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Michigan Medicine

A Minute with Marschall

Join the Well-Being Challenge

September 16th, 2021

When I announced we would move ahead with August as “pause month,” with the recommendation to reduce meetings when possible, I was really impressed with how many of you seriously audited your calendars and found time for more productive activities, or to simply pause and reflect during the past month.

There were a few of you who did not think this was a good idea, and in a large organization like ours, I would have been surprised if that had not been the case. We are a world-renowned academic medical center full of highly motivated, results-driven professionals who are accustomed to holding frequent meetings to bring teams together and drive to a consensus. It’s part of our culture.

That said, I don’t want the “pause” in August to become an isolated moment. I want it to become a movement towards a change in our culture – a culture where it’s O.K. to take time out for wellness, for the betterment of ourselves, our teams, our patients and our community. When we help ourselves, we are in a better mindset to help our patients and each other.

Given this, I am suggesting a well-being challenge to the entire organization.

This challenge is two-fold.

First, I am instituting standard 50-minute meetings for the entire organization.

Second, I challenge all Michigan Medicine leaders to brainstorm with their teams to determine and implement one simple well-being commitment which will be most relevant for their teams. This does not have to be extra work. Your challenge can and should align well with your team’s Engagement Survey Improvement Plan, which has a key focus on well-being and recognition.

Let me explain these two challenges and how simple, and hopefully helpful, they can be, especially with the help of some simple tools provided by our Task Force on Stress + Burnout. 

Default to 50 Minute Meetings 

When the HITS team upgraded to 365 Microsoft Outlook, I discovered that my team could set up a scheduling default that can shorten our meetings to 50 minutes, instead of the usual one hour, creating a space for 10-minute breaks between the frequent (I’d say too frequent) back-to-back meetings that are very common. This may seem like a small thing, but it can make a big difference. New research by Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index indicates that small increments of time can help you recharge and prepare for the next meeting or activity.

This simple change has been received very positively by those I work with directly. I strongly recommend that everyone set their regular meetings to this default.

Of course, there are always exceptions where meetings might need to take more or less time than our planned 50 minutes. This Outlook support page provides instructions for setting up your 50-minute default, or how to allow for the adjustment of the default, when necessary. 

This 50-minute meeting initiative will be a way to give everyone a little bit of time back, without adding anything new to their plate. However, I recognize that a 10-minute break between meetings isn’t a solution for everyone, especially for front-line workers and many in the clinical setting who can’t get back to their desks very often. That is why there is a second part to the challenge.

Making Your Own Well-Being Commitment

Beginning in September, every leader with direct reports should use this leaders guide  and related tools on our Well-being page of the Path Forward website  to meet with their teams, brainstorm ideas to determine the best way to reduce job stress, promote respect and increase recognition. This could mean scheduling or prioritizing work differently, finding unique ways to connect with each other or utilizing our current wellness resources.

As mentioned above, this should not have to be extra work. This well-being challenge should fit well within your team’s improvement planning, which also have a key focus on well-being this year. For example, our employees’ key concerns include:  

  • Reducing job stress (items which measure this area reference burnout and feeling overwhelmed)
  • Promoting respect for all members
  • Increasing and improving recognition

The challenge also gives us an opportunity to all work together using our core values – Caring, Innovation, Integrity, Teamwork and Inclusion.  

Continue to Assess the Value of Meetings

Our collective experiences in August were positive. I believe that is a reflection that, in truth, we can reduce recurring, scheduled meetings without adversely impacting our work. So, please assess the value of the meetings you attend. Many of you have told me that you may attend 2-3 meetings the same day that discuss the same topics, often with significant overlap in attendance. Others are concerned that it takes us too long to make decisions and attribute a part of this decision-paralysis to the many steps in decision-making, especially when there is a strong majority opinion, with some in the group who disagree.  Moving forward in this setting is not easy and has not been the norm in our culture. These concerns are voiced across the organization and often seen in similar organizations.

Meetings come in all sizes and for many purposes and reducing meetings can be applicable at all levels of our organization. If we collectively assess and reduce meetings, where possible, it can help us build opportunities for well-being and bring us one step closer to improving our workplace culture.   

In closing, whether you found the meeting pause in August helpful or not, destressing or not, I ask that you take personal responsibility for your well-being and consider what can be done in your work area to foster wellness. At the end of the day, one of the great strengths of our organization is creativity. So, as you think about how to better arrange your work and workdays, be creative! I am looking forward to hearing about and sharing all your great ideas in the coming months.  

What do you think of the challenge? What is your team already doing to support Well-Being? Share your thoughts in the discussion box below.


  • I have two suggestions to connect with others.
    1) Try taking lunch in a different breakroom. Coming from a ASC with a single breakroom it was amazing to see the interaction between Surgeons, Nurses ,Techs and clerical staff. I feel that it definitely led to a more inclusive and family atmosphere. Too often we stay in our own departmental bubble and miss the opportunity to connect with the entire “team”.

    2) Perhaps try to schedule 2-3 random staff from different depts for a 10-15min intro walk.
    Willing staff can learn about each other, de-stress a bit and get a little exercise!
    A wellness trifecta.

