The following is a summary of a talent management white paper written by Kimberly Schaufenbuel, UNC Executive Development Program Director.
In today’s work world, we face multiple stressors, demands, and pressures, not to mention constant connectivity through smart phones, social media, and tablet computers. Consulting firm AON Hewitt estimates that 35 percent of U.S. employers in 2013 offered employee stress-reduction programs, and that estimate is expected to grow (AON Hewitt, 2013).
Business leaders are increasingly looking for ways to reduce employee stress, and many employers - like Google, Aetna, Target, and General Mills, to name a few - have found that introducing mindfulness into their workplace not only lowers employee stress, but improves focus, clarity of thinking, decision-making, emotional intelligence, and more.
Mindfulness goes back 2,500 years and uses an anchor - often breathing - to center attention and to bring awareness to the present moment. The goal of mindfulness is to recognize and accept one’s inner thoughts and feelings. It is a reflective thought exercise that most people would rather avoid. When we aren’t trying to multitask, we tend to think about the things we haven’t figured out yet, such as personal and professional challenges. Until there is a resolution to those challenges, these thoughts tend to replay themselves in the mind.
Although practitioners can see the benefits of mindfulness in recharging themselves and regaining productivity, employers are not easily convinced that investing in reflection, openness, and thoughtfulness will improve the bottom line. Encouraging employees to slow down to focus on the present can seem at odds with a corporate culture of speed and goal attainment. However, this is actually what makes mindfulness valuable. Studies by the National Institute of Health UK, the University of Massachusetts, and the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University suggest that mindfulness at work is good for business. The studies found that practicing mindfulness at work:
- Reduces employee absenteeism and turnover;
- Improves cognitive functions (i.e., concentration, memory, and learning ability);
- Improves employee productivity;
- Enhances employer/employee and client relationships, and;
- Improves job satisfaction.
Mindfulness also helps nurture imagination and improves mental health, according to Manfred Ke De Vries, INSEAD distinguished professor of leadership and development. People who practice mindfulness report having improved innovative thinking, better communication skills, and more appropriate reactions to stress. They also say that they are better able to handle conflict at work and experience improved teamwork and team relations. In addition, research by Jochen Reb, an associate professor of organizational development at Singapore Management University, found that mindfulness can also improve decision-making by helping clarify objectives and generating options.
In today’s work environment, mindfulness can be used as a business strategy to improve performance and productivity. As companies like Google, Aetna, General Mills, and Target can attest, bringing mindfulness to their workplaces has decreased employees’ stress levels, improved their focus and clarity, improved their listening and decision-making skills, and improved their overall happiness and well-being. Perhaps most importantly from a business perspective, mindfulness can reduce employee absenteeism and turnover, improve employee and client relationships, and boost job satisfaction.
UNC Executive Development will be introducing its first open enrollment program on mindfulness in the near future.To learn more about UNC Executive Development, its open enrollment programs that help executives in identifying employee development, and its customized programs that help organizations answer their business challenges, please visit our website. We look forward to assisting you with your talent management needs.