Mindfulness trending in the boardroom

The world’s top companies are increasingly introducing mindfulness practices into their organisations to help employees reduce stress and anxiety, increase focus and attention, and ultimately enhance productivity - and South African companies are starting to follow suit, a leadership expert says.

“Mindfulness is no longer an opaque concept reserved for yoga retreats and motivational memes,” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, author, speaker and CEO of Jack Hammer, rated one of SA’s top 3 executive search companies.

“The concept and practice has – not surprisingly – found grateful and receptive audiences in many of the world’s leading companies, including here in South Africa,” she says.

“The idea that people who practice mindfulness principles might be on the fringes of society belongs to a past era, and these days there is enough data, research and scientific information supporting not only the personal, but also commercial benefits of a more in-tune, holistic approach to life and work.”

Goodman-Bhyat explains: “Mindfulness is a respected, acknowledged global movement, pioneered by PhD Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is increasingly becoming mainstream, and a growing number of top leaders are starting to incorporate mindfulness-based practices and principles in their personal and professional lives.”

Mindfulness programmes and practices are known to have been introduced at some high-profile organisations, including Google, Intel, Aetna, Keurig Green Mountain and Target.

Locally, Goodman-Bhyat recently published IntheFlow – Taking Mindfulness to Work, the result of her years-long research into the impact of implementing mindfulness practices in the workplace.

It soon leaped to the business best-seller list post-publication, with business leaders enthusiastically backing the 6-prompt formula that forms the basis of the guide.

Allon Raiz, CEO of Raizcorp, noted that Goodman-Bhyat had managed to build the bridge between the hectic chaos of everyday business and the clarity and serenity that being present, and in the moment, brings.

“IntheFlow takes quite an ethereal concept and makes it practical for people to understand and, more importantly, to apply,” he noted.

Global studies conducted on international organisations (including Fortune 500 companies) show a 19% decrease in stress, 37% increase in productivity, 40% increase in focus, 34% increase in emotional control and 37% decrease in overwhelm in companies where mindfulness practices have been introduced. And a recent study found that participants in 6-9 week mindfulness courses experience a 42% stress reduction, as well as improvement in productivity, time management and job satisfaction.

Goodman-Bhyat says introducing mindfulness practices in the workplace does not take massive amounts of time, strategising or financial investment.

“But it does take commitment and championing by leaders, who are invested in shifting perspectives and changing the status quo of ‘how we do things around here’. When this happens, impact on an organisation’s wellness – from individual level to company performance, is indisputable.”

Following the lead of their global counterparts, South African organisations are also starting to pay attention to the benefits of incorporating mindfulness-based programmes and principles in their work environments. Large corporations like Woolworths and Old Mutual, as well as medium-sized and entrepreneurial businesses are investigating options for mindfulness-based training, leadership development, or group learning sessions.

“Further, more and more executive education, MBA and leadership development courses conducted at SA’s top tertiary institutions are offering mindfulness training as an integral part of their curricula, so it’s inevitable that the concepts will start trickling into the business environment,” notes Goodman-Bhyat.

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