    I am in the camp of the more we learn about each other the more respect we have for each other.

    • I will join you in that camp! These are great suggestions that support both collaboration and well-being. I’m glad your first efforts provided such an inclusive environment. As part of the Well-being Challenge, I encourage you to expand this as much as possible among your nearby departments. When you do, please let us know your results by sharing more comments here or through the tracking form available on the Path Forward Well-being webpage.

  • I conduct a weekly administrative assistant team huddle (via Zoom) with my team just for bonding and connecting. As a team, we take turns hosting the meeting and the host shares a learning tip, or we watch an inspiring YouTube or TedTalk, or just share. I will start off with any business announcements, give kudos, and then it goes into a well-being time to connect. This has been very well received by the entire team and we are a stronger team because of it. When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, I met with my team daily, due to so much anxiety and unknowns. Then after several months we slowed down to meeting weekly. My team has told me how much those daily connections meant to them in the beginning and helped them through such uncertainty. This year as part of my team’s Valuation, we set Team Goals in addition to self SMART goals, and I assigned specific trainings to the team on reducing stress and resilience. The team will complete one training a month and then we will discuss it as a group at our team huddle. We will be joining you in the Well-Being Challenge to further enhance our well-being. Thank you for the suggestions, tips, and resources.

    • Char, I really like how you connected well-being with learning and continuous improvement! It would be great if you could share the specific training you are using with me and others. Also, as you move forward with the challenge, please share what else your team may be doing to pause for well-being by commenting on this page or through the tracking form available on the Path Forward Well-being webpage.

  • Emilee Coulter-Thompson

    I love this message. Thank you so much. Seeing this endorsement of wellness from the highest level of Michigan Medicine is invaluable, especially right now as we’re all weathering “long-COVID” in the ways that it applies to the workplace. We are discussing this at the Department of Learning Health Sciences’ manager meeting tomorrow. Thank you for this inspiration.

    • Emilee, I am so glad the Challenge has inspired you to focus on your team’s well-being. I will be excited to learn what your department will achieve towards these efforts. As you determine the best ways for your team to find moments to pause, please share through through the tracking form available on the Path Forward Well-being webpage, which will help us to recognize your team and others in their efforts.

  • Thanks for reinforcing this message to all of us as individuals and as teams and units, Marschall. Time management is critical to productivity and satisfaction and stress management. This is even more true in these especially challenging conditions due to the pandemic.

    • Gil, I agree time management is very important to this effort. I was happy to hear how many of our employees, and entire teams, discovered new ways to utilize their time during Pause month, and even analyzed their meetings to determine some instances where meetings were not necessary in the future. I hope to see you and your team involved in the Well-being challenge!

  • Dear Marschall and Rose-

    I found this posting very useful and will follow through on its sensible recommendations.

    Thanks very much for this thoughtful blog posting!

    Brian Athey

    • You are welcome. I’m glad to hear you will follow through on the shorter meetings and I am looking forward to hearing what you and others may do to continue to focus on well-being through our Challenge. Thank you for your feedback.

  • Thank you so much for the ‘pause’ month! It really allowed for more work to get accomplished, even with summer vacations. I wish we would do that every quarter, honestly.
    I also like the idea of 50 minute meetings, although most of mine are 30 minutes.

    • Alicia, I got a lot of similar feedback about pause month and a quarterly pause would be great. You don’t have to wait for me or the entire organization to follow through on that. If you feel your department or team needs to pause on certain standing department meetings, you might want to recommend that during times that are most appropriate for your team. Also, if your meetings are mostly 30 minutes, consider changing your meeting default time to 25 minutes. You might be surprised how often business can be completed in the shorter time frame once you initiate it. Please join us in the challenge in whatever way works best for your team.

  • This is a great, and long overdue recognition of the punitive effects of back-to-back meetings. One of my best friends here at Michigan Medicine reports regularly being in back-to back Zoom meetings without a break for 6-7 hours a day while working remotely. This is an abusive environment and adds to employees’ stress and burnout. This is a factor that managers can address and the 50 minute meeting is a good start.

    I hope my friend and fellow employees will benefit from Marschall’s direction.

    • I so agree with you, Greg. I often feel like I have become a “Zoom Zombie” on those tough days of back-to-back meetings. I agree the 50-minute meetings are a good start to addressing this burn out from too many meetings. A next step is for you, your friend and your teams to join the challenge and figure out the best ways for you to find some additional moments to pause in your workday.

  • Jennifer Bergendahl

    The meeting pause in August was great. Our department, Pathology, participated and it was amazing to see how much time was available on my schedule. Will take the 50 minute meeting challenge when I am scheduling meetings for my staff. Will also work on wellness initiate and how to bring this initiative forward to my staff and leaders in our laboratory.

    • I’m glad you found Pause month so helpful and happy to hear you are joining us in the well-being challenge. Please let us know what initiatives you develop for your team by sharing them in a comment or through the tracking form available on the Path Forward Well-being webpage. This way we can also share your ideas with others across the organization. Thank you for your feedback.

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