Let's face it. If you're going to work for a large tech organization like Google, Apple or Facebook, work-life balance may be a concept you only read about. Yes, all of these organizations have programs for employees' well-being, however, when you're responsible for breakthrough projects with undoubtedly high expectations, taking a break can be far more difficult than pressing forward.

Even if you feel passionate and fully engaged in your work, being completely absorbed by it can take its toll and lead to employee burnout.

Burnout can happen for a variety of reasons. Typically, it's on account of overbearing bosses, stressful environments, or a lack of rest. Even though Google has addressed many of these variables by redefining what it means to be an effective boss, compiling higher performing teams, and even including sleeping pods in their offices, burnout is still one of the gravest challenges facing the tech giant.

In an article on Wired.com, the author tells the story of Google employee No. 107, Chade-Meng Tan (an engineer), who witnessed this problem first hand. He noticed he and his colleagues had no problem "turning it on," however, once they were engaged, they had a hard time "turning it off." There were points where the work was so thrilling, and they were making so much progress that it was hard to unplug. With the rate at which Google was expanding, Tan knew this amount of pressure was going to be a wider issue eventually.

His solution was mindfulness. According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and to not overreact or be overwhelmed by what's going on around us.

With this simple idea, Tan assembled leading experts in mindfulness, neuroscience, and emotional intelligence to develop an internal program for his fellow Googlers. They went on to develop a seven-week course that eventually helped Googlers be healthier, happier and more productive. It was so successful that the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) was established as a nonprofit in 2012. They still work with Google to this day.

So how does mindfulness work? Here are the basics via helpguide.org, adapted with permission from Harvard Health Publications:

  1. Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  2. Focus on an aspect of your breathing. This could include the sensations of air flowing in and out of your nostrils or your stomach rising and falling as you inhale and exhale. The goal is to establish concentration.
  3. Once you've narrowed your focus, begin to widen your center. Notice sounds, thoughts, and other sensations. The idea here is to train yourself to appreciate the present moment without latching onto any particular stimuli -- internal or external.
  4. As you let other feelings in, acknowledge them and without judging whether they're good or bad, let them go. If they start to take you away from the moment, then return your focus to your breathing. Repeat as needed. The main concept is to discover which mental habits produce feelings of well-being or distress.

The cumulative effect of re-centering ourselves gives us power over our anxieties and allows us to embrace the present moment. It helps us subdue one of our most common enemies -- ourselves.

It's a simple idea with significant implications. Recent research from insurance titan Aetna revealed that an internal mindfulness program produced a 36 percent reduction in stress levels, a 62-minute increase in production per week, and 7 percent lower healthcare costs.

Published on: Sep 19, 2017