Science of Success

Fortune 500 CEOs use these techniques to improve performance and prevent burnout

Fortune 500 CEOs swear by this burnout prevention training
Fortune 500 CEOs swear by this burnout prevention training

Take short movement breaks every hour; eat small, regular meals; and aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

Those are a few ways you can boost your energy levels and be more productive, both at work and outside, according to Johnson & Johnson's Human Performance Institute (HPI), an exclusive training academy for top professionals.

It may sound like the guidance of any other corporate fitness course designed to combat work's stresses. But, says Bobby Sheikh, HPI's head of Asia Pacific, it's just one stage of a "holistic" program that over the past 30 years has won scientific backing and rave reviews from Fortune 500 CEOs and sports stars.

"We know from our scientific studies that participants have a greater sense of purpose, we give them more energy (and) we give them a greater sense of well-being," Sheikh told CNBC Make It, referring to a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Bobby Sheikh, head of the Human Performance Institute for Asia Pacific.
Human Performance Institute

It found that a two-and-a-half day intervention from work — such as HPI's flagship 2.5 day "performance" course — could improve employees' energy levels and their sense of purpose.

"What that means for them as humans is that they're more present and focused on the people ... and the moments that matter most to them," he said at HPI's Singapore campus.

The four-pillar approach

What sets HPI apart from other wellness programs, according to Sheikh, is its four-tier structure, which focuses on individuals' "emotional, mental, physical and spiritual dimensions."

It's an approach first developed by HPI's co-founders, Jim Loehr and Jack Groppel, in 1991, when they met at the U.S. Open tennis tournament and began studying the performance of top athletes — and it's one that has held strong as it has spread through different professions in the decades since, he said.

Human Performance Institute

"What they found separated the top players from the rest was not just their physical strength, but their emotional and mental well-being, as well as their purpose in terms of their 'why' they were playing the sport," said Sheikh.

Seeing the "holistic" impact, the duo combined their expertise in clinical psychology and exercise physiology to develop a training course that focused on all four dimensions.

How does it work?

The approach Loehr and Groppel created saw participants first complete a personal feedback form to assess their performance across all four areas. They would then partake in a series of practical sessions to confront any roadblocks within each of those areas before developing methods to move past them.

The course proved so successful over the following decades that it was adapted several times for a range of professionals, including the military, FBI hostage teams, surgeons and, most recently, business leaders, whom HPI refers to as "corporate athletes."

Chris McUtchen, coach at the Human Performance Institute.
Human Performance Institute

"We've realized that, through the space of sports and military involvement and looking at medical teams and in business, everyone needs to have a purpose," explained Chris McUtchen, coach for HPI in Singapore.

"So we help participants find that by focusing on those four core areas."

Techniques for every day

HPI now runs a range of courses across the U.S., Singapore and China, each lasting between one day and nine months. That's part of the company's efforts to answer what it sees as growing demand for corporate wellness solutions, particularly in the face of emerging stress-related conditions such as burnout.

"We know that the topic of stress and burnout is not going to go away ... this is going to continue to impact current workforces and workforces for the future," said Sheikh. Burnout was recognized by the World Health Organization as an "occupational phenomenon" in May.

However, at $5,200 for the flagship 2.5-day "performance course," the training doesn't come cheap. So McUtchen outlined some of his best physical techniques to boost performance on a day-to-day basis.

Participants work out at the Human Performance Institute.

"Specifically in the physical part of the program, we recommend a one to two-minute movement break every hour, and that comes under our model of moving more. We also recommend exercise smarter, so exercise to a point of discomfort which is promoted through interval training," said McUtchen.

"We also recommend people sleep better, so a recommendation of seven to nine hours per-night of consistent and high-quality sleep," he continued.

"And, lastly, to fuel the body for energy — that's nutrition. So eat light, small amounts; eat often, every three or four hours; and listen to the body: When you're full, stop eating," he added.

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