When Google was a young company, Marissa Mayer, now President and CEO of Yahoo.com, worked 130 hours per week and often slept at her desk. Hard work is very often the key to our professional success. Most people can deal with peaks in their workload, but problems start when people can’t see an end to the increased workload. Thus, hard work can lead into burnout. Nevertheless, hard work is not the only cause of burnout. People can burn out when they feel a lack of passion for the work that used to energize them. The day to day frustration slowly erodes any perceived rewards.
People loose enthusiasm and the energy they felt when they were new hires is gone. They start becoming apathetic and unproductive. The cost of burnout to companies is high, but the cost for the whole economy is even higher as we have to consider not only losses or reduced productivity suffered by companies when employees are unavailable, but also the cost for the healthcare system. Working conditions and the need of always being switched on, engagements and commitments in our private life are among the main reasons behind frustration and a lack of energy.
Burnout represents resentment, and preventing it requires knowing ourselves well enough to know what makes us resentful. When people are drained and fell burned, they are not giving their best to work or their family. This has a big effect on their creativity, energy, productivity, but also – and even more importantly – harmony and peace of mind. People need to find their own rhythm and the activity that restores their energy. That might be spending time in the nature, or doing sports on a regular basis, or practicing yoga daily.
The key thing is to realize that we can’t have everything we want, which is definitely bad news. However, the good news is that we all can have the things that really matter to us. This is not only related to the ability to be able to build boundaries between business and private life. Because our private life could also be a source of stress and frustration. The big issues are awareness and attention. Listen to your feelings and be aware of the things that really matter, and then learn how to create useful boundaries between these.
Many employers have started to react. In the US more that 20% of large employers have launched stress reduction programmes. Some of them are attempting to turn the “off” button on. In Europe, Volkswagen pledged to deactivate email on German staff Blackberries during non-office hours. Some companies are moving further as they start taking care of their employees’ well-being a few years ago. Google, in an attempt to create the healthiest and happiest workforce on the planet, launched a program focused on employees’ emotional well-being. Google launched its ‘Optimize your life’ programme in 2010, as an extension of a new healthcare plan.
Its three main pillars are: emotional health, physical health and financial health. Google’s emotional wellbeing benefits include an employee assistance programme, life coaching, deep-sleep sessions, brain training, support groups, and recharging spaces (or energy pods) within the office for 20 or 30-minute breaks. Google started earlier. In 2007 “Search inside yourself” introduced mindfulness meditation to more than 1,000 employees. Google employees meditated silently together on cushions, strengthening their minds for the work in the week ahead.
The advantage of meditating is the increase one’s awareness, the ability to see with clarity, to feel connected with yourselves. Mindfulness meditation is mainly about compassion to yourself, and to everyone around, including colleagues, relatives, anyone. Compassion, not pity, makes people stronger. Ducking in to grab a few minutes of equanimity in between meetings, mediation can help people in improving the quality of their private and business life. If one is fully present at work, they will make better decisions for themselves and for others, will work better with other people and will be more effective as a leader.
Meditation and mindfulness help maintain equanimity and a clear mind in a high-stress job. In Luxembourg, some companies are on the same track promoting such programmes, moving in the direction of Google, developing and implementing an innovative solution so that employees can fully develop their potential. Companies offer participants a wide range of sessions, including tai chi mental, managing emotions, quit smoking, sport coaching, and intercultural management. Disappointment is very often simply a consequence of high expectations. Helping people to be aware of who they are, and how they feel or react to situations, provides an opportunity to accept themselves for who they are. Being compassionate with yourself reduces expectations and increases awareness. Being compassionate with yourself brings back energy for everything you do, especially your work, because it becomes a way to express your essential capacities.
* from ’Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson, November 2011.