The Business of Mindfulness

People Problems

"At the heart of our most intractable business problems, we find people problems: chronic stress and burnout, interpersonal conflict, miscommunication, poor decision-making, and more.


Managers waste massive amounts of money, time, energy, and resources trying to fix these issues, but the true costs of this class of problems is much more troubling."  (Thompson et al, Harvard 2016)

Challenges in the Workplace

Information Overload: "The world’s knowledge is doubling every 13 months, and the average human attention span has dropped below 8 seconds"  (Schilling, Microsoft) 

Digital Distraction: "The average worker manages 120 messages a day, switches screen channels 37 times an hour, and is interrupted every 3 minutes." (DMR, UC Irvine)

Attention Deficit Trait: "ADT is now an epidemic in the workplace, with core symptoms of distractibility, inner frenzy, disorganization and impatience." (Halliwell, HBR)

Overwork and Overwhelm: "89% of workers feel continually behind schedule - over 50% feel overworked and overwhelmed." (Family Work Institute) 

Workplace Conflict: "37% of managerial time is now spent mediating conflict, 98% of workers have recently experienced it and 23% are continually exposed to it." (CCP, Mediate)

Toxic Management: "56% of workers report current exposure to a toxic manager, 35% have experienced verbal abuse, intimidation or humiliation by a supervisor." (Life Meets Work)

Chronic Stress: "Workplace stress has become the epidemic of the new century, and is a major contributor to the 6 leading causes of premature death." (NIH, WHO)

Chronic Illness: "45% of Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and 25% are subject to multiple chronic conditions." (CDC)

“We spend more of our time working than doing anything else, and researchers have found that these hours are on average the least happy of our lives. Endemic stress in knowledge-based industries results in disengagement, absenteeism and a huge loss of national productivity.


It’s increasingly clear that the quality of cognitive and emotional resources in the workforce determines the health, resilience and future performance of the organization.” (Secretariat to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group 2016)  

A Hit to the Bottom Line

Rising Health Care Costs: "Stress, anxiety and chronic disease continue to drive employers’ healthcare costs upwards, at twice the rate of inflation and wage growth."  (NBGH)

Higher Absenteeism: "Unscheduled absences now cost $225 billion annually in direct costs, and as much as $1.1 trillion in lost productivity." (Healthways)

Lower Engagement: "Even with a recent uptick, Nearly 70% of workers self-report as disengaged (16% are actively disengaged, meaning angry and resentful), resulting in $450 to $500 billion in lost productivity." (Gallup)

Lower Retention: "Turnover in the US workforce increased from 15% in 2013 to 18% in 2017 and voluntary resignations increased to 13% - Employee churn costs American companies $160 billion a year." (Compdata)

Lower Creativity: "Measures of adolescent creativity have been in steep decline since 1995, as screen time has scaled to an average of 10 hours, 32 minutes a day." (Nielsen, Harvard)

Lower Performance: "Chronic stress, anxiety, negativity, distraction, overload, overwhelm, conflict and toxicity destroy performance and productivity." (ISMA)

Drive Down Health-Care Costs

Companies are caught between increasingly overwhelmed, exhausted employees on one hand, and the escalating costs of treating stress-related chronic illness, on the other. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cost of workplace burnout is more than $300 billion a year, and employers spend up to three times their direct cost in the form of absenteeism, sick days and lower productivity.

Today, the most common reason that employers cite for adopting a mindfulness program is simple — mindful practices are a remarkably effective intervention that drive stress-related health care costs down. Progressive employers are now routinely reporting dramatic decreases in stress levels and burnout, and double-digit increases in regained productivity.

According to a recent Harvard Business School meta-study on wellness, mindfulness can drive medical and absenteeism costs down by 300% for every dollar invested.

Aetna credits its 2015 mindfulness programs with a 28% reduction in participant stress levels, a 7% reduction in paid medical claims, and a 62 minute increase in productivity per employee, per week, or $3,000 per employee, per annum. This represents an extraordinary return on investment.       


“[Mindfulness] helps employees be more productive and make better decisions, both of which improve the bottom line.” (Mark Bertolini, CEO, Aetna)

Turn Around a Toxic Workplace

Over 50% of American workers have quit a job to escape an ineffective, incompetent or abusive manager, and tens of millions are struggling with the stress of overwork, lack of appreciation, and negativity in the workplace. Whatever the cause, unpleasant attitudes and behaviors (among leaders and co-workers alike) destroy loyalty and motivation, erode engagement, and drive down productivity.

Mindfulness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and a path to insight, empathy and compassion. Meditation has been shown to improve self-actualization, awareness and regulation, the fundamental building blocks of effective interpersonal skills. At the same time, by dampening signals of fear and anxiety from the amygdala, in favor of calm and rationality from the pre-frontal cortex, mindfulness provides the conditions for better communication, collaboration and teamwork.

