3 Research-Backed Habits That Will Keep Workers Motivated

Juggling multiple deadlines, switching between meetings and phone calls throughout the day, mindless phone scrolling between obligations — sound familiar?

The scenario is standard in most workplaces, and it’s causing more and more employees to burn out. It’s clear: Company priorities must change. Burnout was a key factor in a near-record-high 47 million people leaving their jobs last year.

Exos, a company that provides corporate wellness solutions to almost a quarter of Fortune 100 companies, says the solution needs to start from the top.

Fostering a workplace culture of creative and curious thinkers can provide employees with the burst of inspiration they need to not only stay in their jobs but also to feel motivated by their work again.

According to Exos, there are three ways managers can help initiate the change to help improve employee retention.

1. Minimize task switching

Switching projects and priorities throughout the day is a recipe for an exhausted mind. It prevents people from feeling engaged, motivated, and fulfilled — all the qualities needed to find value at the workplace. “Frequent task switching is like a form of hyper-distraction,” says Chris Bertram, senior director of applied neuroscience at Exos. “And doesn’t leave the time and space for deep focus.”

While multitasking can seem more effective, all those little delays of time between tasks add up and increase the opportunity for error. Research shows that task switching delay can lead to a 40 percent loss of someone’s productivity. Not exactly the kind of cost you want to add to your bottom line.

Initiating new policies around meeting schedules and reevaluating project expectations and deadlines will allow employees to focus consistently on one task. This results in more thought-out and creative ideas and solutions, which ultimately leads to longer-term optimal performance.

2. Prioritize purposeful, restful breaks

The best way to counteract exhaustion from burnout is by allowing restful breaks. Phone scrolling and email checking between meetings don’t count. They accentuate the mindset of task switching, and never allow the mind to recharge.

Research shows that more frequent breaks of any type lead to less stress, but encouraging activities like walking or meditation helps employees experience less stress and increased productivity. “Those things add up over time,” says Bertram. “And the result is that employees won’t feel quite as drained or overwhelmed at the end of the day.”

Restful breaks don’t have to be a major undertaking. Stretching, walking outside with a colleague, drinking water, or practicing breath work or meditation, for example, all qualify as forms of active recovery.

“Give employees a playbook of tools that they can use on their own, anytime, free of cost,” says Bertram. Those tools are ideally part of your corporate wellness program, and easily accessible for both onsite and remote workers, like guided stretch breaks or coach-provided mobility exercises.

3. Give employees the freedom to explore

Allowing employees to feel like they’re in control of behaviors and outcomes leads to improved motivation. Take, for example, Google’s 20 percent rule, a concept made popular when Google went public in 2004. Google managers encouraged employees to allocate 20 percent of their time to projects they thought would benefit the company. This feature let employees explore interests and grow self-determination without the pressure to succeed.

Employees become more excited by internal factors like a need to gain knowledge or independence, versus external motivators like bonuses and promotions. Then seek out the leaders (and future leaders) within your organization who have the ambition and desire to grow. This will plant the seeds companywide for change and drive employees to take action.

The result

Employees who have the mental energy to focus during the day and the tools they need to properly recover during breaks are better able to contribute to the value of your company. And that extra mental capacity, paired with the freedom to find new outlets, can only lead to good things for both your employees and your company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.