Do less = contribute more

Equipping employees to do less can improve results

A culture of recovery leads to more productivity and better mental health
Equipping employees to do less can improve results
Illustration: mentalmind (Shutterstock)
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Companies talk a lot about ways to get the most out of their employees, hoping they reach their “flow state”—a zone of productivity where employees concentrate, get tasks done, and deliver their personal best. But to get employees to be their best, companies also need to nurture the opposite as well—recovery.

At Exos, a coaching and corporate wellness company, we emphasize recovery as the critical step in optimizing flow in the workplace. After three years of pandemic living, we know employees are at their max for stress, and we’d like to prevent burnout before it happens by building a culture built of recovery.

Invest in tools for well-being—and let them own their time

Many companies offer support after an employee is stressed after it’s negatively impacted their job. To combat that, support and recovery options should be encouraged from day one. We encourage our employees to leverage our free individual coaching and group programming in mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery. From 10-minute breathwork or meditation breaks to hour-long 1:1 coaching sessions—incorporating these into employees’ daily routines leads to a more balanced work life.

If you’re wondering if this daily recharge time affects our bottom line, you’re asking the wrong question. Instead, ask how investing in employees’ long-term health, and well-being can save on talent retention and acquisition.

How boundaries and encouraging time off help well-being

Chris Bertram, senior director of applied neuroscience at Exos, studies the challenges of today’s modern workplace culture, where colleagues and clients expect immediate responses, frequent meeting attendance, and multitasking.

“It’s getting harder and harder for employees to say no,” said Bertram. “To turn off their phones during dinner. To not let work stress permeate everywhere.”

We encourage our employees to set boundaries around what will work for their energy management. And we encourage our employees to utilize PTO through our work anywhere policy that encourages employees to leverage time off while traveling to and from remote work locations—in addition to traditional PTO time, and a 12-week parental leave policy in addition to generous PTO. Taking time off from work is critical for many physical and emotional reasons. PTO allows us to slow down, step outside our normal routines, sleep more, and rest our cognitive load.

What if all business leaders thought about PTO differently and instead saw it as a critical tool in their organization’s overall strategy to enhance employee well-being, deepen engagement, minimize burnout, and ultimately fortify performance?

As a Licensed Psychologist who works in the game of high performance, Sarah Sarkis, Psy. D. and Exos’ senior director of methodology, emphasizes how critical the role of recovery, rest, and time off is in the game of well-being, performance, and productivity. She believes “we have to invest in ourselves. Teams and organizations should encourage a culture that promotes and applauds using PTO.”

3 ways companies can support employees’ mental health and well-being

Want to have a culture focused on recovery? Equip your employees to do these three things:

Let them say no

Whether it’s work or personal obligations, encourage your employees to prioritize and set limits that work for them. But also recognize when they are at their best—and help them stay focused. For example, if they work most productively in the morning, let them say no to morning meetings to concentrate and achieve their flow state.

Flow and disconnect

Make self-care a priority and support it in your office. That means daily movement, fresh air breaks, exercise, and encouraging sleep–not early meetings. Imagine a workplace where employees blocked out their calendar for 15 minutes or a recharge break after their deep-work period before heading off to meetings.

Silence is golden

Employees should have time to silence their phones, ignore emails, and turn off notifications daily. Promote daily meditation. Even three minutes can help employees focus, as adrenaline and dopamine drive flow.


Sarah Robb O’Hagan took the helm as CEO at Exos in 2020. Before Exos, she served as Flywheel’s CEO, Equinox and Gatorade’s global president, and held leadership roles at iconic brands like Virgin and Nike. Sarah is the author of Extreme YOU a book to help unleash potential in ambitious leaders, and she’s been named one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in Sports and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business. In addition, she sits on the boards of JetBlue Airways and Strava and is a trustee emeritus of the Women’s Sports Foundation.