Digital transformation is all but demanded for corporate survival. And as exciting as it can be for those making it happen, frequent change, increased demands, and always-connected expectations can take a human toll.
The quantitative proof is accumulating as well. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, an overwhelming majority of employees (85%) reported being either not engaged or actively disengaged at work in—which Gallup estimates costs companies $7 trillion a year in lost productivity.
Meanwhile, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence found that one out of five highly engaged employees said their burnout levels were also high—and researchers uncovered even higher turnover rates among this group than disengaged workers.
“We’re constantly bombarded by information from our devices, but when you constantly react to every buzz and bing, you end up in a state of overwhelm,” said Peter Bostelmann, director of SAP’s Global Mindfulness Practice, in an interview with CMO by Adobe. “It’s the reality of the global economy, and we have to find ways to cope with it.”
One decidedly analog solution is becoming increasingly popular: the practice of mindfulness and, often in association with it, meditation.
Mindfulness typically involves pausing in some fashion to notice thoughts and sensations. This can help individuals increase their awareness of how both external and internal triggers incite immediate, almost automatic responses in their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It gives employees the tools that will make them less reactive, more resilient, and ultimately more innovative and productive.
Mindfulness practices help individuals sustain energy and focus, added Suzanne Dawson, chief customer officer at YogaWorks. “Pausing and breathing before reacting tends to diffuse tension, invite more constructive solutions, and, in general, produce better outcomes.”
As benefits both to employees and the bottom line have begun to surface, interest has grown. More than one in five companies (22%) had mindfulness training programs in place, according to a 2016 study by National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments, with another 21% planning to invest in mindfulness training in 2017.
However, just setting up a meditation room isn’t enough to reap the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace, said Dr. Leah Weiss who teaches compassionate leadership at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “Mindfulness and compassion have to be integrated into culture at the leadership level and then spread throughout a company,” she told CMO.com.
Prakash Venkataraman, who provides executive and team coaching within LinkedIn, focuses much of his work on bringing mindfulness of self and others to the forefront of employees’ minds. In today’s dynamic work environment, he told CMO.com, it’s not unusual for employees to go about their daily tasks on autopilot.
“The challenge with this is that doing so can leave you focused on the wrong priorities,” Venkataraman said. “When this lack of consciousness happens, it creates a gap in relationships that ultimately leads to a lower probability of you achieving the mission of the company with the highest integrity.”
LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner, a strong advocate for mindfulness, has been instrumental in its introduction and integration within the company. In 2014, the company hired Fred Kofman, author of “Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values,” to help its leadership and organizational development group create a scalable corporate program based on the principals introduced in the book.
“The focus of the course is to help people be more mindful of themselves, and of others, in order to be more effective at communicating and collaborating a shared goal,” Venkataraman said.
LinkedIn has since complemented that formal training with opportunities for employees to practice mindfulness, including guided meditations, videos highlighting mindful moments of employees around the globe, and a 30-day mindfulness challenge. More than 1,500 employees have taken the conscious business course, and demand for the class is high. Venkataraman and Kofman also work with company leaders to operationalize mindfulness concepts with their teams.
How Mindfulness Helps
LinkedIn employees participating in mindfulness training report increased clarity, better decision-making, and a reduction in emotional variance. In short, Venkataraman said, they feel better.
Laurie J. Cameron, certified mindfulness teacher and author of the book “The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy from Morning to Evening,” works with Fortune 100 companies as part of Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and her own company, PurposeBlue. She begins with neuroscience education sessions and then helps clients practice training their minds in ways that help them thrive in the uncertain, complex, always-on workplace.
“Mindfulness is the outcome of building skills and strengthening the mind and body in the right place,” said Cameron, whose clients include Deloitte’s global marketing organization. “By repeatedly training the mind to focus attention and sustain it, we strengthen the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with attention, planning, and goal setting. We also train in deepening self-awareness, self-management, communication, motivation, and empathy.”
For marketing and design audiences, Cameron frames the strategies in design-thinking terms–learning, prototyping, testing, adapting, and integrating these tools at work. She recently spent the day with 35 user interface and artificial intelligence designers at a major bank.
“They are brilliantly creative, they love their work, yet they have to navigate the daily challenge of working on multiple teams, balancing deadlines for different clients and stakeholders, and finding ways to optimize their ‘deep work’ time,” Cameron told CMO by Adobe.
The group explored the principles and strategies of mindfulness to learn how to train the mind, how to focus, and how to use intention. “Employees at all levels can learn to increase their capacity through meditation and also learn small ways to integrate mindfulness strategies and habits into their daily routine,” Cameron said.