Today more companies are realizing that the relentless pressure to perform, to do more with less and the ‘always on’ personal device-driven, global work environment is taking its toll on their employees. Heightened levels of stress might be inevitable but how employees respond to it can have a significant impact on the people’s productivity, energy, health and ultimately the bottom line.
One way companies deal with lagging performance or burned out and disillusioned managers is to support them with skills based training like change management, leadership or communication. This is useful but if the leaders are really feeling burned out they need more. They need a change in perspective – they need to see the light at the end of the ‘working too much yet it is never enough’ tunnel.
Given that stress and change are inevitable in business, the key is to develop employee resilience so that they can respond differently. Stress is not the problem, it’s people’s reaction to it that makes it detrimental or not. As Shakespeare wrote ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.
The solution that many companies in the US have turned to is the hot buzzwords in the training and development landscape – resiliency and mindfulness training. It includes developing mindfulness habits as well as things like meditation, self-care and emotional intelligence. Resiliency training is about helping workers develop new attitudes, strategies and habits so they can be their best and adapt more easily to change, even in stressful situations. In other words, learning to thrive and not just cope under pressure. This approach helps people see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning instead of hurdles or roadblocks.
Following a recent resiliency training session at Revision Military in Montreal a participant aptly summed up their experience by stating ‘The workshop was highly beneficial – I wish we had been taught this at university, it would have been a lifesaver’. Revision Military’s CEO Jonathan Blanshay is now expanding the training to other parts of the company and states “For any business to stay competitive, a ‘continuous improvement’ mindset needs to be built in to the culture. Exploring new ideas and methods has always been a core strength at Revision, and we strongly believe in investing in our people. To that end, we feel that resiliency training is a tremendous opportunity for both the company and our employees. It gives our people a greater sense of awareness in terms of how they deal with stress and change, as well as the tools they need to stay positive, focused and productive in both their work and personal lives.”
The mindfulness wave is very present (pardon the pun) south of the boarder with an estimated 22 percent of companies in 2016 already offering meditation or mindfulness training in the workplace and that number could double in 2017 according to a study by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments. In Canada, companies like Bell Canada and Revision Military are jumping onboard by exploring and experimenting to find the best way to leverage these tools to optimize performance, support and care for their workers in new ways. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post even claims meditation to be a proven way of creating a competitive advantage for any business.
Resiliency and mindfulness training go well beyond the workplace; they are a holistic approach that also includes employees’ personal lives. We all know that when things get tough at work people tend to bring it home by way of a short fuse, mood swings, low energy or disinterest. Working long hours and responding to e-mails on evenings and weekends only exacerbates the situation. As this happens, people may feel a sense of resentment and if the imbalance continues engagement and ultimately on the job performance suffers. Living extremely stressful, unbalanced lives is simply not sustainable– even for leaders who think they are invincible.
More progressive companies like Google have been leading the mindfulness revolution and know that the opposite is also true. When someone feels that they have balance and alignment in their life they make better parents and spouses and more productive employees. When employees feel like the company cares about their overall well-being they tend to feel more engaged in their work and more committed to the company. This is key as corporate North America is going through an engagement crisis right now with 69% of employees rating themselves as ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ at work according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study.
Resiliency and mindfulness training is not just for new-age companies but has also been embraced by established companies like General Mills who has meditation rooms in their corporate head offices. Goldman Sachs started a resiliency program in 2007 and now has resiliency coaches and holds a biennial resiliency week with speakers and workshops. Feedback from employees indicates that this is invaluable training for anyone in their industry, where performance pressure and stress are ongoing challenges.
Aetna, a large US health insurance provider is another example. They started mindfulness and yoga training in 2010 after their president, Mark Bertolini, began meditating and doing yoga to deal with chronic pain he experienced after a ski accident. Since then, over 13,000 employees have participated in their free program and they are doing on-going research to quantify the impact. The company claims their program increased productivity, reduced health-care costs and lowered employee stress, resulting in an 11-to-1 return on investment. Bertolini states “We saw dramatic drops in stress after the program was over, and a 69-minute gain in productivity of our employees over a year.” He also knows that not everyone is convinced ‘While some people might be skeptical of the importance of this work, we believe it is essential’. So convinced of the benefits of this approach Aetna now includes similar programs as part of their insurance offering to their clients.
So if your business is under pressure and your employees are feeling overwhelmed by the ever-increasing expectations and demands being placed on them, you may want to consider getting on the mindfulness bandwagon and offering employees training that goes beyond skill development into the realm of fostering new, life-changing perspectives and habits. This type of training will help them bring their best, most resilient self to whatever professional or personal challenges comes their way.
The benefits for the company’s reputation, the moral of its staff and its bottom line results are proving to be significant and sustainable.