While “balance” is a mindset and a practice rather than a goal or a condition, there are some solid, practical things in a HBR article to increase resilience and reduce burnout – and a few things to watch for. If you want to increase your own and your team’s ability to manage challenge over time, try what’s in that article, but also practice these three things.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Yes, meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the buzz these days because of its proven effects of reducing stress levels and improving health outcomes – but not just sitting with crossed legs, closed eyes, and mudra-hands (though that, too). Meditation practices come in many forms – the pause before the meeting starts, the undisturbed walk around the building, paying attention to what’s for lunch, and also sitting at a desk, back to the glass door, following a 7 minute guided meditation from your smart phone. Having taught meditation to employees and executives alike, I’m certain that no one practice works for everyone. But I’m also certain that there is at least one practice for anyone.
Strategy 1: Develop your own mindfulness meditation practice that works at work and practice it. Bring in someone who can teach some simple practices to your team and, more than anything else, practice the practice.
2. Work Hard, Recover Hard
I was amazed and aghast at a recent HBR article. 54% of American employees didn’t take all of their earned time off last year. Why not? Fear for one reason. Fear of being seen as replaceable or not necessary. Another reason? Being the “ideal worker.” Ideal workers consistently put the company ahead of themselves – and do get benefits from it. Ideal workers are relied on and tasked more than others, meaning they get more opportunities and rewards than others. This can apply to vacations or off-hours availability. To some degree, this is a matter of wiring more than programming, but whether it’s fear or ambition, most people who don’t recharge – however they would choose to – inevitably burn out. The irony is that the failure to be present to life outside of work makes it impossible to be present to life inside of work – presence doesn’t do “boundaries.”
presence doesn’t do “boundaries”
However, insisting that team members be present to their non-work activities can be tricky. The keystone to that arch is you. If you are always available, always call-in from the soccer match, always promptly reply to emails from vacation, your expectation is clear, even if your message says otherwise.
Strategy 2: The first HBR article title above includes the words, “Even when you can’t.” Make no mistake – if you can’t, they won’t. This is the discipline of no – and it begins with you. Practice being present to whom you’re with and to what you’re doing away from work.
One of the most valuable leadership lessons I learned from martial arts and yoga was how to breathe – it has stood me well in situations worthy of (and sometimes actually in) business magazines. While we’re not teaching our CEO or business clients punching or headstands, we are focusing on breath practices for focusing, energizing, and relaxing. Developing individual and group breath practices are one of the simplest yet most grounding things a team can do to manage debates, decisions, and even discipline. “Let’s all just take a breath,” is something we say when the going gets rough, but ironically it’s not something we do – at least not well. Learning a practice like breathing together is a great way to increase familiarity and empathy – proven building blocks for effective teams.
Strategy 3: You’re breathing anyway – optimize it. Learn and practice up to three classic yoga breathes, share them with your team, and practice them together to settle into meetings, manage tension, and build energy.
Yes, You Can
Even if what’s in this article is medical science (it is), it’s not rocket science. What you need to learn about these three practices you either already know or can easily learn. If you are concerned that you or your team are` at or above capacity and it’s all on you to deal with it, the good news is yes, you can. Get some help if you need it, but do it.