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Integrating Mindfulness into Post-Pandemic Leadership

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Nearly 40% of Americans feel that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively influenced their mental health. Forbes reported according to Kaiser Family Foundation. These mental health issues can tamper with employee performance while companies are amid facing a volatile and uncertain market soon. Leaders need to improve their capacity to navigate post-pandemic challenges.

Scientists from Switzerland conducted a comparative study between physical activities and mindfulness on resilience and depression during the first wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic. When compared to physical activities, mindfulness may start slow but increases over time and finally shows a better long-term resilience result. Mindfulness performed better in maintaining mental health over time while physical activities kept decreasing. Mindfulness may prevent post-pandemic mental health issues from tampering with employee performance.

Corporate mindfulness has been used widely in Google, SAP, HSBC, Aetna, Nike, and many more. It has been implemented in various approaches, from the simple ones like SAP or the comprehensive ones like HSBC. In SAP, employees are accustomed to being mindful during work by doing 3-breathe exercises, being in the present moment, mindful eating, and mindful walking. By doing simple things mindfully, employees are getting healthier. A study by the University of Wisconsin shows that mindfulness practitioners missed 76% fewer sick days than non-practitioners.

In HSBC, employees are trained and coached to be mindfulness champions by going through a ladder of mindfulness achievement. HSBC UK reported gaining 75% RoI within 4 months of implementing the mindfulness champion program.

The followings are some corporate mindfulness benefits based on the most recent research:

Building resilience throughout the companies.

Resilience is a quality of getting back to homeostasis after some adversaries. Corporations can develop resilience through their people. Resilient employees will be future resilient leaders. How can an employee benefit from mindfulness?

Mindfulness increases cognitive capacity, the ability to regulate emotion, and thus comes the ability to regulate behavior. In SAP, employees are encouraged to practice mindful walking to a meeting. At the meeting, the meeting participants will be in a mindful state. Regular practice will develop a mindful trait. The practice should train the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral regulation of the employees to choose what issue to attend to, why to cater to such issues, and how to experience issues when facing challenges. That is what resilience is all about.

Developing agility throughout the companies

Agility is required to cope with volatility and uncertainty. Agility is the ability to become better and stronger quickly after having turmoil from internal and external organizations. A study measuring Leader Versatility Index (LVI) shows that non-reactive leaders can be free from being caught up in their own thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps leaders achieve this state. The more mindful the leaders are, the more agile they become.

The result of mindfulness training in SAP presents that within 4 weeks after training the happiness, sense of meaning, ability to focus, and creativity increased and kept on increasing 6 months afterward. Peter Bostelmann said that SAP’s mindfulness program provided 200% of RoI. It is measured through employee feedback, engagement, reduction of staff sick leave, and profit increase.

Developing productivity throughout companies

In times of post-pandemic disruptions, organizations need to find ways to accelerate business recovery by increasing productivity. Increasing productivity strategy is often challenged by many unprecedented mishaps such as new virus variant outbreaks, ever-changing public policies, and reactive market.

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), Google reported that after joining Search Inside You (SIY), employees could become better listeners. General Mills aimed to improve employee focus, clarity, and creativity through mindfulness training. Intel’s employees had a two-point increase in new ideas, insights, mental clarity, creativity, ability to focus, quality of relationships at work, and level of engagement in meetings, projects, and team efforts. All these qualities as reported by HBR showed that mindfulness sparks the element of productivity.

Mindfulness as a leadership strategy

How can a leader spark those elements of productivity, agility, and resilience? Forbes stated that mindfulness should be a top-down program. It is a walk-the-talk program where leaders should lead by providing examples. Walk the talk can be challenging because leadership is about trust. Trust is the voluntary willingness of followers to put hopes on a leader with no guarantee of fulfillment from the leader.

Yvonne Stedham and Theresa B. Skaar provide frameworks to become an effective leader in gaining trust through mindfulness. Trustworthiness depends on three factors: the ability, integrity, and benevolence of the leaders. It is called the Cognitive Model of Trust. From the perspective of this model, trust is considered cognition but it is not emotion nor affection. Followers may start putting trust based on emotion and affection but, eventually, their cognition will play the most important role.

If trust is cognition, how can mindfulness help leaders gain trust? Mindful leaders are capable of creating meaningful interaction because they pay attention. Therefore, mindfulness sparks trust in others and eventually develops leadership.

In a study about Leader’s Flexibility and Mindfulness, it is hard for people who are not practitioners of meditation to see mindfulness as beneficial to daily and business life. Our research in Vanaya NeuroLab revealed that the brain scan of people undergoing the first coaching session can demonstrate the same pattern as the brain scan of long-term meditation practitioners in a meditative state. During meditation practice involving a state of unconditional loving-kindness and compassion, Buddhist meditators with 15 to 40 years of meditation practice showed low gamma activities in the frontal, right central, and parieto-occipital regions. A similar low gamma pattern was also found during a coaching session when middle-level managers were being coached to improve their leadership capacity.

Integrating mindfulness into leadership strategy must start with developing mindful leaders and creating a mindful working environment. Your company can create a full-fledged program of mindfulness like HSBC or simple daily practices like SAP. Coaching may offer an alternative to meditation practice for people having difficulty achieving a mindful state. Therefore, coaching may take the center stage in building developing resilience, agility, and productivity by igniting mindful decision-making during a coaching session.

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