In our annual employee engagement survey, one of the “red flag” results was the large percentage of staff indicating they go home emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. While this response is consistent with previous surveys — there is no doubt we work in an emotionally exhausting field — we wanted to drill deeper into this response to gain additional insight into how we can support staff as they work to support our struggling youth. We are using three methods to drill deeper: discussions in team meetings, surveys, and a series of focus groups. I lead the focus groups, which are an hour-long discussion with up to eight staff members who voluntarily participate. We have frequently used focus groups as a way for staff to provide input into a decision, or to gain additional information on a specific topic, as was the purpose in this case.
Focus groups provide a wealth of unfiltered feedback — even more so now that staff have experienced that positive things can happen, and negative things don’t happen, as a result of sharing their thoughts. In terms of emotional exhaustion, there were two big take-aways from the focus groups: 1) It’s the little things that make a big difference, and 2) in the words of one of our participants, “We need a recess!”
I love that! We’re never too old to need recess. Maybe it’s not 20 minutes on the playground (although I’m a big proponent of getting up and moving around), but we all benefit from occasionally stepping away from the computer or meeting or problem du jour. Maybe it’s taking a few minutes to chat with some – about something other than work. Maybe it’s taking five minutes for a walk outside or allowing enough time to actually taste your lunch, rather than simply re-fueling.
“Recess” may mean different things to different people, but in my experience as leaders take on more and more responsibility; anything remotely resembling recess seems to get pushed out of their day. And yet, I’m guessing you’ve had the experience of being in the midst of a situation/project/meeting that was sucking the life out of you, and then you receive an unexpected call from a friend or family member that might only take a few minutes but when you returned to the project your entire frame of mind had changed. That’s the power of recess.
What would happen if you announced that at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, everyone in your organization would stop whatever they were doing and do 10 jumping jacks. I timed it . . . it takes less than 15 seconds. Okay, admittedly not much of a recess, but I’m guessing it might be just enough of a distraction bring a smile to staff members faces, and at least for a few minutes provide an antidote for the emotional exhaustion lurking somewhere in those piles on your desk.
It’s time for recess!