Microsoft study shows power of ‘brain breaks’ after rise in back-to-back meetings

New Microsoft study finds alarming impact of back-to-back virtual meetings

Microsoft study shows power of ‘brain breaks’ after rise in back-to-back meetings

New research by Microsoft has revealed the alarming impact of back-to-back virtual meetings which may be contributing to the rising levels of burnout.

The study compared the brain’s electrical activity in 14 research subjects, with half participating in four back-to-back meetings and the other half doing the same amount but with interspersed meditation breaks.

Those who didn’t have a break showed far higher levels of stress and lower engagement as time went on. During the second and third meeting the participants recorded the highest levels of beta wave activity, which is associated with stress. In contrast, those who took meditation breaks showed positive levels of frontal alpha asymmetry, which correlates with higher engagement.

Not only were they less stressed, but the breaks gave them time to reset and enabled them to be more engaged in the next meeting. The research offers a simple solution for people leaders struggling to galvanise exhausted teams. By prioritising breaks and communicating the importance of resetting between commitments, employees will feel more confident in saying no to back-to-back meetings.

Read more: The real reasons employees are 'burned out'

Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s chief people officer, told HRD: “In today’s world of remote and hybrid work, it’s not sufficient to only encourage self-care. We need to innovate and leverage technology to help employees operationalize much-needed breaks into their daily routines.”

Microsoft’s study comes as the company announced a new Outlook feature which automatically carves out time at the start or end of Teams meetings. Businesses, teams, or individuals can choose to switch the function on, utilising technology to enforce breaks. When used as an organisation-wide tool, it takes the onus away from employees having to prioritise breaks themselves.

“The back-to-back meetings that have become the norm over the last 12 months just aren't sustainable,” said Jared Spataro, CVP, Microsoft 365. “Outlook and Microsoft Teams are used by millions of people around the world, and this small change can help customers develop new cultural norms and improve wellbeing for everyone.”

Read more: Feeling burned out? Employees plan to hop jobs in 2021

This need to change the narrative is critical has never been more important. Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index found the amount of time spent in Teams meetings has doubled between February 2020 and 2021. The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes.

The digital overload facing employees is contributing to the rising level of burnout, and Australian workers are faring worse than their counterparts overseas. New research from employee experience software company Limeade found 45% of Australian employees are suffering from burnout, higher than the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France.

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