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C-Suite Advisory

Four simple ways leaders can make the workplace less stressful for their team

Dr. Amantha Imber, an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.

Most workplaces are structured around the hours of 9am to 5pm. And while workplaces are increasingly claiming to have flexible working policies, working hours still default to 9 to 5.

The problem with these hours is that they may not align to the natural peaks and troughs of energy that individuals in your team run on, otherwise known as their Chronotype.

According to chronobiologists Martha Merrow and Till Roenneberg, approximately 14% of people are Larks. Their peak time is in the morning. At the other end of the spectrum are Owls (around 21% of the population) who come to life at night. Everyone else falls into the “middle birds” category and are somewhere in between in terms of energy peaks. (Complete this assessment to determine your Chronotype).

Let people work to their Chronotype

It’s critical that leaders know what Chronotype each member of the team is. Once you have this information, you can encourage individuals to structure their workday accordingly. Let your Larks start work in the wee hours of the morning. But remember, this means letting them leave early too. Owls do best with the opposite schedule.

By structuring the workday around people’s Chronotype, performance will lift due to aligning work tasks with when their energy is at its peak. People will also experience less stress through not having their natural circadian rhythms be out of sync with their workplace’s office hours.

Stop expecting immediate responses to emails

The average worker checks email or instant messenger every 6 minutes. But the constant “just check” of email means it’s practically impossible for people to sink their teeth into the meaty projects that actually form the basis of their job – work that requires chunks of undistracted time and focused concentration.

While email is addictive, many workers feel pressure to check their inbox regularly and respond immediately to anything from their manager. Often, this is due to a mismatch in expectations.

As a leader, you need to be clear on how quickly (or not) you expect a response to emails, and recognise that if you want a fast response, you are compromising other activities in your team’s work. By setting clear expectations, your staff should feel less pressure to constantly be in their inbox and instead, be able to carve out uninterrupted chunks of time to make real progress on projects that matter.

Stop setting 30- or 60-minute meetings

Parkinson’s Law suggests that the time it takes to complete a task will fill to whatever time you have allocated for it. This law has big implications for meetings.

Most online calendars default to 30 or 60 minutes. However, if meetings were run as effectively as possible, many would finish early.

Given leaders are responsible for setting the majority of meetings set in any workplace, they have an opportunity to think deliberately about how much time a discussion should take or how much time it deserves.

When booking your next meeting, avoid the temptation to default to 30 or 60 minutes and instead consider the true length of time each meeting deserves. This approach should shave hours off the time your time spends in meetings, which of course can then be reallocated to actually doing work.

Encourage people to eat lunch away from their desk

Sixty-two percent of Americans eat lunch at their desk, with half of these workers eating lunch alone. In research conducted by the Hartman Group, 25% of Americans agreed with the statement ‘‘I eat alone to multitask better’’ when it comes to their lunchtime behaviours.

Often, we look to our manager to understand the social norms around lunchtime behavior. And if our boss eats lunch at their desk while buried in their inbox, workers tend to follow suit.

But by eating lunch at our desk, we are significantly reducing our effectiveness. Research from the University of Mannheim found that workers who used their lunch break to relax or to spend time with others felt significantly more rejuvenated, compared to those who spent time alone or not engaging in relaxing activities.

Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that over an eight-week period, workers who went for a 10-minute walk during their lunch break felt more energetic and resilient in the afternoon.

Leaders need to lead by example and avoid eating lunch at their desk and encourage their team to do the same. Go for a short walk and find a space other than your desk to eat.

By staying away from default behaviours, Sarah and other leaders like her can have a huge impact on the stress levels of their team and make work a whole lot more enjoyable.


Written by: Dr. Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators.

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Dr. Amantha Imber
Dr. Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, an innovation consultancy that only uses tools that have been scientifically proven to work. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives. Dr. Amantha Imber is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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