Employee engagement is a constant struggle that seems to be getting worse. The New York Times described the problem, yet again, just last month in an opinion article on employee burnout. The article reports that Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor Srinivasan S. Pillay surveyed a random sample of 72 senior leaders and found that almost every one reported some signs of burnout. As workers worldwide are reporting that they “lack a fulfilling workplace,” companies have an opportunity to get a better return for their investment in human capital and drive growth.
As it turns out, employees are more satisfied and productive when four of their core needs are met: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. According to the Times article, the more effectively leaders support employees in meeting these needs, the more likely employees will be to engage, be loyal and satisfied, and exhibit positive energy, increased productivity, and less stress at work.
The answer is right in front of you. Or more specifically, within you. When you take a mindful approach to business—that is, when you engage in mindfulness meditation practices that develop your ability to remain attentive to the present moment—your performance at work improves. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It involves observing current experiences without judgment. Mindfulness allows you to more fully participate in the moment in which you find yourself. When you are in a mindful state, you are ready for anything. You respond rather than react. And you create more space in your mind for insight—where your best ideas come from.
Although mindfulness is a hot topic these days, it’s hardly new. Harvard Business School professor Bill George reports that the company he led as Chief (Medtronic) had a meditation room almost forty years ago, thanks to the vision of founder Earl Bakken. A major proponent of mindfulness meditation, George has been meditating himself since 1975. Two years ago we learned about the wildly successful Search Inside Yourself (S.I.Y.) mindfulness meditation course held at Google and taught by Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s 107th employee. Tan teaches emotional intelligence via a practical, real-world meditation that can be used anywhere. This practice encourages participants to be aware of feelings without acting on them as a way to more accurately understand one’s circumstances. Google clearly sees this investment as a valuable part of their growth strategy.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is responsible for much of the popularization of the secular practice of mindfulness through his mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program initiated in 1979. MBSR is the most widely studied mindfulness practice, although some would point even farther back to the groundbreaking work of Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking back in 1952. Since that time, clinical studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general, and MBSR in particular. Programs based on MBSR and similar models have been widely adapted in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans’ centers, and other environments. As relates to business, mindfulness meditation practices have been found to increase productivity and creativity as well as reduce burnout and increase growth.
In short, more businesses need to support mindfulness practices by employees. I view it as an effective investment in human capital that consistently delivers great returns. Chiefs at every level stand to benefit from this simple, yet profound practice.