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As we settle into 2020, businesses are still as busy as ever trying to strike a balance between wellness and productivity in the workplace. The past couple of years have seen study after study on burnout and the impacts of poor work/life balance on our health – including a disturbing look at the hunch-backed “office worker of the future,” Emma, from office equipment company Fellowes Brands.

So, how are companies today trying to keep workers healthy and happy? And more importantly, are these approaches actually working? Below, we take a look at some of the latest ways companies are tackling the challenge of how to be more productive at work without burning out.

Workplace Trends 2020: What’s Working and What’s Not

1. The Four-Day Work Week

In 2019, the idea of the four-day work week took the business world by storm. New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian had made the four-day work week their permanent policy the previous year after seeing a 20% increase in employee productivity. That led to studies showing that one answer to the problem of how to be more productive at work might actually be working less.

A more recent example comes from Microsoft Japan, who gained a whopping 40% in worker productivity by giving employees Fridays off for the entire month of August 2019. They also shortened meetings from one hour to half an hour and limited the number of employees in attendance to five.

Though some experts say cutting the work week to four days may work better for some companies than others, it is a promising solution for workers who are so stressed at work that longer hours become counterproductive. The idea has been explored as a solution to low productivity in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, and it only seems to be getting more popular.

Conclusion: For some companies, the 4-day work week is a win for productivity.

2. Office Pets

Walk into an office today, and you’re more likely than ever to encounter something with four legs and a tail. Whether it’s due to the rise of millennials in the workplace or the need for lower stress (or a little of both), office pets have been rapidly normalized.

Research shows that being in the vicinity of dogs lowers stress levels – specifically the hormone cortisol. That’s an obvious win for workers at risk of burnout.

But workers see other, indirect benefits to productivity too. Dogs give workers an excuse to get up and move around, whether to take the pooch on a walk or just play around on a break. That’s crucial now that we know more about the dangerous health effects of sitting for too long. The presence of pets can also create opportunities for coworker bonding and generally increase morale.

Of course, office pets aren’t feasible for every workplace. Small, cramped spaces aren’t good for energetic dogs who need lots of exercise and play (though cats might be a good fit). Plus, dogs and cats present health problems for coworkers with allergies.

Conclusion: In suitable workplaces, office pets can reduce stress and increase productivity.

3. Incentivized Wellness Programs

Corporate wellness programs have sored in popularity. Office yoga, mindfulness, and other fitness programs can reduce stress, increase productivity, and stave off bad posture and back pain.

Many workplaces are increasingly gamifying these approaches. That includes wellness programs that offer health cost reductions, bonuses, or gifts (think free yoga mats or Amazon gift cards) to employees who meet certain health goals, such as a number of steps per day.

One such incentive program that’s exploded in popularity is the use of fitness trackers. Companies outfit employees with gadgets like the Fitbit, which conveniently track their progress toward certain company-prescribed goals. But skepticism of such programs is on the rise.

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The problem? For one thing, many workers are concerned about their privacy and autonomy. Fitness tracking means sharing your personal health information with your employer, which many fear will impact their careers. Those who don’t want to participate may suffer repercussions for holding the company back, while those who aren’t able to meet the prescribed goals get left behind.

Another issue is that these programs are easy to cheat. Recent journalism has shown the explosion of tips and tricks for boosting “activity” without actually doing any work – such as throwing your Fitbit in the dryer or attaching it to a household pet.

Conclusion: Incentivized wellness programs cause privacy concerns and are easy to cheat, undermining the benefits of such programs.

Figuring out how to be productive at work is an age-old struggle, but new approaches crop up every day. Project managers should keep an eye on workplace trends in 2020 but be wary of fads, too. At the end of the day, healthy collaboration enabled by good tools can go a long way.

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