The moment I joined a small regional office at SAP seven years ago, I knew exciting times were ahead. The Executive Board of SAP SE had just initiated a plan to grow our business in the Middle East and North Africa region. We all worked long hours at an incredibly fast and aggressive pace – yet, the resources and infrastructure that supported us were limited.
I still loved working with my colleagues and enjoyed my role. However, balancing work with family and personal commitments became incredibly challenging. And within a year, a once-motivating workplace culture quickly became a drag on my own wellness and personal relationships.
I was on the edge of burnout – a moment that changed how I now view my purpose at work and in life.
If my story sounds familiar, you’re not alone
According to the Yale University study “The Emotion Revolution in the Workplace,” in collaboration with the Faas Foundation, one in five employees indicates high levels of burnout even though they are highly engaged. Like me, members of this surveyed group are passionate about their jobs but intensely conflicted about how to balance their work commitments with their personal lives.
We spend so much time at work rushing from one task to another and meeting tight deadlines. If we deliver satisfactory outcomes, people think we are working efficiently and performing with high potential. But as far as our brains and bodies are concerned, we are denying ourselves much-needed self-care.
“So many leaders justify overwork and burnout because of how much work needs to be done, or because of the fact that the stakes are so high in their jobs. But that’s precisely why they should be taking time to recharge,” shared Ariana Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, during a recent Forbes interview. “Part of good, far-sighted leadership is about maximizing the resources, not just throughout the company but in the leaders themselves, to meet inevitable challenges.”
For me, a similar line of thinking inspired me to take action. After much thought and research, I told my husband, family, and manger that I needed to go away for two consecutive long weekends, four days each. No phone calls, no emails, no dates, and no gatherings. Just me, restoring myself and finding balance again as I attended a series of mindfulness workshops hosted by a local neuro-linguistic programming practice.
Mindfulness bridges the disconnect between well-being and productivity
Carving out the time and energy to explore the value of mindfulness and ways to incorporate it into all aspects of my life was the best thing I could have done. While mindfulness does not prevent conflicts, obstacles, and challenges, it does change how I respond to them − with thoughtfulness, deliberation, and unbiased judgment.
Mindfulness is a choice to control the inner scripts that run through our minds, which is an integral part of our humanity and balance. It allows us to sense the conditions of the present moment – from sources of satisfaction and joy to discomfort and irritation.
However, contrary to what most people think, mindfulness does not require sweeping lifestyle changes. Instead, mindfulness emerges best when we make small adjustments that can begin at any moment. We just have to make the decision to engage this inner growth of ease, comfort, and grace as we navigate stressful difficulties.
For example, a regular practice of mindfulness can be as simple as a one-minute meditation guided by a mobile app. Sitting in a quiet place, you can move your attention away from the busy whirl and excitement of everyday life and concentrate on the wave-like pattern of your breathing process. And if your mind beings to wander (and it inevitably will at first), you should erase those thoughts by centering on your breathing again.
Even with a simple daily routine like this, you can achieve a sustainable sense of calm that rewires your brain. You can gain clarity into the present situation and tap into new perspectives and out-of-the-box thinking, allowing you to respond to change – large and small – with a high level of productivity, quality, and speed. Over time, this level of openness turns into resilience and positive behavior that eventually improves mental, physical, and emotional well-being for the long term.
Mindfulness: Clearing the way from burnout to engaged advocate
Our lifestyles and work experiences have never been this fast before, and they will never be this slow again. The only way we can face it all is if we find our own version of balance.
For this reason, I feel a sense of purpose when I help my colleagues overcome unhealthy stress and enhance their work performance and skills. Once I became comfortable with my own daily practice, I leveraged every opportunity to bring awareness and support around the topic. For example, when SAP launched its employee assistance program, I was keen for our region to be among the first adopters. Over the past three years, this initiative has served as an office-wide effort to tackle stress and improve employee well-being across six dimensions: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, financial, and environmental.
The outcome of mindfulness adoption in my regional office is nothing short of spectacular. Even after I moved on to a new role, my colleagues continue to focus on their work-life balance and employee wellbeing through a series of mindfulness sessions known as “zen café,” which has helped my region perform at a high level that brings greater profitability and revenue growth. Now that SAP is rolling out a similar program globally, the sky’s the limit in what our global workforce will achieve together.
As for me, my personal human revolution of mindfulness may have started as a defensive tactic against workplace burnout. But after years of consistent practice, it is now my secret to a productive career, blissful marriage, fulfilling family relationships, and a supportive community of friends and professional connections.
For more on the science behind mindfulness, read Leadership: It’s All in Your Mindfulness.