Reduce Turnover

Toxic management isn’t the only reason people leave their companies. Even with disruption in the markets, we’re still at the edge of a retention crisis for top talent in key positions.  The most recent studies report a minimum cost of about 35% of the departing worker’s annual salary (and of course, much more in time and opportunity cost) to replace them. 

Turnover now costs American business tens of billions a year in direct costs and lost productivity. Mindfulness helps in multiple ways. First, it strengthens emotional intelligence skills for leaders, managers and co-workers. Second, it lowers stress, distraction and anxiety n the workforce, and help people re-engage in a positive way. Third, it tangibly demonstrates that we care about how our people feel, not just what they do. The best gift we can give them is science-based mental training that leads to greater health, happiness and fulfillment. 

Engage Your Workforce

Gallup’s 2019 engagement reports an uptick, but still more than 68% of the American workforce describe themselves as “disengaged”, including 16% who are reportedly “actively disengaged.” Both engagement and retention are highly correlated to business performance, but seriously degraded by chronic stress and toxic management. A culture of disengagement erodes quality of work, workforce productivity and customer satisfaction.

Mindfulness gives leaders, managers and workers the mental strength and toolset to combat workplace burnout and negativity. Non-judgmental awareness lowers stress and nurtures insight, which leads to calm and equanimity. It provides the space to become re-interested, re-frame and re-commit to the purpose of the organization; and the emotional intelligence to improve communication, collaboration and compassion for teammates.

“We’ve reached a cultural tipping point in the workplace, driven by public attitude shifts on employment policies, blurred lines between work and home life, and generational differences in the expectations of work itself.

As working Americans challenge organizations to manage and lead differently, those that don’t will find themselves left behind.” (John C. Taylor, President and CEO, SHRM)

Pay Attention to What Matters

Technology saturation and information overload are creating a distracted, attention-deficit workforce, overwhelmed with competing stimuli and demands. The mass and velocity of input are stripping leaders of the bandwidth needed to think critically, creatively and deeply. Workers are increasingly frustrated, exhausted, and locked into the shallow work of responding to texts, email and social media.

A 2016 study showed that the average attention span is now below 8 seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2012), yet concentration is the baseline requirement for deep work. Mindfulness is basic training for attention and focus, and is proven to strengthen the neural pathways associated with concentration, cognition and working memory. Focus and the ability to resist distraction are also solidly linked to our abilities to control impulses, emotions and achieve long-term goals 

Build Innovation into Your Culture

Competition in the global market is increasingly driven by disruptive innovation across technologies, supply chains and business models. Given this frame, the ability to continually innovate becomes a critical organizational capability. Insight and ideation are crucial to the process, as is access to divergent thinking. All are dramatically improved through mindful meditation.

Mindful concentration is at the core of any creative activity. Additionally, meditation improves fluid intelligence, and the ability to process and respond to novel information, patterns and relationships. The non-judgmental awareness associated with contemplative practice also unlocks enlightened inspiration, strengthens intuition and helps us embrace uncertainty without fear.

Develop More Effective Leaders

Great leaders and managers are able to connect authentically and compassionately with individuals at a human level. This is a mindful trait at the core of emotional intelligence, and is the foundation for trust, motivation and loyalty. According to Bill George, Harvard Senior Fellow and former CEO, Medtronics: “The main business case for mindfulness is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be a more effective leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.”

Mindfulness also enables the self-actualization, self-awareness and self-regulation that drive clarity of vision, strategic awareness, critical thinking, decision making and other measures of leadership performance. It is a force-multiplier for management and leadership development.

“Focus, clarity, creativity, compassion and courage. These are the qualities of the mindful leaders I’ve worked with, taught and mentored.


Mindfulness gives leaders the resilience to cope with challenges, and the resolve to sustain long-term success.” (Bill George, Senior fellow, Harvard Business School and former CEO, Medtronics)

Raise Your Happiness Quotient

Nothing creates better engagement, higher productivity and greater client satisfaction than true happiness and well-being. In fact, the difference in productivity attributable to the delta of happy and unhappy people ranges between 10% for non-complex, repetitive tasks, to over 50% in service and creative industries. This may be additive to parallel gains associated with reductions in stress, anxiety, toxic management and relief of chronic illness.

The Harvard Business Review found that businesses investing in employee happiness can expect a corresponding improvement in customer-facing results, including increased sales of up to 37%. Happy people care about their work, they’re personally invested in the success of the enterprise, and exert positive energy across their span of influence. They are an important core of any organization striving to attract, hire and retain the best talent.

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Copyright  2020 Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM)