women doing breathwork together

We have all had those days that felt like they were just too much. There’s more work than there is time to actually do it. There are multiple fires that need to be put out, and you don’t want to let down your manager or your team. You have trouble falling asleep because you can’t get your mind to stop worrying about a high profile project or a particular colleague that seems to constantly be a roadblock. 

In these moments, the stress triggers your sympathetic nervous system, your fight or flight response. When this happens, you aren’t your best self. You might have less patience and snap at a colleague. Your judgment might be off. Your problem solving skills experience a block. You can’t focus effectively. You’re not as productive. Moreover, none of this feels good!

According to a Deloitte study, 77% of employees say they have experienced employee burnout at their current job. 91% say having an unmanageable amount of stress negatively impacts the quality of their work. 83% say burnout from work negatively impacts their personal relationships.

It’s not surprising that employee engagement scores are on the decline. “After trending up in recent years, employee engagement in the U.S. saw its first annual decline in a decade… dropping from 36% engaged employees in 2020 to 34% in 2021,” and it’s continuing to decline according to a recent Gallup study.

Our well-being actually has a financial impact. 98% of managers believe that mental health is still having a direct, negative impact on organizations’ bottom line, according to a global survey of managers, HR executives, and business leaders by Verizon Media, Made of Millions, and Culture Co-Op.

How can breathing help?

If we feel our best, we perform at our best. The simple act of breathing can help you do just that. You might be thinking, “I breathe all the time, what’s the big deal?” While this is true, most of us don’t breathe with intention. Often our breaths are shallow, especially in high stress moments, and we aren’t getting the oxygen we need to be our best selves. 

Breathwork is breathing with intention. There are specific practices you can do based on how you’re feeling. They often involve breathing through the nose, engaging the diaphragm, inhaling, exhaling, and sometimes holding the breath at a certain rhythm or cadence.

The benefits of breathwork, especially in the workplace, can be game-changing:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety, especially in older adults according to a 2021 study.
  • Improve focus and productivity
  • Fosters better sleep
  • Boosts your mood and self-esteem

Some might dismiss the above as a “nice to have,” but when you are your best self at work this translates into promotions, raises, better serving your customers and your colleagues.

I discovered breathwork when I was studying holistic practices in India, and it changed my life! I realized that these breathing exercises were much more powerful outside of the yoga studio and in the context of everyday life, especially at work. When a huge work disaster happened a few years ago, systems went down and our call centers couldn’t handle the volumes, my breathing practices helped me to stay calm, gather key members of the team, and immediately come up with a game plan. When I was nervous before presenting in an important board meeting, breathwork helped me to find the confidence that was always inside of me, and I nailed it! When a frustrated senior executive went on a yelling rampage in a meeting, my breathing allowed me to stay grounded so that I could calm him down and get to the root of the problem and find a solution. 

If you’d like to try some powerful breathing practices, check out this Forbes article, Breathwork: What Is It And How Does It Work?, where I share four breathwork practices you do right now.  If you’re new to breathwork, it can be helpful to have someone guide you through them. Check out this YouTube playlist of guided practices to experience it for yourself.

What can companies do about it?

According to a Deloitte study, 70% of employees feel their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout within their organization. While some organizations have purchased subscriptions to mindfulness apps like Calm and Headspace, these apps depend on self-discipline to make time to actually do them. And, without live instruction and the opportunity to ask questions, it can be hard to truly internalize the learnings so that they become a part of our daily routines. Moreover, these apps lack the benefits that come with learning in community and bonding with our colleagues over shared experiences.

For this reason, I’m excited to share the launch of the all new Breathwork@Work program. This series of powerful workshops will help you reduce stress, boost productivity, and prioritize self-care. Highly interactive in nature, participants will learn tools in real time to manage their daily challenges so that they can have the energy, focus, and confidence to bring their best selves to the job. Breathwork@Work, can support everyone on your team, whether they are in office, hybrid, or remote with these six sessions:

  • Stress Management 101
  • Channeling Focus & Productivity
  • Countering Imposter Syndrome 
  • Managing Fatigue
  • Prioritizing Self-Care
  • Breathwork & Restorative Sound Bath Experience

Companies like Google, Visa, and Ball Aerospace are leveraging these workshops to prevent employee burnout. Offering mental health and well-beng support helps to drive employee engagement and retention by creating a supportive work environment. It sends a powerful message that not only does your company care about its people, but it’s okay to take time out of your day to really dedicate to your well-being.

If you are a team leader, these workshops can be incredibly impactful during high stress periods. If you run a sales organization, you know how quarter end and year end can be extremely taxing on your team. If you run a product organization, you know how product launches can be very overwhelming, and these workshops can be both a stress reliever during launch as well as a reward for a job well done after launch.

At SAP, they found that the company’s well-being efforts have improved its Business Health Culture Index from 69% in 2013 to 78% in 2018, with each 1% change in the Index delivering a $90-$100 Million (EU) impact on their operating profit.

As business leaders, caring about your people is caring about profits. Both are important, and you can’t have one without the other.

Zee Clarke is the author of the book, Black People Breathe (Penguin Random House). She has been featured in many leading publications including ABC, Fortune, Forbes, CNBC, Ebony, Essence, and Fast Company.

She is a Harvard Business School graduate who applies holistic healing practices to corporate environments. Zee leads transformative workshops on mindfulness, breathwork and stress management tools at organizations such as Google, Visa, AMC Networks and more.

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