study
Microchillers (Strategy 3)
Microchillers—any short activity that makes you aware of what’s happening in the flow of your daily routines—are some of the best tools to stay calm and balanced and sharpen energy, concentration and performance. They are short (five minutes or less), portable and easy to build into the day. You can practice them in several different ways, to varying degrees and with a minimum of time and dedication. Simply be mindful during activities that are already baked into your workday, paying full nonjudgmental attention and observing them like you would a blemish on your hand. You can intentionally walk to your printer with present-moment awareness by focusing your attention on the sensations of your feet against the floor. Or as you head towards the parking garage after a workday, notice the feel of the air, sights and sounds. When you weed the garden, pay attention to the resistance against your hands as you tug stubborn weeds and smells of fresh soil as you unearth them from their home. During a Zoom meeting, rushing for a deadline or involved in a conference call, you can step out of your thought stream and make yourself fully present in the activity. When you’re fully engaged in five-minute Microchillers throughout your workday, you notice that previous worries or stressful thoughts fall away, and you feel recharged.
Microweeks (Strategy 4)
Instead of working five days a week, Shane Metcalf, chief culture officer at 15Five suggests ways companies can shorten workweeks. A four-day work week—already implemented by Kickstarter and Microsoft—creates greater structure around work and adds a free weekday to relax and handle life matters. And research supports his recommendation. A Joblist survey found a four day workweek is what 94% of job seekers are looking for, plus a new study by Eagle Hill Consulting found that 83% of respondents said a four-day workweek would alleviate burnout. Metcalf also recommends “No Meeting Thursdays,” which creates a much-needed break from Zoom fatigue and allows employees to set aside blocks of time for deep work to cross things off their lists and feel some breathing room. Plus, he recommends a six-to-eight week sabbatical program for tenured employees to work on a passion project and get distance from day-to-day work patterns. Not only can they grow and attain personal fulfillment, he says, but they are likely to return to work with renewed zeal and refreshed creativity. His idea of “Best-Self Time Fridays” is designed to support employees in their personal development practices; it’s ongoing and dedicated self-care/self-growth/recharge time intended to leave people even more creative, more productive and more motivated to serve customers and community.
Microcations (Strategy 5)
During breakfast on a recent business trip to New York City, I chatted with a young executive from Chicago who came to the Big Apple for a long weekend vacation. When I asked her why she hadn’t planned to stay longer. “I wish I could but my boss frowns upon us being out of the office for more than a few days,” she said. “I used to not take any vacations until I discovered short trips and long weekends work best. I don’t want management to think I’m a slacker. Lazy feet don’t eat.” If you’re one of the 47% of Americans who refuse vacations because it’s too stressful to plan a big getaway or you’re concerned corporate honchos would frown upon your being away, you might consider a new trend called Microcations—short getaways of fewer than five nights such as a four-day weekend to attend a wedding or family event. Microcations have increased in popularity with workers taking several Microcations over the course of a year instead of a week or two-week vacation in one fell swoop.