“Many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”
-Dan Harris, 10% Happier
That sounds like a description of a typical American workday. ‘Continuous stress’ is practically considered necessary to the business experience. Employees who appear calm and happy most of the time may be eyed with suspicion, assumed to be disengaged, aloof or unambitious.
Is it necessary to maintain a heightened state of agitation in order to get things done, or has this become our mindset by default because we lack control over our own reactions to stress?
The answer, of course, is the latter. We’ve all heard the expression “work smarter, not harder.” We can see the logic in the notion that the outcomes of stressful circumstances improve when handled with calmness and mental clarity, yet all of us succumb to non-productive stress at times.
What is non-productive stress? Here’s an analogy: imagine you call 911 for a medical emergency. When the paramedics show up, they’re visibly panicked, agitated, and bickering among themselves. They have every reason to be stressed, knowing that their actions have life-or-death consequences. But there’s a reason you probably will never see a team of paramedics behaving this way- they know that an uncontrolled emotional state is not conducive to making urgent, important decisions. Emergency personnel go through specific training to remain calm and function as a team, because that is the optimal way to manage high-pressure situations.
You and your colleagues may not be dealing in life or death (although it sometimes feels like it), but the same type of stress-response control can benefit a wide range of situations.
Unfortunately, based on the 83% of American professionals who report feeling stressed out at work, we can gather that most business employees are not consistently calm in the face of job pressures, nor are they especially resilient in facing stress. In many business environments, positive rapport, collaboration, and teamwork seem frequently at odds with the strain of daily operations. The impact of chronic stress goes beyond creating social tension at work- it cuts into company revenue in the forms of increased absenteeism, healthcare costs, worker’s compensation claims, and decreases in productivity. According to reports analyzed by the American Institute of Stress, job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than family, personal or financial problems.
Employees who are chronically stressed think less clearly, interact with others less positively, and experience more mental and physical health issues. All of which, unsurprisingly, are counterproductive to achieving business goals.
When the leaders of any organization are creating a vision for a prosperous enterprise, how many of them ask themselves: “how well-prepared are we to manage stress?” A growing awareness of the importance of this question has led a number of business leadership teams to turn to employee mindfulness training as a savvy approach to running their organization.
Jonathan Rosenfeld, a longtime mindfulness advocate and the Strategy and Leadership Consultant for the company Medium, was asked by Medium’s co-founder, Ev Williams, how they could build a company where people were productive, creative, and engaged but not working crazy hours.
Rosenfeld replied: “We remove as much pointless, non-productive anxiety from the workplace as possible . . . If you reduce anxiety, you get the productivity and creativity without the crazy hours. Mindfulness training reduces interpersonal anxiety. [It] frees people up to be better colleagues and collaborators.”
A 2016 study conducted by the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments found that 22% of companies had mindfulness training already in place in 2016, and an additional 21% planned to add mindfulness training programs in 2017.
Among these companies are top performers such as Google, Aetna, Target, Intel, and General Mills. They have well-established mindfulness training programs as an integral part of their business culture. At one time, this may have seemed like a radical and risky investment. In this day and age, however, the benefits of mindfulness are the subject of more cutting-edge research every year. The picture is starting to become clear as the body of evidence grows: due to significant positive effects on both the mental and physical aspects of our beings, the implication is that mindfulness training increases control over one’s mental and emotional states. It also increases resilience to stress; our ability to “bounce back” in the wake of adversity.
You can read more here about some of the research suggesting that mindfulness-based techniques are an effective treatment for anxiety and mood problems (conditions strongly correlated with chronic stress).
This article from the TED Talks Blog showcases four scientific studies on how meditation can affect your heart, brain and creativity.
Or, see this piece from Entrepreneur Magazine, detailing the benefits of mindfulness meditation. It cites a Yale University study, which suggested that individuals who practice meditation are actually able to “switch off” areas of the brain associated with daydreaming, lapses in attention, and disorders such as ADHD.
A growing list of companies are paying attention to the evidence, and have decided to invest in mindfulness-based classes, seminars, and coaching for their employees. Some companies even have dedicated meditation or relaxation spaces.
Successful business leaders foster growth by identifying creative and effective strategies that give them an edge. Mindfulness techniques are tailor-made to provide that edge by addressing the overarching problem present in almost every workplace across America: chronic stress and burnout.
It’s worth noting that simply making mindfulness or meditation training available to employees is generally not enough, in and of itself, to stimulate a company’s bottom line. If the expectations, values and processes within an organization don’t also encourage mindfulness, then classes alone won’t solve the issues.
A “top-down” approach seems to be the most effective way of shifting a company’s culture. When senior leadership teams begin personally practicing, or at least explicitly supporting, some form of mindfulness training, it is likely to impact the approach and mindset of employees within the organization.
It’s not just businesses that can benefit. Executives and career-minded individuals with a personal desire to stay competitive without sacrificing their health should consider joining the growing list of moguls who practice mindfulness techniques: Oprah Winfrey (talk show host and C.E.O), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco Systems), Tony Schwartz (The Energy Project), Bill Ford (Ford Motor Co,), Larry Brilliant (former director of Google.org),Rupert Murdoch (News Corp), Robert Stiller (Green Mountain Coffee), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), and more.
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So, how can your company begin employing mindfulness as a “secret weapon” for increased productivity? A great way to start is with one of OmBody Health’s Integrative Employee Wellness Services, which weave the concept of mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR) into employee-oriented presentations, classes and coaching. Programs are tailored to suit the unique needs and culture of each business.
For more details, contact OmBody Health today.
Julia Workman, CYT
Julia is an experienced yogi, athlete and mindfulness trainer with a passion for a holistic approach to wellness. She is the Fitness Program Director at OmBody Health, in addition to teaching fitness classes and providing powerful workshops that guide busy people toward healthier work/life integration.