Faster, Cheaper Is Taking A Toll On Your Workforce

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Sep 13, 2016

Modern global business requires “faster, cheaper” as a way of thinking and working to drive top and bottom line results. Sadly, it’s become table stakes. But is that approach slowly killing your employees, while quietly driving up the costs related to absenteeism, turnover, injury and healthcare?

As a former COO in public companies, I know that driving top and bottom line results is no easy feat. Modern businesses have to pull all the stops just to compete. It’s hard out there. The basic corporate playbook includes changing tax structures, offshoring, outsourcing, “co-opetition” and implementing shared services to remain in the race. Faster, cheaper is the new norm.

I’ve worked in settings where the numbers didn’t add up and it’s frustrating. Procurement works hard to drive 15% year over year savings. This can have an unintended impact on employee relationships when trusted vendors turn into cheapest suppliers. Likewise, I’ve seen offshoring strategies tout 50% savings but it’s hard to get the math to add up when bottom line costs only improve by 10%. The internal PR is usually great, and I’ve certainly held that banner before, but if you add up the toll on employees and all of the supposed savings, where’s Waldo?

These days, it’s easy to send unintended messages to employees. Beyond offshoring, the World Economic Forum estimates that five million jobs will be replaced by robots in the next five years. Planning for self-driving cars, drone deliveries and machine automation used to sound like The Jetsons. Now it’s just keeping up with the Joneses. Once again, when companies are pressed to attract and retain talent, many of our basic business practices send the clear message, “We love you, but…”

In the corporate playbook, one-trick ponies like moving a headquarters or outsourcing innovation deliver maximum value for a few years, create a new standard of performance or stock valuation, then level off as the organization looks to its next wave. As Janet Jackson sang “What have you done for me lately?” But, in my experience, few companies are dealing with the impact of the “faster, cheaper” playbook on employee stress and mental well-being.

The cost of employee stress

While companies are enjoying savings from aggressive cost-cutting and offshoring, many have a massive and growing leak when it comes to internal disruption and the rising cost of employee stress. So where’s the leak coming from?

  • $300 billion is lost annually due to stress and lost productivity in the U.S. alone.
  • $26 billion is lost just because of mental health-related absences in the workforce.
  • 33% of employees suffer from insomnia.
  • 47% of employee time is spent in a “mind wandering” state vs. being focused and aware.
  • 91% of all workplace accidents are due to human error.

It’s all connected and the pace of modern living is burning people out at increasingly younger ages. Fast forward 15 years. What will your employees be experiencing then? What demands will the pace of business and global connectivity place on their schedules and mental well-being? If your approach with employees has been “suck it up,” you may want to reevaluate.

What employers can do

If we agree that the faster, cheaper boat has sailed,  the question becomes, “How can we help employees be healthy and happy in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex business world?”

Companies have to develop strategies to address increases in stress, anxiety, insomnia, medical costs and injury rates. We’ve reached the tipping point where employee resiliency and mental fitness are being well tested, but not well trained.

At some point in the near future, let’s call it now, employers have to invest in training employees to be more resilient for their own health and happiness. Employees need the life skills and techniques to help them cope with the higher bar for stress in modern business. The same goes for their personal lives where stress from finances, children, education, etc. are also on the rise.

Benefits of stress training

Enter mindfulness — a heavily science-based solution to help employees reduce stress. It’s meditation and awareness training to build resiliency, focus attention and perform better in the moment. I came to a mindfulness meditation practice (kicking and screaming) after suffering from years of corporate burnout and chronic back pain. More organizations are turning to mindfulness training to help counterbalance modern stressors and guess what? It’s working:  A 76% decrease in absenteeism for employees who practiced mindfulness.

  • People suffering from insomnia fell asleep 22 minutes faster and slept 30 minutes
  • Meditators had 30% higher levels of an enzyme that repairs damaged telomeres, which protect DNA from deteriorating as we age.
  • Professionals trained in mindfulness even concentrated better, stayed on task longer, multitasked more effectively and retained more information.

Due to the sudden explosion of research on mindfulness in recent years, a Fidelity study reported that 22% of large companies are now sourcing mindfulness training programs to help employees survive and thrive in high stress, high performance cultures.

Suddenly, it seems like a no-brainer. It’s no wonder the world’s greatest companies, including GE, Aetna, Ford, Google and Apple, are investing in their employees through mindfulness training. Employees are the most important asset to any organization. If they’re actually treated that way, they can work wonders.

8 weeks to results

Employee wellness programs are the new must-have entry in the corporate playbook. And human resource professionals are the new black-belts in delivering value with data-driven wellness programs. Digital mindfulness training, resiliency skills and mental well-being are the next key investments to improve business results, while simultaneously helping to improve employees’ lives. The best part? It doesn’t take very long to actually see its impact. Studies show that most employees can reap the benefits of mindfulness training in as little as eight weeks. That’s consistent with my own experience. That means being calmer, cooler, collected, improving sleep and easing up on anger. Yes, please – I’ll have another round of that.

Business is all about driving the numbers, but it doesn’t have to include driving employees into the ground. No more sending employees the message “We love you, but…” It’s time to try, “We love you and we want you to be healthy and happy, even in trying times.”

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