Mindful leadership: Balancing employee happiness and the bottom line
Latest management theory backs ‘mindful leadership’ to fully engage employees. (File photo)
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At a time when workforce demographics and expectations are changing rapidly, the ability to attract and retain talent ahead of the competition is becoming an ever-greater priority for organisational leaders.
This is because today’s workforce is more connected and transient than at any time before.
With extrinsic factors such as employee terms, conditions, and benefits generally outside the control of managers and leaders, creating an environment where employees can develop and grow is now a key focus for organisations. The aspiration is to develop a culture that appeals to an employee’s sense of loyalty, belonging, and emotional well-being.
Employee happiness has emerged as a central theme for creating a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent, with significant investments being made towards creating an environment that supports employee well-being and happiness.
The concept of happiness, of course, is not new. However, placed in a work context, it does perhaps signal a change in both management thinking and employee expectations. The ghostly whispers from bygone managers voicing their mantra “you are here to work, not enjoy yourself” seem to be but a distant murmur now.
Younger generations, for example, need to understand the purpose and meaning of what they do, and how they contribute to organisational success. Increasingly, employees want to feel intrinsically satisfied as well as being extrinsically rewarded.
The challenge for organisations is to create and maintain a balance between employee well-being and achieving the bottom-line. Research has certainly suggested this should be manageable — happy employees are more focused, committed, healthier in mind and body, and, as a result, are more productive and outperform the competition.
Personally, I celebrate the notion of happiness in the workplace, and there are numerous organisations across the globe — such as Google and Target — that are already developing and delivering employee well-being and happiness programmes to influence the way staff look at themselves and the world of work, and what they can do together to be more “healthy” and “happy”.
The key question is whether it is actually possible to make people happy at work, or to create the environment for people to be happy at work? Being happy means different things to different people.
It is ephemeral and, as such, is an individualised phenomenon. However, many do agree that happiness is a state, and one that can be influenced by how we feel, how we think, what we are experiencing, and the environment we find ourselves in.
Therefore, if you generate enough individual happiness, it becomes contagious: before you know it, you have a happy organisation, with happy teams, happy customers, and happy employees. Well, that’s the theory.
As such, there are some key components influencing individual happiness that organisations and their leaders would do well to develop in harmony, at all levels. These include, but are not restricted to, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, resilience, and organisational and personal well-being.
It’s as much about changing mindsets as it is developing an environment where happiness is an actual way of life rather than a KPI to be measured as part of the corporate balanced scorecard.
It isn’t much of a leap to see that to be happy we need to be aware of what we are feeling, sensing and thinking. We need to accept things as they are, and avoid making judgements as to why what is happening is, well, happening.
Say hello, then, to “mindfulness”: not a new innovation, but one that is now seen as having strong links to happiness in the workplace, and potentially, a key differentiator in corporate success.
Research undertaken on “mindfulness” by institutes such as the UK’s National Institute for Health, the University of Massachusetts, and Harvard University’s Medical Institute, point to the fact that mindfulness at work reduces absenteeism, and turnover, improves cognition and job satisfaction, increases productivity, enhances relationships, and helps to nurture creativity and innovation.
In the context of leadership, the Institute for Mindful Leadership and the former CEO of Medtronic, William George, both assert that the main business case for mindful leadership is that if a leader is fully present on the job, they will be more effective, make better decisions, develop better relationships, create space for innovation, and improve strategic thinking.
As a concept, mindful leadership requires leaders to work with wisdom and humanity, while inspiring the best in themselves and others.
A tall order one might say, but the benefits outweigh the challenges; who would argue against individual and collective happiness, and great days at work?
By Michael Castle
The writer is Executive Development Director at Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.
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