The blinding effect of stress on the workplace

That elusive “eureka moment” seldom occurs in a mind deeply entwined in the tight knots of our thinking.

More people will report that “aha” epiphany occurring when the mind relaxes somewhat.

This is not to dismiss the value of deep thinking – it is likely as critical to the function of discovery as it’s relaxing counterpart triggering that popular and rewarding moment of solution.

However, like a diver,  it seems human tendency to plunges us deeper and deeper in pursuit of new discoveries. The result is a much darker environment and a mind often starved of requisite air and space to process what has been seen.

Often we feel we are just “that close” to a solution, when we are headed in the wrong direction. In this case, we have to calm ourselves and gain a little clarity.

This idea is not lost on business, most notably Google, which adopted a policy of “Fedex time” where 20 per cent of an employee’s time would be spent on whatever they want. It’s simply a time for free discovery.

What Google found is most of the company’s biggest developments occurred during Fedex time.

Google was not the first.

Sticky notes and masking tape were developed in a down time of 15 per cent introduced by 3M in the 1950s.

We continue to discover, as 3M did more than 60 years ago, that it’s a quiet mind that works its best from a creative standpoint.

Many companies hold to the old standard of raising the stress levels to get jobs done faster.

That can be effective from a manual labour perspective. It will get people digging ditches faster, but it won’t allow them to figure out better ways to do it.

In fact, adding stress kills the creative process.

“As ten-thousand studies have shown, when you are chronically stressed, you’re less able to be at your best. Particularly when you’re talking about a knowledge economy which really places a high premium on creativity,” California neuropsychologist Rick Hanson told Forbes reporter Judy Martin in a 2112 interview.

The effect of stress on the workplace is significant.

Four out of five people say they have workplace stress, and acknowledge they need help managing it.

Enter mindfulness, the practice of being present, without judgment, without being overly reactive to what’s going on around us.

It’s not a cure-all for all our ills, but it’s a good start in reducing the amount of stress we endure.

Companies such as American health-care provider Aetna reported a 28 per cent reduction in stress during a mindfulness trial about 10 years ago. Law firms report a 38 per cent reduction in stress when mindfulness programs are introduced.

Companies such as Google, Nike, Deutsch Bank and General Foods report similar results from their own mindfulness trials.

While it’s not a panacea, it can give our minds a much needed break from overwhelming stress so that they can function better and with more clarity.

It’s under those conditions that the “aha” moment is much more likely.