Last week's budget focussed, in part, on children's health and wellbeing by imposing a tax on sugary drinks and investing in school sports. What is interesting is that business academics and leaders are increasingly recognising the importance of wellbeing not only as a desirable end in itself but as a means of increasing performance and productivity.
Some companies (Johnson & Johnson being an early and well-documented example; Deutsche Post DHL being another) are even going as far as to measure employee wellbeing and its effect on productivity as a metric of corporate performance.
This is a vast area. It was discussed in a recent McKinsey podcast, The Art and Science of Well-being at Work which looked at three common themes:
Another piece of McKinsey research The Organizational Cost of Insufficient Sleep highlights the key role played by healthy sleep patterns. There is a direct correlation between organisational health (defined as the ability to align around a clear vision; executing with excellence; responding to market trends) and leadership performance. Four key behaviours are associated with high quality leadership: Results orientation; solving problems; seeking different perspectives; and supporting others. Each of these behaviours depends on mental capacities which are directly effected by sleep.
Further, scientific studies have shown that, after roughly 17-19 hours of wakefulness, an individual's performance on a range of tasks is equivalent to someone with a blood/alcohol level of 0.1% , higher than the drink-drive limit in the UK! Put simply, if you are not getting enough sleep, your ability effectively to lead is significantly compromised.
Sleep health is a huge and complex topic and there is no "quick fix" for the sleep deprived. The management school I attended devoted an entire afternoon session to developing a personal "sleep strategy". However, there is a lot of helpful advice available on how to promote healthy sleep (try the Harvard Medical School Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep ). Personally, I'm a big fan of the short afternoon nap!
The podcast also discusses the positive effects of a regular meditation practice. Meditation is just one way to practice mindfulness (non-judgemental, present-moment awareness) but it is a method which has a long tradition in history and about which much has been written. It's easy to develop a slight cynicism about the recent corporate embracing of "mindfulness" and the sometimes exaggerated claims as to its benefits (discussed in a January 2015 article The McMindfulness Craze). However, repeated research suggests that meditation can decrease anxiety, boost performance and resilience under stress, enhance creativity and help focus (Harvard Business Review December 2015).
For those familiar with meditation practice, the challenge is often finding the time during a busy day to make space for it. However, just spending ten minutes in a quiet place away from distractions, screens and smart phones will pay dividends. For those new to meditation the range of techniques and courses available can be daunting. There are probably as many ways to practice meditation as there are books and articles written on the subject. Thankfully, they don't all involve sitting in the lotus position for hours. Headspace offers an easy to use app which many people I know have found to be a useful introduction.
Most of us are aware of the importance of regular exercise to our overall physical health. However, we perhaps don't appreciate how important it can be to our mental health. Dr Stephen Ilardi, a clinical psychologist at the University of Kansas, in the context of a 2013 TedX talk on the treatment of depression, has described exercise, as "nature's best medicine" and research has shown that regular exercise leads to improvements in concentration, memory, learning and creativity as well as lowering stress and elevating mood (see Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job)
So the message to businesses, leaders and employees appears to be… if you want to improve performance:
- Get sleeping
- Get meditating
- Get exercising
This blog post was written by Cameron Scott, a senior member of the CDC team, former magic circle partner, barrister and a graduate of the Ashridge Business School Advanced Management Programme. Cameron has spent over 25 years' as a lawyer both in private practice and in-house and has significant experience of leading teams of professionals, delivering legal projects and dealing with the personal and professional challenges faced by senior lawyers.
The Client Development Centre has been working with in house teams for over ten years. Please contact Cameron if you would like to discuss how we can support you and your team.