I’ve spoken about this in the past: that there seems to be an unnatural schism between two very interdependent realms, as if they were completely separate. I’m talking of course about the hard-nosed world of quarterly earnings reports, beating growth expectations, and focusing on the bottom line. The other sphere involves the growing awareness of the enormous costs stress extracts not only in the health & well-being of business leaders & employees but, also, on the bottom line. But this is all changing…and both individuals and companies are benefiting.
What’s Good For Us as Individuals is Also Good for the Corporate Bottom Line
Mounting scientific evidence shows us the dire need for these two realms to be seen as both compatible and inseparable. When separated, the costs come in two forms. The first involves the costs due to stress and its many related medical impacts, and, the second, the cost of lost creativity, decreased performance, and productivity.
Inconvenient Truths: Health Impacts
The costs of poor well-being and stress on employees at any level of the organization is harsh. Here are some recent stats:
- Cost of stress to American businesses is about $300 billion (yes, billion)
- 40% of all workers feel overworked, pressured and squeezed to the point of anxiety, depression and disease
- Corporate health insurance premiums rose 11.2%, or quadruple the rate of inflation in 2004 alone
- 2/3 of all doctor visits stem from stress-related complaints and illnesses
- U.S. employers spend 200-300% more for the indirect costs of healthcare – in the form of absenteeism, sick days and lowered productivity – than they do on actual health care payments.
- 75% of all health care spending is on chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure, and these can be prevented.
Though awareness is growing, sadly there are still way too many companies that don’t yet ‘get’ the benefits of wellness. What we see with increasing clarity in the research is that what is good for the individual is also very good for the corporate bottom line.
The Skinny on Mindfulness
Mark Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, cites that one of the best – and cheapest – ways to become healthier and happier is through mindfulness exercises like meditation. After nine weeks of mindfulness training, participants had an increased sense of purpose, fewer feelings of isolation and alienation, and decreased symptoms of illness such as headaches, chest pain, congestion and weakness.
Williams point to a study by the National Institute of Health that shows that meditation can produce effects so powerful as to cause a 30% decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and cancer. Really. He claims that the effects are so potent that the findings are the equivalent of “discovering an entirely new class of drugs, but without the side effects.”
Meditation, Happiness & Productivity are Kissing Cousins
Mindfulness and meditation increase happiness. Happiness and productivity are deeply intertwined. According to the iOpener Institute, increasing happiness in the workplace results in:
- 46% reduction in employee turnover
- 19% reduction in sick leave costs
- 12% increase in performance and productivity
- Happy employees that spend 40% more time focused on tasks and feel energized 65% more of the time
- Happier employees that take fewer sick days and remain in their jobs twice as long.
Corporate Success Stories
Very often the first thing that we give up are those things that replenish us: those things we consider optional. This often leaves us exhausted, and, for many, on the verge of burnout.
Here are some examples of where a focus on mindfulness beefed up business results:
Case study 1: Physicians – A year long study of physicians, an occupation known for burnout, showed that doctors taking part in mindfulness exercises experienced considerable reductions in levels of stress. What is also noteworthy is that these improvements continued after the study was concluded.
Case study 2: Google – One of this tech giants most popular courses for employees teaches mindfulness in three parts: attention training, self-knowledge and building useful mental habits. Participants noted increases in resiliency, communication & presentation skills and their ability to collaborate.
Case study 3: General Mills – Offers a mindfulness program for employees that also has includes a meditation room in every building on their campus. Fully 80% of participants report that they have improved their ability to make better decisions.
Light Bulb Moment
It is not the number of hours that we sit at our desk that determines the value we generate. It is the energy and focus that we bring to the hours we work that count. Maintaining a steady supply of energy – physically, mentally & emotionally – requires ongoing refueling. This is why more and more companies are recognizing that the health of their employees is also one of the most significant predictors of the company’s health.
Is working in your organization hazardous to your health?
Great and important article Doug, I also like the research behind it.
Really, isn’t it about time that we link well-being to personal performance, whether it be at work or home? Unhealthy employees = low performance and healthy employees = high performance,is it that hard to understand, funny how we need ‘numbers’ to talk about this?
The ramifications of this health ‘crisis’ are massive, not just for the bottom line of an organization, but also for the ‘bottom line’ of society, the social consequences are enduring.
Thanks Lee! I agree that it is a little perplexing as to why what seem to be blindingly obvious connections, require reems of fastidious data before acceptance. Fortunately, more and more organizations are leveraging this connection and reaping the rewards to both their workforce and competitive capacity. But it is still an uphill battle bringing organizations on board. As you say, the benefits extend well beyond increased organizational health and into society. Not sure exactly why there remains such resistance.