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Leadership

Mind over matter: How to introduce mindfulness into your organization and why you should

Published 29 August 2022 in Leadership • 5 min read

As the workplace continues to be a source of significant stress, leaders should consider mindfulness as a tool to benefit both themselves and their teams. But what is mindfulness and how can we get our colleagues on board with it? 

 

It’s no secret that a stressful workplace can give rise to a host of challenges for leaders and team members. Research consistently shows that stress affects factors such as cognition and attention, which in turn impacts productivity. 

But it’s not just about the bottom line anymore. In today’s organizations, we understand that our people are the lifeblood of our operations and, if their personal wellbeing is being affected by workplace stress, it’s something that we need to address together – if necessary, through fundamental change. 

Such change is, of course, a considerable undertaking. There’s no magic bullet that can dissipate stress and boost productivity overnight. All areas of the business need to be reviewed to find the pain points that are causing stress to build up, affecting employee wellbeing and productivity. 

Training the mind to take care of itself 

The answers can be found in mind training, and specifically mindfulness. But when it comes to integrating these into our leadership style and our organizational culture, we need to think about how – and why – we are doing it.  

While the pandemic has catalyzed significant change in working environments and in general employee attitudes to work, in a busy working life there are always going to be pressures. While we can’t eliminate those completely, we can change the way we deal with them. This is where mind training comes in. Mind training suggests that, rather than letting your phone, emails, and laptop control you, you should go back to treating them as tools that help you as part of a balanced, enjoyable approach to work. 

Attention deficit 

One of the keys to mind training is self-awareness. We live in an age of distractions, in the digital environment in particular, which has eroded our attention spans and become a significant source of stress in itself.  

According to the American Psychological Association, 43% of Americans are “constant checkers” of text messages, email, or social media accounts, and 18% of Americans say the use of technology is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.” Executives frequently complain of tiredness, some of exhaustion. By cultivating self-awareness, we can monitor and regulate how much of our time is devoted to dealing with digital demands, allowing us both to manage our personal resources and develop resilience. It’s ultimately about regaining control of our working environment. 

“43% of Americans are “constant checkers” of text messages, email, or social media accounts, and 18% of Americans say the use of technology is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress."”

Introducing mindfulness 

Managing the demands of the digital environment is only one of a range of issues that mind training can address. Sleep management and nutrition, for example, are critical components of a healthy level of self-awareness. Another key element in developing self-awareness is the practice of mindfulness.  

Mindfulness incorporates a number of elements, such as understanding how to be more mentally and emotionally “present” when we’re with people, or how best to focus on a given task. We can also use mindfulness to develop valuable business skills, such as reading the body language of colleagues, clients, or suppliers to better understand their feelings and perspectives, as well as using our own body language to project a positive, encouraging attitude.  

In the same way as a professional athlete manages their physical and mental wellbeing, we, as workplace performers, should manage ours, taking notice of what our minds and bodies are telling us. A professional athlete does not run themselves into the ground but, rather, alternates intensive work sessions with periods of rest and recuperation. Too often, business employees push themselves (or are pushed by managers) beyond a reasonable point of endurance, leading to the exhaustion now widely reported. By becoming aware of this and thinking more like an athlete, we can improve our personal physical and mental health, minimize “downtime,” and maximize productivity when we are working. 

Putting mindfulness into practice 

Mindfulness techniques anchor your attention in the present moment by grounding the body, finding a place of silence in your mind, and realizing that you can find space in your mind away from the fears and anxieties of everyday working life.  

Leaders should attempt to master these techniques themselves in order better to convey them to their teams, presenting themselves as a model of the practice. Mindfulness programs in the organization should be implemented by executive committee members, such as the chief human resources officer or chief learning officer, showing that the initiative has been adopted from the top down. 

As one IMD team member recognized in our own post-mind training program study, “Mindfulness is not just an individual decision, but also requires collective consciousness of it, and a willingness to spread it throughout the organization.” 

Our experience of mindfulness 

IMD’s training program starts with a voluntary introductory session of 90 minutes that gives team members an idea of the neuroscience behind mindfulness, showing it is based on serious research. This leads to an eight-week program of mindfulness training with our partner, Potential Project (www.potentialproject.com). We’ve found that around 80% of people who attend the initial workshop sign up for the full program, so our people clearly see it as beneficial. 

For team members who have completed our training, we found a 21% improvement in work/life balance, as well as a 14% increase in focus, and (relatedly) a 12% reduction in multi-tasking. Other areas of improvement include creativity (8%), engagement (6%), and reduced job-related stress (4%). 

Another huge benefit is a significant reduction in absenteeism, both for health reasons and stress. A consulting firm we work with noted that, within a sample of 1,000 of its staff, following mindfulness training, they reduced absenteeism by 40%, as well as increasing productivity by 15%, despite staff members saying they were actually working less.  

IMD proposes a more advanced 8-week program called MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – that includes a full-day practice in silence with no phone that IMD colleagues really appreciate. 

Clearly, time invested in mindfulness can bring significant rewards to your business. We encourage our team members to devote 10‒15 minutes a day to mindfulness practices as an ongoing “mental hygiene” routine. It’s a small daily investment – but the returns are huge. 

 

Authors

Erick Rinner

Erick Rinner

Executive in residence, IMD

Erick’s core skills include initiating change at board level, negotiation, advising management teams on value creation, and leadership. He serves on the board of private companies and trusts in Luxembourg, London, Paris, and Geneva. Erick has had a daily mindfulness practice for 16 years and is regularly in silent retreat. He teaches at IMD in Lausanne and at the University of Strasbourg in the Medicine, Meditation and Neurosciences program.

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