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Hate your work? Meeting four needs is key to engagement, study finds


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Does the idea of daily, intermittent breaks in your work routine seem an impossible goal? If so, you may be less focused and engaged in your work.

Studies by a company called The Energy Project show the opportunity to renew and recharge at work is one of four core needs of happy employees. The findings are outlined in a New York Times article by Energy Project chief executive Tony Schwartz and Georgetown University business professor Christine Porath, a consultant to The Energy Project.

Employees who take a break every 90 minutes during work have more focus and creativity than those who take just one or no breaks during the day, Schwartz and Porath report. The more hours employees work above 40 hours a week, and the more continuously they work, the less engaged they become.

The Energy Project tried out the “intermittent rest” idea several years ago in a study of about 150 accountants during tax season. One group of accountants worked 90 minute periods, followed by breaks of 10 to 15 minutes. They also got one hour-long break in the late afternoon when energy levels typically sag. Those in the group were allowed to leave after finishing a designated amount of work.

“With higher focus,” the article says, “these employees ended up getting more work done in less time, left work earlier in the evenings than the rest of their colleagues, and reported a much less stressful overall experience during the busy season. Their turnover rate was far lower than that of employees in the rest of the firm.” Despite the findings, the firm continued to measure its employees’ work by hours.

The Energy Project conducted a much larger study of 12,000 mostly white-collar employees in a partnership last fall with Harvard Business Review. About 8,500 employees of Two Energy Project clients—a manufacturing company and a financial services company—also took the survey.

“The results were remarkably similar across all three populations,” the article says. “Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.”

The more that employers were able to meet the core needs, the more likely the employees were to feel engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy, the study found.

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