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Microsoft: Back-to-back meetings aren’t good for employees

Microsoft researchers reveal why employees must take REAL breaks in between meetings.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Microsoft Teams

Unleash Your Curiosity A recent study by Microsoft looked at the impact of back-to-back meetings on employees’ stress levels.

  • Microsoft researchers reveal why employees must take REAL breaks in between meetings.
  • The findings re-emphasize the need for employers to think about how teams can collaborate without impacting deep work and focus.
  • Why one simple tip can help your employees feel better and more relaxed at work.

Surprise! Back-to-back virtual meetings can make employees feel distracted and stressed at work — and that’s not just me saying it, it’s according to research by Microsoft

Researchers at the tech giant asked 14 individuals to participate in video calls over two days. All participants wore electroencephalogram (EEG) caps used to measure brain activity. 

As part of the study, the participants attended four half-hour meetings back-to-back one day. 

On a separate occasion, they were given 10-minute breaks between each meeting and were asked to use Headspace.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found that the lack of breaks led to an increase in stress levels—particularly as people transitioned from one call to another.

By interpreting the data from the electroencephalogram, researchers say participants were able to reset, focus, and engage during the allocated breaks.

[Read more: 5 ways high-performing organizations avoid meeting fatigue]

Alongside the research, and in an attempt to counteract this issue, Microsoft announced it was launching a new Outlook feature designed to encourage users to establish shorter meetings and take breaks in between sessions.

“The antidote to meeting fatigue is simple: taking short breaks,” the report notes.

To counteract this, meetings on Microsoft Teams will start five minutes after the hour by default. 

“Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings,” Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group, highlights in the report.

Although many will undoubtedly welcome the brief respite, it’s important that employees use these breaks to reset and refrain from squeezing in some kind of work. “Catch your breath and take a break away from your screen,” Bohan urged.

Employee wellbeing

The coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent shift to remote and hybrid working, has placed a huge emphasis on employee wellbeing — making it one of the key priorities for HR professionals everywhere.

As organizations re-tool and prepare to embrace the future of work, it’s important that leaders ensure mental wellbeing remains at the top of the agenda.

Recent research by Ginger, an on-demand mental wellbeing platform, found that the vast majority (70%) of employees reported feeling more stress during the pandemic than ever before.

The findings, which reflected the views of 1,300 full time employees in the US and over 150 CEOs, also reflected a change in mentality.

Ginger found that 92% of CEOs said their companies were more focused on mental health due to the pandemic and 94% said employee mental health was a C-suite issue, not just an HR issue.

In addition, 80% of CEOs said that poor employee mental health negatively impacted worker productivity and 69% were concerned about their employees’ mental wellbeing.

Asynchronous working may well be the future, but it’s important the leaders think about how collaboration can happen without encroaching into individuals’ deep and focused work.

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